Will 2018 be a tipping point for gender equality in the workplace?

It has been suggested that two key occurrences in the last year will have a big impact on workplace gender equality. 

James Davies, a managing partner on employment matters at Lewis Silkin LLP, London believes that the launch of the #MeToo movement in combination with the obligation on UK employers of more than 250 people to report gender pay gaps will catalyse real change.

Gender Pay Gap

With respect to the gender pay gap reporting, Davies states “This has forced employers to look at how best they can meaningfully respond to the pay gaps that most of them face”

“The reasons for the gap are likely to be complex and many. Some will be societal and require political fixes. In the UK, the introduction of shared parental leave has done little to change the reality that primary childcare responsibilities still fall disproportionately on women.”

 The fact remains that although there has been legislation on a range of issues, change has not happened at any pace with Cranfield University reporting that only 10% of Executive Directors are women.

There are steps that can be taken to address this, including 

  • training managers to identify unconscious bias; 
  • supporting flexible working arrangements; 
  • identifying and supporting senior female role models; 
  • working within sectors to increase the talent pool of women in under-represented roles; and 
  • ensuring pay and promotion decisions are transparent, consistent and reasoned. 

Reputational Issues

Gender pay equality has been propelled to top-priority status in British boardrooms to an extent that is rare for employment law reforms, Davies states. 

Whilst equal pay and discrimination claims are possible, these are relatively few not least because of the personal and financial costs to the claimant. 

The issue driving change, as Davies sees it, is the reputational damage from being seen not to take gender workplace issues seriously.  It can be more immediate, less controllable and far costlier than a legal claim.

Social Media

The ability for individuals to communicate globally through social media is a further change profoundly affecting employer attitudes.

The case of Nicola Thorp in 2016 is one Davies uses.  She was sent home from her receptionist job for not wearing sufficiently high heels attracting a high level of public attention after she posted this on Facebook. 

It eventually led to the UK Women and Equalities Commission publishing a report on high heels and workplace dress codes.

Social media also comes into play when considering the #MeToo movement which likely could not have been so widespread without access to the public via social media channels. 

Responding to #MeToo

Employers must confront the reality that traditional grievance processes have failed to give many women a voice to report workplace harassment says Davies. 

“Clearly, a very significant number of women of varying ages, and across all sectors, have been the victim of such unreported behaviour at work. “

 “For employers, the challenge is to do all they can to provide a working environment in which the risks of harassment and discrimination are reduced as far as possible… Employers should act proactively to develop new pathways for employees to raise concerns internally, rather than on social media platforms


In summary, Davies says “This year marks the 100th anniversary of women first being given the right to vote in the UK. The past few months have forced many to accept that, despite evident progress, we are not as far along the road to equality at work as we might have thought.

Although the law has been (and will continue to be) an effective driver of sustained social change, the recent media scrutiny of workplace gender equality has held up a mirror to many employers’ complacency. That might be enough to make 2018 a tipping point. “

Read the full article Workplace Gender Equality- Will 2018 be a Tipping Point?in Who’s Who Legal