People sat waiting for an interview

Gender: diversity matters

Your gender is usually obvious from your CV, so the focus is on demonstrating how your strengths and skills match the job.
You can question potential employers about their approach to female employees, or to male employees if you're a man entering a traditionally female profession.

Finding a gender-positive employer | Disclosing your gender | Your rights around gender

Finding a gender-positive employer

Employers know that having a diverse workforce is essential for commercial as well as ethical reasons. Most employers have equal opportunities policies in place and are committed to preventing gender discrimination.

In spite of this, there's still a gender pay gap. Although this has reduced over the last 20 years, the gender pay gap between male and female full-time employees is around 10%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The 'glass ceiling' for women is still an issue in some industries while certain sectors have trouble recruiting a particular gender. For example, men are under-represented in teaching, representing around a quarter of teachers in England (Department for Education, 2016).

How do you know if an employer is dedicated to equal opportunities?

Try to find organisations with equal opportunities policies and those which take active steps to promote equality in the workplace. Here are some signs that may indicate an employer is gender-positive:

  • Organisations that hold open days for women to give them a realistic insight into the career. The employer can also demonstrate the steps they're taking to develop the full potential of their female graduates.
  • Employers who have women in senior management roles, as this suggests a positive attitude towards women’s training and development.
  • Companies that have ‘family-friendly’ policies such as access to childcare or flexible working arrangements, as this indicates an understanding of issues that can possibly prevent women from reaching their potential.
  • An equal opportunities form as part of the standard recruitment process suggests a commitment to equality and diversity, as these employers will usually be monitoring who applies to their positions to ensure their marketing and recruitment practices are open and fair.
  • The way an organisation presents its workforce in advertising material and on their website may provide clues about diversity in the organisation. Researching the proportion of male/female workers in senior positions within the organisation can provide a valuable insight.
  • Due to the Public Sector Equality Duty, public sector employers have to promote gender equality and eliminate sex discrimination, so it's worth considering this sector.

Don’t be afraid to ask

You can question potential employers about their approach to female employees, or to male employees if you're a man entering a traditionally female profession. You may want to investigate their approaches to:

  • Flexible working opportunities
  • Networks and role models or mentoring opportunities
  • How they ensure fair and accessible processes for pay or deal with any pay-related disputes
  • Any initiatives or awards that the organisation has achieved

Diversity initiatives and resources

These include:

Disclosing your gender when marketing yourself to employers

Disclosure is not usually an issue in terms of your gender; your name is often enough to inform a potential employer whether you’re male or female. Many application forms ask for a title, for example, ‘Mr’, ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, which will make your gender obvious.

You don't generally put ‘male’ or ‘female’ on your CV and there's no need to disclose your gender at any stage of the process, unless you're applying for a position that requires a certain gender for a genuine occupational requirement. This might include some jobs in single sex schools, some jobs in welfare services or acting jobs that need a man or a woman.

Discrimination can be both positive and negative and some employers have misconceptions that men and women have particular strengths as well as particular weaknesses.

Using your skills and experiences in a positive way

Whatever your gender, your experiences can demonstrate your strength and skills:

  • If you've been raising a family or are returning from a career break you may need to translate this into language that the employer is looking for. For example, can these experiences be used as examples of managing your time effectively?
  • Be positive and focused when you show an employer how your skills match those they're looking for. Providing evidence of how you meet an employer's specific needs makes it harder for the employer to reject your application.
  • At interview, be confident and prepared to demonstrate evidence of your abilities with examples from your previous experiences. You shouldn't have to answer questions on circumstances that aren't related to your ability to do a job, but preparing a positive response to such questions can be useful.
  • Get some help with your applications and selection processes whenever you can. Your university careers adviser can give you tips on how to market your experiences effectively on a job application, including experience gained outside of paid employment. Professional bodies or women’s networks can also provide advice, strategies and access to female mentors. Mentors can often provide useful tips on how to combat negative perceptions, maximise your progression or provide a positive angle on any of your previous experiences.

Your rights around gender

The main law against gender discrimination is the Equality Act 2010. It brought together existing regulations against gender discrimination and other forms of discrimination into a single act to make the law simpler and remove any inconsistencies. The act states that it is unlawful for an employer to treat you unfairly because of your gender or perceived gender (male/female).

The act also covers other matters related to gender, for example, employers mustn't discriminate on the grounds of marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity, or because you've undergone or intend to undergo gender reassignment.

The Equality Act covers almost all workers and all types of organisations in the UK. It covers:

  • recruitment
  • employment terms and conditions
  • pay and benefits
  • training
  • promotion and transfer opportunities
  • redundancy
  • dismissal

Equal terms – equal pay

Employers must give men and women equal treatment in their terms of employment, provided they're doing one of the following:

  • the same or similar work
  • work rated as equivalent in a job evaluation conducted by the employer
  • work of equal value in terms of effort, skill or decision making

There may be exceptions where there's a genuine material factor which explains the difference.

Make sure you know your rights in terms of equal opportunities and fair practice in the workplace and don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak out if you think you are being treated unfairly.

You should approach your manager in the first instance, but if that's unsatisfactory there are organisations such as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), the Citizens Advice service and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that can help.

Written by Katie Finnimore, University of Essex, June 2017