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Women in the Workplace Needn’t Be a Burden

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This week, employers groups in the UK have been jumping up and down, heralding the apocalypse and of the collapse of British industry. The reason? From 2013 firms with more than 250 employees will be forced to publish salary data for men and women, for the purpose of detecting and eliminating sex discrimination.

The British Chambers of Commerce have said that,

This Bill will discourage job creation and make employers fearful of the recruitment process. We already know that half of small firms struggle to navigate employment law and this will just add to the problem.

First, I know that 250 is miniscule in comparison to GlaxoSmithKline, or British Telecom, but I still have a problem with an organisation of 250+ being described as “small.” Small to me is being able to transport the entire company in a matatu. Second, once your company has grown beyond around 15 people, the most important person after the proprietor is the personnel (or human resources) officer. Their entire reason for being is to ensure compliance with employment regulations, including the recruitment process. What are the little lambs at the BCC so worried about?

Currently, in the UK, the gender pay gap shows that women in full-time work earn 12.8% less than their male colleagues. When part-time workers are included in the statistics, the gender gap rises to 23%. This is despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act nearly 40 years ago. Now, while it could be argued that the pay discrepancy is there because more women are employed for lower wages in part-time jobs, the fact that women in high-powered finance jobs in the City of London also earn a third less than their male colleagues suggest that there is some form of discrimination at work.

Kenya, of course, has different employment legislation. My lawyer cousin has not responded to my emails at the time of writing, so I’m unable to give you a brief rundown of the various ins and outs of employment legislation with regards to discrimination. What I can tell you, though, is that employers don’t have anything to fear from employing women if they start from the premise that all of their employees are equal.

It is actually very easy to avoid being sued for sex discrimination: instead of winging it and making decisions as the need arises, have a qualified HR professional draw up your employment policies. If you can’t find a HR or personnel officer, get a lawyer to do it. The final result, if you follow the policies to the letter, will be that you can neatly dance around every potential pitfall, including those you may not have been aware of. Secondary benefit? If applied to all staff, you will be treating all of them equally, thus minimising the chances of a complaint being made in the first place.

There are some who argue that demands for equal pay are part of an conspiracy by feminists to somehow discriminate against men. But surely, if you pay a man more than a woman, you could actually pay the man a little less and the woman a little more so they were both earning the same salary for doing the same job? By all means give the man a pay rise if he merits it while the woman is away on maternity leave, but don’t keep her stuck on the same wage when she deserves a raise just to “make up” for the time she was away.

At the end of the day, your employees will know if they are getting a raw deal from you. And it is not the lowliest or the worst-performing who will decide to take up a better offer. It is in every business owner’s interests to retain talent, and gender discrimination in the workplace will only serve to drive away the best of your employees who happen to have breasts.

[Image by Scholz]

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