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Gender and Racial Inequality in the Workplace

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2023

6. What steps the Government is taking to help tackle (a) gender and (b) racial inequality in the workplace. (905955)

9. What steps the Government is taking to help tackle (a) gender and (b) racial inequality in the workplace. (905958)

The Government have taken numerous steps to tackle gender and racial inequality in the workplace, as seen with the comprehensive actions outlined in our landmark “Inclusive Britain” strategy, as well as various initiatives to support women in the workplace. As outlined in our “Inclusive Britain” report, we are working towards a new voluntary inclusion confident scheme to support employers on clear, manageable advice on effective diversity and inclusion interventions.

Like most things in this place, this Government’s policy on parental leave is in the dark ages. Research by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that better-paid parental leave for all parents would bring better equality in the labour market, yet this Government seem dogged in their determination to stand still. Why are the Government blocking greater gender equality in the workplace?

I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. This Government have done more than any other to promote gender equality in the workplace, including bringing in policies such as shared parental leave. We have also brought in extended redundancy protection for those on maternity leave and introduced carer’s leave, and we are supporting legislation to strengthen the protections against harassment in the workplace.

A new report from the Fawcett Society shows the motherhood pay penalty and how mothers with two children take home 26% less income than women without children, impacting on a woman’s income and earning power throughout her working life. It compounds the effects of the ethnicity pay gap. Will the UK Government tackle that by making flexible working the default and introducing mandatory gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting?

We have just finished a private Member’s Bill that makes the right to ask for flexible working mandatory. That strikes the right balance for business, rather than making it mandatory for people to demand flexible working. Not every business can provide it, and it is not something that will improve equality in the workplace.

When I asked black and minority ethnic residents in Basingstoke about their experience at work, their responses were concerning. I have been working especially with our big local employers, the local education authority and the NHS to tackle the issues. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that public services are exemplars when it comes to race equality in the workplace?

If my right hon. Friend sees the work that we have put into our “Inclusive Britain” strategy, she will see that almost everything that is in action is about the public sector. There is so much we can do to promote racial equality in the workplace, but we need to do that fairly and transparently, as well as universally. The Equality Act 2010 protects characteristics, not groups. If she would like to work with me on any specific initiative, I would be keen to hear more from her about what she has been working on.

There are growing concerns about new technology such as artificial intelligence and automation software being used in recruitment and employment. Studies show that AI perpetuates bias across gender, race, age and disability, as well as dialect and regional differences of speech. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the equalities impact of AI use in recruitment and the workplace? Has she raised that with Cabinet colleagues?

Yes, I have raised it with Cabinet colleagues. In fact, I had a meeting with the Government chief scientific officer just last week on this issue. It is a concern that AI can embed bias, and that means we need to look at the datasets and large language models that are informing the AI being used. Equality impact assessments apply to the public sector equality duty, and much of AI is being done in the private sector. We will do our part, but I am keen to hear from Members about specific initiatives that they think can help.