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Jodie Whittaker as Dr Who – A Timely Reminder of Equality in Employment?

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As the next star of Doctor Who is announced as Jodie Whittaker, the first female to take the role of the Time Lord, Kate Gardner, a Partner and specialist in Employment and HR at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP looks at equality in employment. 

The announcement that Jodie Whittaker will star as the first female Doctor Who has triggered a great deal of sexism debate since the news hit the headlines, some positive and some negative.

While it is important for this conversation to be happening on a national scale it can be said that those criticising the appointment of a female doctor are just like the directors of FTSE100 companies who are still fighting to keep the glass ceiling in place.

There are several ongoing debates when it comes to equality in employment including whether there should there be positive discrimination in the workplace to appoint more female senior executives.

But perhaps more relevant is to look at all employers current legal obligations in relation to the appointment of women and equal rights for their workforce.

All employees have a right not to be treated less favourably for reason of their sex. Sex discrimination legislation has been with us since 1974. More recently the Equality Act 2010 brought together all UK anti-discrimination laws, many of which have come from Europe. Notoriously complex, these regulations include the concepts of “direct” and “indirect” discrimination which can be difficult for employers to understand. Both are unlawful but indirect discrimination can be subtle. Direct discrimination can be obvious, for example a policy not to appoint a female partner, director (or Time Lord).

Indirect discrimination is less so, for example, following a policy that adversely affects more women then men, such as a rule that all directors have to be 6ft tall; this is a criteria that more men than women can meet and therefore adversely affects those women. So beware policies that may reflect an underlying culture of male superiority.

Of greater significance is the new obligation from April of this year for employers to carry out gender pay gap reporting. This could be the first stage in making a real difference to equality of pay and in turn equality of senior positions in large organisations. Currently only those employers with more than 250 employees are subject to these onerous reporting requirements. There is debate however that this will shortly be extended to at least the public sector and perhaps beyond.

These employers affected must report five statistics each year including:-

  1. The difference between men and women’s hourly rates of pay;
  2. The difference in median pay;
  3. The difference in bonuses between men and women;
  4. The proportion of men and women who receive bonuses and;
  5. The gender payslips breakdown between quartile pay bands.

Pay includes a basic salary, holiday allowance, maternity, sick pay, shift premiums and some bonuses.

The problem is however that there is no penalty for noncompliance, although those who do not publish figures are likely to come under scrutiny from trade unions, campaigning organisations and potentially individual employees as well. Currently it appears to be legislation without teeth.

There are several questions employers must ask themselves when it comes to employment law and equality. How do you see the male / female ratios in your business? Are you aware of your obligations under these new laws and regulations?

In our own firm sixty per cent of Clarke Willmott’s employment and HR partners are female – so it seems we have been blazing the trail long before the Dr herself!

Clarke Willmott LLP is a national law firm with seven offices across the country in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.

For HR and Employment support for your business contact Kate Gardner at [email protected]