Flexible working should be rolled out across all levels and all jobs, according to the EHRC

A turnaround of working culture is needed, including advertising all jobs as available for flexible working, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has announced.

The proposal was one of a series suggested by the commission to tackle pay gaps affecting women, disabled people and ethnic minorities after the EHRC said progress has been “painfully slow” in these areas.

The equality watchdog set out six recommendations Britain needs to implement in society and in businesses, to improve equality in earnings.

Offering all jobs as flexible will remove barriers faced by women and disabled people, who are more likely to have to negotiate flexible working or accept part-time jobs that are often low-paid.

Extra paternity leave would also help to bring down inequality, it said. With the introduction of “use it or lose it” paternity leave paid at a generous level, it will encourage more men to request flexible working, reducing the so-called motherhood penalty that many women face after having children.

The Commission also suggested that businesses should be made to collect annual statistics which set out their pay gaps for ethnic minorities and disabled people.

Caroline Waters, EHRC’s deputy chair, said:

We need new ideas to bring down pay gaps – it’s not just about more women at the top. Yes, female representation is important but tackling pay gaps is far more complicated than that. Whilst there has been some progress, it has been painfully slow.

Subject choices and stereotypes in education send children of all genders, abilities, and racial backgrounds on set paths. These stereotypes are then reinforced throughout the workplace in recruitment, pay and progression.

For this to change, we need to overhaul our culture and make flexible working the norm; looking beyond women as the primary caregivers and having tough conversations about the biases that are rife in our workforce and society.

Other measures the Commission encourages are investing in sector-specific training and encouraging employers to tackle bias in recruitment and promotion by setting a new national target for senior and executive management positions.

The EHRC said that current figures calculate the gender pay gap at 18.1 per cent, the ethnic minority pay gap at 5.7 per cent, and the disability pay gap at 13.6 per cent.

The report said the Government’s campaign to promote gender equality in the workplace had received little attention because “Many companies fail to recognise they have a gender pay gap and therefore take no action to close it; others do not see it as a priority.”

Responding to the new strategy Dr Jill Miller, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, comments:

“The EHRC’s recommendations on the changes needed to address pay gaps in Britain are timely for many businesses who are preparing to report on their gender pay gaps. We welcome the breadth of their new strategy, Fair opportunities for all, which looks at gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, and agree a greater focus on flexible working opportunities across the labour market would enable disadvantaged groups to both ‘get in’ and ‘get on’ in work.

“While the right to request flexible working is available to all UK workers who have worked for the same employer for 26 weeksit is yet to be recognised as such in practice. To make flexible working the norm it’s crucial that organisations challenge assumptions of who it is for and encourage far greater uptake.  HR professionals have a critical role in questioning workplace cultures and busting the myths around what flexible working means to encourage businesses to act differently. Through recognition that flexibility is not just about the hours people work and challenging traditionally rigid job design, organisations can create ‘people-shaped jobs’ that enable those with a range of circumstances to access and reach their potential at work, while boosting long-term productivity.”

Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.