Gender equality in the transport sector: the government announces a range of rebalancing plans

Written on 9 Feb 2016

It is just over two months since the speech by the Transport Minister, Claire Perry, highlighting the stark gender imbalance within the rail industry. We discussed the Minister’s comments here. The issue of gender equality is an important one for the sector, with the government now announcing a series of measures designed (amongst other matters) to tackle the lack of women working in rail.

The DfT’s “Skills Strategy”

As part of the Department for Transport’s (DfT) new ‘Skills Strategy‘, the government has set a target of at least 20% of new entrants to engineering and technical apprenticeships in the transport sector to be women by 2020.

The Skills Strategy also highlights the remarkable inequalities that currently exist, with women representing just 20% of the rail industry as a whole and just 4.4% of railway engineering staff.

In an effort to meet its objectives, the DfT is proposing a number of new initiatives including:

  • recommending that organisations with 250+ employees implement ‘returnship’ programmes by 2020, to provide opportunities for individuals to return to work;
  • requiring suppliers to use the Routes to Diversity and Inclusion toolkit (which includes measures such as diversifying recruitment panels, providing anti-bias training for recruiters and explaining opportunities for flexible working and good work-life balance); and
  • recommending that transport organisations sign up to the 100 Years of Women in Transport Charter in 2016 (a campaign launched in November 2014, to celebrate the role that women have played in the industry during the last century, as well as encouraging more women to enter the sector).

These proposals should also be seen in the context of the impending introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting. With the government needing to produce regulations by March 2016, we are still awaiting its response to the ‘Closing the Gender Pay Gap‘ consultation (which we discussed here).

Possible impact on supplier agreements

Whilst these initiatives are still in their formative stages, their announcement provides a firm indication that big changes could be afoot for the rail sector. Commentary suggests that these objectives could soon be incorporated into supplier’s agreements – with the resulting question as to what measures rail employers should be putting in place to redress the imbalance of male and female workers.

In addition to the proposals put forward by the government, other initiatives for recruiting and retaining more female employees include:

  • encouraging flexible working arrangements (such as variable hours or working locations);
  • maintaining and reviewing Equality and Diversity policies and ensuring that these policies are applied across all levels of the business;
  • providing family-orientated benefits such as shared parental leave, childcare schemes and generous maternity provisions;
  • reviewing recruitment practices to ensure that there are diverse pools of both applicants and assessors;
  • having strong female figures at all levels of the business (and perhaps supplementing this with a mentoring programme); and
  • using marketing campaigns to promote the firm’s diversity commitments.

Reviewing current employment policies

Whilst David Cameron’s commitment to “end the gender pay gap in a generation” may have appeared to be a rather bold statement, the recent announcements strongly suggest that the Government is forging ahead with these ambitions.

Employers would be well advised to act now to review their practices for encouraging a more diverse workforce.

If you would like more advice on any of the issues raised in this piece, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our Osborne Clarke employment team.