5 female inspired policies all businesses should have

You believe in gender equality… Right? Thing is: when it comes to fostering equity, diversity and inclusion in your business, plastering empty gestures across your marketing channels for International Women’s Day – in what Director and founder of Balance Jennie Child calls “orgy of performative feminism” (lolz) – just won’t cut it.

Not when 40% of women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace; 11% of mothers report being dismissed, made compulsorily redundant, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; and the gender pay gap in the UK still stands at 17.3%. Shocked? You shouldn’t be.

It might have been illegal to discriminate against someone because of their sex for more than four decades, but equality is not the same as equity. “Equality is about access to opportunity. Making sure people know what is available and giving them access to that,” explains Sandra Kerr, race director at Business in the Community. “Equity means recognising that, because of different starting points, some people might need additional support.”

Not sure what that looks like? Here are a few ways you can better support women and non-binary people at work.

  1. Pay women and non-binary people the same as men

Government regulations introduced in 2017 require businesses with more than 250 employees to publish stats on their gender pay gap. But there’s nothing stopping smaller organisations from also pulling together this information – which should include:

  • the difference between the average hourly rate of pay paid to male and female employees;

  • the difference between the average bonus paid to male and female employees;

  • the proportions of male and of female employees who receive bonuses;

  • and the relative proportions of male and female employees in each quartile pay band of the workforce.

After all, you can’t fix what you can’t see – and data talks. You might be grossed out by what you find, but don’t let that stop you facing facts. The first step towards figuring out where you’re going is knowing where you’re at, so a dose of self-reflection is a must if you want to achieve true gender equity.

(P.s. Remember: what a candidate was paid in their last role has nothing to do with what they deserve to be paid by you – check out  this article to find out why.)

  1. Put women and non-binary people in senior leadership roles

How the eff do you expect a bunch of cis, straight, white men to make decisions in the best interests of people who are nothing like them? If anything, it’s unfair on the cis, straight, white men… We JEST.

But srsly, if you want to make your business a better place for women and non binary people, let them have a say. And we don’t mean in a ‘token poll’ kind of way. Give them authority, ownership, and responsibility, a.k.a. a seat at the table. If this feels frightening or unfair, may we remind you what the beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “To those accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” What does that say about you and your organisation?

  1. Offer decent parental leave, regardless of gender

Already offering good maternity leave? Don’t go clapping yourself on the back just yet. 

“While maternity leave is no doubt a family-friendly policy, it isn’t the type of policy that will fix the gender wage gap,” writes Sarah Kliff for Vox. “If anything, it potentially can widen the gender wage gap by taking just women out of the labour force for as long as a year, likely reducing their earning potential in the future.” The graph below shows the impact the “child care penalty” has on women’s earning power long-term. 

Of course, many women might choose to take time off when they have children. But when maternity leave in most businesses far outstrips paternity leave and shared parental leave is considered a “deeply flawed policy” – with take-up among eligible couples of just between 3% and 4% – the truth is for most ‘choice’ doesn’t come into it: they have to opt for the path of greatest financial stability for their families.

Most Scandinavian countries consider it good for society to encourage men to take time off after the birth of their child, assigning a set amount of leave just for fathers. And if you genuinely care about gender equity, you should too. But introducing an empty policy isn’t enough: to make a real difference, create a culture where people feel comfortable and confident actually requesting paternity leave (or shared parental leave).

  1. Allow and actively encourage flexible working

It’s not only children women care for. According to Age UK there are 1.25 million “sandwich carers” – those caring for an older relative as well as bringing up a family – in the UK, of which 68% are women. And they’re probably represented in your team, considering 78% of sandwich carers are in paid work.

For anyone in a caregiving role, flexibility at work is a must. School pick-ups and drop-offs, looking after sick relatives and taking them to medical appointments, and generally being there for mental and emotional support when it matters – none of these duties can be strictly scheduled in the way a traditional 9am-to-5pm (if you’re lucky) role requires. So if you can’t (or won’t) flex around your female and talent then you’ll going to lose them, which, let’s be honest, is a s**t situation for everyone. 

But if Covid taught us anything, it’s that we can trust our teams to work their butts off for us even when we’re not physically near them or working exactly the same hours. (Shocker.) Add that to the fact 84% of employees would like at least some flexibility and this is a no brainer.

  1. Take a zero-tolerance approach to harassment

Repeat after us: the people who work for you deserve to feel safe. To be safe. But when only 42% of mid and large-sized companies in the UK have an anti-sexual harassment policy, is it any wonder many don’t? 

Published this month, the ‘Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill 2022-23’ could give employers a duty to prevent sexual harassment within the workplace, meaning you could be liable if staff are harassed by third parties, such as customers and clients. So, even if you are a heartless b*****d, it makes sense to take action.

But, more than simply putting together a policy that never again sees the light of day, Tilly Harries, barrister and HR support service leader at professional services firm PwC UK, says “Detailed policies coupled with effective training and robust 'speak-up' reporting avenues will ensure that staff fully understand what is appropriate and how to seek support should they unfortunately encounter harassing behaviours.” Basically, practise what you preach. Yeah?


This list isn't exhaustive - we just didn't want to make the topic seem inaccessible. Don't worry, there will be follow ups on Trans specific Inclusion Policies and of course, Menopause.

Here at Lightning, we genuinely want both humans and businesses to thrive, because we actually give a sh*t. Check out our ED&I work, or get in touch to find out how we can help your business.

In the meantime, check out our Talent Consultant, Sarah Akhtar, talking about one of her favourite success stories here at Lightning below:

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Thea Bardot

11th April

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