4 The Working Environment|
44. As we outlined in the introduction, there are
a range of legal measures intended to ensure that women in work
are treated equally, and to prevent both direct and indirect discrimination.
Nichola Pease suggested a lack of women at the top might indicate
female preference rather than direct discrimination.
However, we note that some of the constraints that Ms Pease pointed
out, such as the lack of flexibility and long hours working at
the top, are only legal if there is objective justification for
them. While some witnesses considered there was indeed good reason
for the relative inflexibility some City posts, notably senior
ones, offered, others considered that many of the barriers to
female advancement were unjustified.
THE LONG HOURS CULTURE
45. It is no secret that there is a long hours culture
in the City. Sarah Rutherford described this culture as a relatively
new phenomenon that was a product of deregulation and global trading.
Global markets mean work needs to be done across different time
zones. Ms Pease remarked upon the current situation:
Certain jobs require full time. They require
a lot of travel. They require unsociable conference calls etc
to cope with global time change. Those are the commercial realities
46. The EHRC inquiry discovered that career progression
in the City was strongly improved by willingness to undertake
unpaid overtime and 'presenteeism'. The Commission noted that
working long hours was challenging for all employees, but notably
for those with caring responsibilities.
ACCA described the widely-held view that married women or women
with children cannot work at senior level because they may be
less prepared to make the required sacrifices.
47. Dr Altmann felt that the emphasis on being available
24 hours a day was unnecessary, at least on the asset management
side of the City, where a team working effectively could cover
the workload. She referred to the idea that only one staff member
can do the work as the "star mentality" and advised
that the City should move away from this view.
Karon Monaghan QC described cases which have:
[...] established that such is the disadvantage
caused to women by requirements to work full time, that robust
enquiry will be made of an employer who asserts that in his industry
or trade, full time work is essential and justified [
had been assumed, for example, that the judiciary was quintessentially
a profession which required full time office holders. This has
proved not to be so.
48. Flexible working is not, in fact, solely a women's
issue. Many employees would like the opportunity to work flexibly,
often, though not exclusively, to allow for caring responsibilities.
The CMI found that over half of both men and women supported extending
the right to request flexible working.
They identified the main driver of introducing flexible working
was employees demanding an improved work-life balance.
They, like many other organisations, were keen to stress that
the issue of flexibility was not specific to women. 
49. Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England,
told us that the best way to attract women was by offering good
flexible working, but stressed that this improved the environment
for all employees. He believed that better management was needed
to improve the situation in financial institutions, but those
companies should make the changes of their own accord.
50. There was strong support for reform of flexible
working in the City.
The Unite union called for the sector to work harder to increase
flexible working for senior and managerial levels where requests
"are often refused on business grounds".
Sandra Curtis, who has had over 30 years experience in the City,
challenged City firms to be more creative:
I think it is disappointing that banks have not
been more imaginative at implementing flexible working. There
must be ways they can do it. If they applied some of the imagination
given to financial instruments to flexible working, we would see
a lot more of it.
51. At first glance, it appears that the City firms
are open to flexible working. All the banks which submitted evidence
to this inquiry offered flexible working policies. Over 90% of
the City firms surveyed by the EHRC reported that they had flexible
working policies in place.
The CMI results for the banking/finance sector in terms of provision
of three major flexible working policies showed that the sector
is close to the national average.
Table 3: Chartered Management Institute findings
of availability of flexible working options
||Flexible working hours in operation %
||Job sharing in operation
Source: CMI National Management Survey 2009
52. It appears that the problem lies not in the existence
of flexible working policies, but with getting permission to use
the available policies, especially at senior levels. Sapphire
Partners noted that:
] while virtually every City firm has
adequate policies for supporting flexible working and diversity,
the disconnect is in the take-up and implementation.
Ms Pease told us that she moved from a "mainstream,
big company" precisely to be able to work more flexibly,
highlighting that in these organisations senior staff cannot easily
make use of flexible working policies. An EHRC survey found that
only 2% of employees actually requested flexible working.
One respondent to the EHRC inquiry summarised the situation that
appears to exist in much of the City:
There was absolutely no flexibility on the firm's
part to even try to fit in my flexible working request as I was
told it was really only for secretaries and not for lawyers or
professional people [
] all the policies on paper were not
really put in practice at all but to comply with laws and for
We were told that HR departments were reluctant to
provide information on who can access various flexible working
policies. One women with City experience suggested that firms
should publish the take up rates of their flexible working policies
and be up front about who is permitted to use them.
53. Men as well as women consider that a request
to work flexibly could damage their career. An EHRC report investigating
flexible working arrangements for fathers found that 36% of fathers
believed that asking for flexible working would mark them as not
committed to their job. 44% of fathers thought their chances of
promotion would be adversely affected if they requested flexible
working. The report
was not specific to the financial services sector but it illustrated
a general problem that asking for flexible working is perceived
to have negative career effects. The EHRC received submissions
to its Financial Services Inquiry from unions claiming that there
had been recent increases in the number of employment tribunals
as a result of flexible working requests. They were equally worried
about evidence that linked requests for flexible working to subsequent
selection for redundancy.
54. There is an obvious conflict between a long
hours culture and flexible working. Sometimes long hours may be
unavoidable, but we are disappointed that many City firms do not
appear to have been successful in introducing flexible working
policies for senior staff, both male and female.
55. The EHRC found a perception that there is a maternity
penalty in the City on "earnings, career progression and
susceptibility to redundancy".
It is clear that parental leave imposes a cost to employers, and
the cost is greater for females because maternity leave is significantly
more generous than the equivalent for fathers. Evidence submitted
on behalf of a group of anonymous female City workers explained
that they understood the concern of employers deciding whether
to hire or promote women of child bearing age because of their
possible departure for maternity leave.
It is also true that primary child carers frequently do not return
to work full time. In a 2008 survey of Unite members, over 60%
of those who had taken maternity leave returned to work on a part-time
basis. Ms Pease
was concerned that legislation on matters such as maternity leave
was turning women into a "nightmare" for employers,
and was an incentive for employers to avoid hiring women.
When asked how to remove blockages for women she replied, "I
think we have too long a maternity leave, I think a year is too
long, and sex discrimination cases that run into the tens of millions
are ridiculous." However we received evidence that some of
the most successful financial services companies, including Barclaycard
and Nationwide, have very positive employment and retention packages
for women, including flexible working and maternity leave."
Discrimination against women on the grounds that they may require
maternity leave, or may not return to work full time after their
leave has ended, is illegal and there are legal remedies for obvious
cases of discrimination. Such protection is long established,
and employers should pay heed to it. However, it would be naive
to think that it is easy to prove discrimination on these grounds,
and that the existence of protective legislation alone will prevent
discrimination. Indeed, some argued that such legislation
encourages employers to avoid hiring women.
56. The current legal framework for maternity and
paternity leave may reflect cultural norms, but it also reinforces
them, even when individuals might prefer more flexibility. Ms
Melanie Dawes, who has worked as an accountant in a major firm,
explained that social norms meant it was unusual for young fathers
to work part time.
Dr Sarah Rutherford considered that:
Women with children do not have the same resource
of time as men do and men's time is very often made more available
by women taking on their share of domestic responsibilities.
The EHRC's Financial Services Inquiry report referred
to its recommendation of gender neutral parental leave which would
help men and women share family responsibilities more equally.
The group of anonymous female City workers also suggested
this. On 28 January
2010 the Government announced that it would introduce legislation
to permit fathers to take advantage of additional paternity leave
and pay during the second six months of the child's life, if the
mother wished to return to work with maternity leave outstanding.
The Official Opposition has also committed itself to more flexible
paternal leave arrangements.
57. While some maternity leave will always be
needed, we welcome the proposals to allow more flexibility in
the use of parental leave by both men and women. This would allow
couples to choose how to arrange their childcare responsibilities
as they see fit. It would also lessen the incentives for companies
to try to evade the law.
ON TRIBUNAL CASES
58. There are legal remedies against discrimination.
Although in 2008-09 only 3 per cent of sex discrimination cases
were won at tribunal, very few cases proceed to a hearing. The
latest figures show that 42 per cent of cases in 2008-09 were
withdrawn. Some of these will be because the parties have reached
a settlement, which will often be confidential. 34 per cent were
conciliated by ACAS. Again, the terms of such conciliation could
In some cases settlement will be a tacit acceptance of liability
by the company concerned, but that will not always be the case.
Anonymity is important, but it would be helpful to have more information
about the type of complaint made, and the type of settlement reached,
broken down by sector. That would help identify whether particular
grounds for complaint appear particularly frequently, and reveal
whether particular sectors gave rise to a disproportionate number
59. There is little information about the effectiveness
of legal remedies. We understand the constraints of confidentiality,
and we also understand the limitations of official statistics,
but we recommend that the EHRC and the Tribunals Service consider
whether there is a way in which official statistics could give
more information about the nature and outcomes of sex discrimination
83 Q 61 Back
Ev 74 Back
Q 83 Back
Ev 68 Back
Ev 36 Back
Q 84 Back
Ev 89 Back
Ev 55 Back
Ev 55 Back
Ev 65 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Treasury Committee on 24 November
2009, HC (2009-10) 34-i, Qq 69-71 Back
Ev 66, 76 Back
Ev 46 Back
Q 84 Back
Ev 69 Back
Ev 62 Back
Q 83 Back
Ev 69 Back
Ev 69 Back
Ev 39 Back
Equality and Human Rights Commission, Working Better: fathers,
families and work- contemporary perspectives, Research Summary
41, October 2009, p 10 Back
Ev 69 Back
Financial Services Inquiry, p 56 Back
Ev 76 Back
Ev 46 Back
Q 79 Back
Q 80 Back
Ev 39 Back
Ev 74 Back
Financial Services Inquiry, p 19 Back
Ev 76 Back