HR must ensure fair treatment of women during credit crunch

Employers must strive to create opportunities for women despite the credit crunch, a leading HR director has warned.

Earlier this week equality minister Harriet Harman warned firms not to use the economic crisis as an excuse to lay off disproportionate numbers of female staff, who may be associated with costly benefits including maternity leave and flexible working.

Evidence from the latest Labour Market Statistics survey found twice as many women were being made redundant as men so far during the economic downturn.

But gender equality should be a priority for HR departments despite financial difficulties, according to HR chief Brian Benneyworth.

The HR director for the housing and regeneration group LHA-ASRA, which employs 600 staff, told Personnel Today: “A lot more businesses have to put that at the front of their agenda and make conscious efforts to open up opportunities for women.

Meanwhile the Working Futures report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), published earlier this month, predicted that most jobs created in the next 10 years will be taken by men.

This is primarily because the two million new jobs expected to be created by 2017 will mostly be in male-dominated industries, including construction, distribution and transport.

“If you do have that situation where job applicants are completely equal in all regards, and you have a gender imbalance within your team or organisation, it makes sense to try and address it, and make it reflective of your customers,” Benneyworth said.

He added: “We are consciously trying to address the gender imbalance that exists by focusing heavily on developing female leaders with our leadership programmes.”

Half of the eight promotions to senior roles within LHA-ASRA last year were women, Benneyworth said.

The UKCES report predicted that men will also take up an increasing share of employment in many parts of the economy previously dominated by women.

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