The Women and Equalities Committee of the UK Parliament has initiated an inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace and what employers and the government can do to better prevent and address it. The inquiry will look at:
- action that the Government and employers can take to change workplace culture, increase confidence to report problems, and make tackling harassment a higher priority
- how staff can be better protected from sexual harassment by clients, customers and others
- how effective – and accessible – tribunals and other legal means of redress are, and what improvements could be made to those systems
- the pros and cons of using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases, and what can be done to prevent inappropriate use of NDAs.
In its announcement of the inquiry, the committee points to a recent survey conducted by ComRes on behalf of the BBC, which found that 40 percent of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, with women in the 18-34 age demographic reporting slightly a higher rate of prevalence. Another study in 2016 came up with even higher numbers, finding that 52 percent of women (and 63 percent of those aged 16-24) had experienced unwanted behavior including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes in the workplace.
The committee gathered oral evidence on the subject at a hearing in January, from a group of employment experts including the Confederation of British Industry’s Managing Director Neil Carberry and Ksenia Zheltoukhova, Head of Research at the CIPD. At that session, these experts stressed the importance of enabling victims of harassment to feel safe in reporting it, which means changing not only policy but also culture, as Carberry put it:
The high cost and limited availability of child care is one of the major burdens facing working families today, particularly in the US, but also in the UK and other countries: Parents are spending a sizable chunk of their incomes on child care, making career decisions based on these costs, and sacrificing earnings by pursuing flexible schedules or part-time work in order to make more time to spend with their children.
Unable to afford full-time child care, many mothers (and it’s almost always mothers) are forced to work part-time or drop out of the workforce entirely to take care of their children, especially when they have more than one. Because responsibility for child care still falls predominantly on women, this factor contributes heavily to the gender pay gap.
In the US, a historically tight labor market is driving employers to reckon with this problem, now that they are feeling it more acutely than ever, Jennifer Levitz reports at the Wall Street Journal. Levitz hears from employers around the country that are increasingly concerned about retaining female employees amid a dearth of child care options and have begun to look for ways to expand these options for their employees, including lobbying state governments for legislative solutions. Some coworking spaces have also experimented with child care programs as a benefit for their members.
The gold standard of child care benefits are on-site facilities, such as Patagonia famously offers at its Ventura, California headquarters and its Reno, Nevada distribution center. While these services are expensive to implement, Patagonia maintains that this investment nearly pays for itself between tax incentives, better retention, and lower turnover. From an employee perspective, on-site daycare is the family benefit most preferred by employees all over the globe, according to our research at CEB, now Gartner. This is particularly true in the US, where employees are twice as likely as in other markets to say they would prefer on-site daycare over a 5 percent increase in pay.
More and more employers in the US are adding fertility benefits to their rewards packages in an effort to attract and retain employees who are interested in starting families. The latest organization to do so is State Street, which has added fertility and more generous adoption assistance to its benefits package in a deliberate effort to be more inclusive of LGBT employees in particular, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News:
The financial services firm consulted its employees in an effort to make a meaningful expansion to its benefits package, which now includes four weeks of fully paid leave for employees who are primary caregivers to a child born via surrogacy; $20,000 in reimbursement for fertility-related expenses beyond the firm’s medical plans, such as surrogacy; and $20,000 in reimbursement for adoption assistance (up from its previous reimbursement of $5,000). The company says the benefits can be used once per calendar year and employees are allowed up to $40,000 in lifetime financial support for these benefits combined.
State Street is by no means alone in embracing fertility benefits as a talent attractor: A Willis Towers Watson survey conducted in January found that 66 percent of US employers expect to offer these benefits by next year, compared to 55 percent in 2017. These programs are also becoming more inclusive of LGBT employees who are looking to start families: 65 percent of employers who offer fertility benefits currently provide coverage to same-sex couples, but 81 percent are expected to by 2019. Employers told Willis Towers Watson that their main motivations for providing fertility benefits were to support diversity and inclusion, to help attract and retain top talent, to be recognized as a “best place to work,” and to foster a more woman-friendly workplace.
TIME magazine revealed its Person of the Year this week, granting the distinction not to an individual but rather to a group of women it calls “the silence breakers,” who have spoken up against sexual harassment in their workplaces in recent months. This includes the women in entertainment, media, and technology who exposed prominent men in their industries as serial sexual abusers; as well as the vast numbers of women who came out around the world with personal stories of sexual harassment on social media through the #MeToo hashtag campaign.
The revelation of these women’s stories, along with the growing number of famous men who have been fired from their jobs and publicly disgraced due to sexual misconduct allegations, has engendered a palpable shift in the way we as a society talk about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. The shocking revelations of decades of sexual misconduct by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in October may have been the event that triggered the avalanche of allegations and public admissions of guilt:
The response to the Weinstein allegations has shaped the way people view women who come forward. In a TIME/SurveyMonkey online poll of American adults conducted Nov. 28–30, 82% of respondents said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since the Weinstein allegations. Meanwhile, 85% say they believe the women making allegations of sexual harassment.
TIME also touches on the impact this conversation is having on gender relations in the workplace, noting that it is making men think harder (and feel some anxiety) about whether the interactions they have with their female colleagues are appropriate, and worry about crossing lines where they hadn’t before:
One reason why India has one of the lowest women’s workforce participation rates in the world is that Indian women at all levels of income and education are expected at some point to get married, have children, and turn their focus toward the home. Juggling a full-time family life and a full-time job often proves impossible, and women see their careers stagnate or even end after becoming mothers (i.e., the “motherhood penalty” they pay is even higher than it is for women in the US or Europe).
For Indian women professionals, one way to close this participation gap is to give them more opportunities to work flexibly, on their own schedules and outside a traditional office setting, so that mothers can handle their family responsibilities and remain active in the workforce. Women entrepreneurs in India have been developing services specifically geared toward these women, such as the online community and job search platform Sheroes.
Two entrepreneurs in Chennai, profiled by Sushma U N at Quartz on Wednesday, have taken the concept of a women’s professional networking space one step further. Earlier this year, Vandhana Ramanathan and Jinal Patel launched Wsquare, a women-only coworking space for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers:
Female entrepreneurs can do with this support. Today, just around 14% of all Indian businesses are run by women, and many female professionals still battle workplace-related issues that deter them from pursuing their careers. It’s this segment that Wsquare is targeting. In the last eight months, over 150 women have registered to use the co-working facility, around 80% of whom are entrepreneurs. The rest are students, researchers, freelance professionals, or remote employees of large companies.
Domestic violence in an employee’s home life is the sort of situation HR hasn’t traditionally had to deal with. Most companies—65 percent, according to SHRM—don’t have a formal workplace domestic violence prevention policy, but Fortune’s Ellen McGirt argues that this is a tremendous oversight:
The total costs to the US economy of intimate violence – including medical care, mental health services, and time away from work exceed $8 billion a year. The figure for lost productivity alone is some $727.8 million. That’s 8 million paid work days lost each year. …
Victims have a wide variety of practical needs. They may need time away from work for legal, financial or psychological counseling – which they may not be able to afford. They may need time for court dates, and for meetings with teachers or other caregivers. They may be injured or traumatized and need time to recover. They may be having trouble focusing at work, particularly on stretch assignments. And because domestic violence can be deeply humiliating, it may be difficult for them to tell people around them what they need. They may not even know themselves. And the perpetrators often harass them at work.
“If intimate partner violence is not currently part of your inclusion plans,” McGirt asserts, “it needs to be.”
For the first time since it began keeping records in 2006, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report registered a decline this year in gender parity around the globe. The report, which uses data from the WEF’s own surveys and from other major global organizations, measures parity along a series of metrics including political empowerment, economic participation, education, and health. Last year’s report warned that the economic gap between men and women was widening, even as overall parity was improving. This year, it finds, the economic gap is even worse, and at the current rate of progress is projected to persist for another two centuries:
At the current rate of progress, the global gender gap will take 100 years to close, compared to 83 last year. The workplace gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years, the report estimates. But with various studies linking gender parity to better economic performance, a number of countries are bucking the dismal global trend: over one-half of all 144 countries measured this year have seen their score improve in the past 12 months.
“We are moving from the era of capitalism into the era of talentism. Competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company. Those will succeed best, who understand to integrate women as an important force into their talent pool,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum.
The top-scoring countries for gender parity across all measures are Iceland, Norway, Finland, Rwanda, and Sweden. Canada is ranked at #16 and the US at #49, a four-place decline from last year. The WEF highlights Canada and France (#11 as among the countries that have made significant gains in gender parity in the past year. However, a high place on the list doesn’t mean that a country is closing all of its gender gaps, and the economic one is proving the most stubbornly difficult to close.