Women are still facing discrimination at work says London based Employment Lawyer

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The last 18 months have seen the financial services industry face unprecedented interest and examination into its macho high risk culture. Pressure on the industry to reform looks set to continue as The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published its report into the industry which warns that ‘marked and persistent sex discrimination permeates the industry’ and will continue without serious reform.

The financial services industry employs over 1 million people and as recent events show, plays a crucial part in the economy. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s damning report, published after a year long enquiry, found that the financial services sector has a bigger overall pay gap than any other industry although men and women are employed in equal numbers. Women who work full-time in the industry earn 55% less than men who work full time. Although gender-based job segregation exists women are still paid less than men who work in the same job. Women earn only a fifth of the bonus their male counter-parts receive. The report also found bonuses appeared to be based on the employee’s willingness to ask for an increase rather than performance related and that a presenteeism culture, coupled with a young age profile, made it difficult for women to balance work with family responsibilities. Furthermore the equality policies that some employers adopt are not put into practice.

The report states that issues such as transparency over pay and working conditions, direct discrimination, long working hours and the issues faced by those with caring responsibilities are key contributors to the significant gap in pay between men and women.

The Sex Discrimination Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex in 1976 and the Equal Pay Act came into existence in 1970 (equal pay for equal work). The Sex Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for employers to treat women less favourably than men on the grounds of their gender, prohibits discrimination on the ground of pregnancy and also creates the concept of indirect sex discrimination: applying a provision, criterion or practice which, although it applies equally to men and women puts women at a particular disadvantage when compared with men, eg the requirement to work hours which are inconsistent with child care responsibilities. However although there have been a number of high profile cases the number of sex discrimination and equal pay claims have declined in recent years.

Joy Drummond, London based employment specialist at Simpson Millar, says "the Commission’s report makes it clear that sexism is inherent in the financial services industry despite long-standing legislation which was designed to produce equality. It will take some time for the industry to accept its short comings and adapt its policies so that men and women are treated fairly. I would encourage any women to seek legal advice to ensure that they are aware of their rights."

Over the next few months the Commission will meet with employers, staff and trade unions in the financial sector to discuss how to put the Commission’s recommendations in to practice and make proposals with the aim of making the industry solid and sustainable and fair for those who work in it.

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