Public sector prepares for gender equality

Public sector authorities have been reminded of their new responsibilities under upcoming gender equality legislation.

From April 6th public sector bodies will have to take a proactive approach to promoting gender equality, rather than relying on individuals to bring specific complaints.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) hails the upcoming Gender Equality Duty as the biggest change of legislation in 30 years and the EOC chair, Jenny Watson, has today written to every cabinet minister to ensure their department complies with the new rules.

By the end of April all public authorities must have plans in place to end discrimination and promote equality. They must ensure men and women benefit equally from policy making, public services and employment.

Ms Watson said: “The Gender Equality Duty is the biggest change to sex equality legislation in 30 years and has the potential to transform our public services. But there is no room for complacency about sex equality if this transformation is to become reality.

“Leaders in our public services must use it to deliver services and employment practices that work equally well for women and men.”

The EOC warns policies and practices that appear gender neutral can favour one sex. For example, public transport was found to be crafted in favour of male commuters while parenting policies often fail to recognise the role men play in child care.

Ms Watson said services must “put the individual at their heart”, meaning authorities must “recognise the very different needs of men and women”.

She continued: “It also means a major shift in employment practice across the public sector, tackling the barriers that prevent women from getting to the top such as lack of flexibility and ensuring that all areas of work are opened up to both sexes, bringing more men into professions such as primary school teaching, nursing and childcare.”

To comply with the new legislation, public authorities are advised to: consult their service users and staff to see how policies and practices could be improved; set high level objectives, backed up by resources and action plans; examine whether they discriminate at present and address any failings; and publish future plans and report on current progress in tackling discrimination.