Leeds professor calls on firms to do more to close gender pay gap

A leading academic in Leeds has called on companies to do more to ditch old-fashioned attitudes regarding women in the workplace.
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Professor Jennifer Tomlinson from Leeds University Business School claimed the gender pay gap can be caused by old-fashioned assumptions around gender, which can lead to women being overlooked for promotions in their workplaces.

She added that, although strides have been made at getting more women into boardrooms, there was still a lack of women at executive level.

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Her comments follow an investigation by the Local Democracy Reporting Service which showed women working full time in Leeds earn only 80 percent of their male counterparts – and this has not changed since 2002.

Firms in Leeds and across the country have been urged to do more to combat biases in recruitment.Firms in Leeds and across the country have been urged to do more to combat biases in recruitment.
Firms in Leeds and across the country have been urged to do more to combat biases in recruitment.

Prof Tomlinson, an expert in gender and employment relations, said: “I have done a lot of research on legal professions – organisations there have become more diverse, but they are not as diverse at the top – this is something we also see in large corporates. It does show that women and ethnic minorities are under-represented.

“There is a narrative around women being primary carers who value work-life balance more than men, and they don’t want roles like this. When they want to get on in their careers, they may be overlooked for promotions.

“There is organisational bias and a big question whether organisations are meritocratic. Some of them see men progress faster than women – there is much more at play than personal preferences, and it may be due to working practices.

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“A lot of organisations value people to be flexible and work long hours – it’s less about women’s preferences, but you find the assumption that men can manage those situations better than women. Sometimes it is about assumptions that leaders make.”

A report into the gender pay gap by the equalities and human rights commission in 2018 suggested gender-balanced recruitment panels and blind CV submissions could help remove bias from recruitment.

But Prof Tomlinson believes there is still an assumption that men were better at dealing with working long hours than women, and that if these working practices were removed, there wouldn’t be as much of a gender imbalance.

She added: “It’s important to have something like representative interview panels and screening processes, which could help take the bias out of recruitment.

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“One step towards this would have a gender balance panel which could help towards greater diversity.

“I think it would be helpful if organisations talked about working time practices. The narrative about women and family is a bit misplaced – and many organisations need to move on from this idea that women look after families and don’t want to progress. We need to move on from long hours and working practices – it does affect women and men.”

“We are seeing greater numbers of women in the boardroom – boards are made up of 30 percent of women, but they are still not in executive director level.

“There are more female solicitors than males, but only 20 percent making partnerships.”