Currently in the UK:

  • 38% of women in employment worked part-time, compared with 14% of men in October to December 2023;
  • In April 2023, the gender pay gap in median hourly pay (excluding overtime) between men and women was 14.3%[1]; and
  • The 2024 gender pensions gap report found that women would need to work an extra 19 years on average to retire with the same pension savings as men.

It is plain that work still needs to be done to improve gender diversity in the workplace. So what can you do as a purpose driven business?


A key starting point is to ensure that you have the necessary policies in place. Some policies to consider implementing are:

  • Enhanced maternity pay, fertility and IVF policies. These are important to attract, support and retain staff who are or may be planning to have children as this remains an inherent factor in pay and work disparity for men and women;
  • A menopause policy – to support and retain staff who may be approaching or experiencing the menopause; and
  • Period policies – to support staff with their menstrual health and wellbeing. (Period support needn’t be limited to a policy, however, and practical support such as free period products in the workplace could be made available.)

It is important to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ mindset, both within the policies and also in training and management conversations. For example, a menopause policy needs to take into account that everyone will experience the stages of menopause differently, and some menopause experiences may be positive. Keep it simple and supportive, and if in doubt ask the individual if and how they might want to be supported. The figures around how employers might be getting this wrong are stark – one 2022 headline reported that one in 10 women aged 45 – 55[2] had left their job due to menopause related symptoms.


The law has also been looking to keep pace, and you should ensure that your staff are fully trained and aware of the recent changes. In particular, as of April this year there were key changes introduced to the flexible working regime including making the right to request flexible working a ‘day 1’ right, and giving an employee the right to make two requests a year (under the previous regime, the right was to make one request per year after six months’ of service). From a gender diversity perspective, in the UK women are statistically still responsible for the majority of childcaring responsibilities and increased flexible working opportunities help address barriers that may otherwise be faced regarding participation in the workplace.

Additionally in April 2024, enhanced redundancy protections were put in place for both pregnant employees and recent returners from maternity leave and in October 2024 there will be a new duty placed on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Positive Action

If as an employer you want to be more proactive in attracting and/or promoting women into leadership positions you can, in some cases, take ‘positive action’. This is permitted by the Equality Act 2010 in limited circumstances, one being recruitment and promotion. Section 159(1) permits an employer to take positive action where it reasonably thinks that either:

  • People who share a protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to the characteristic; or
  • Participation in an activity by people who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low.  

An employer would need to be able to show that one of the above conditions exists – for example, from looking at the profile of their workforce, looking at relevant national data, or from information obtained through discussion with staff. If one of those conditions exists, in the event of a ‘deadlock’ between two candidates of equal merit, the employer would be able to give preferential treatment to the candidate from an underrepresented group (referred to as the ‘tiebreaker’). However, it is important to tread carefully here as positive action can only be used in very specific circumstances and employers need to be mindful to act fairly and lawfully and be sure to avoid inadvertently unlawful discriminating against male applicants.

What next?

A couple of final thoughts. Any successful EDI work needs to be developed and implemented with a focus not just on gender, but on intersectionality. This is highlighted by the development of case law regarding the menopause, where issues around gender, age and disability interact, and looking at gender in isolation will not address all of the issues involved.

Secondly, a Department for Business and Trade report published last year revealed that only 1% of eligible mothers and 5% of eligible fathers and partners had taken up Shared Parental Leave. At the same time, statutory paternity leave is limited to two weeks and is often unpaid. Both the government and employers should reflect on the ways in which supporting partners – including more and better paid leave in the first year of childhood, and encouragement (and approval) of partners’ flexible working requests and arrangements – would in turn better support gender equality in the workplace longer term.

How does it work in practice?

Here at Bates Wells, we have taken active steps to ensure a balanced workforce and to allow women greater opportunities to fill senior roles. We have signed the women in law pledge, which holds us accountable for promoting gender equality across the firm and encourages to share our action plan on how we aim to achieve this. Our latest statistics show that we are continuing to meet our gender target for our management board (57% men and 43% women) and the diversity of our senior management team has improved, going from 100% women to 71% women and 29% men. Sector or industry focused initiatives and pledges are a good starting point for commitment to levelling the playing field at senior levels.

We also have a truly flexible approach to work. About a third of our people work part time, and approximately a third of our partners do the same. We have senior male role models who finish work to pick their kids up, which has helped normalise conversations about home responsibilities in our firm and shown more junior team members that you can be successful irrespective of your working hours. We made flexible working a day one right in our policy more than a year ago, and we actively advertise when we are recruiting that we are open to modern ways of working. Reporting on your flexible working data showcases your commitment and accountability. 

We teamed up with ‘Talking Menopause’ to support and educate our people about the menopause, and encourage open conversations in the workplace. We have created an online menopause information and support hub and we are about to upskill our mental health first aiders to support people going through the menopause. Partnering with relevant charities are a great way to get resources and information. We also provide a funded menopause plan through our private healthcare provider, which could be worth exploring if private medical care is something your organisation offers.

We also ensure our efforts to improve gender equality by promoting a working environment which is free from discrimination, harassment, or victimisation and we aim to ensure that transgender people or transitioning employees feel respected and valued and are treated as such.  Our transitioning in the workplace guidance focuses on making sure that everyone feels supported throughout the transitioning process in our firm.

If you are a purpose driven business looking to improve your EDI policies, an obvious starting point is to focus on increasing gender diversity in the workforce. We can assist in implementing tailored policies and practices which can help to instil real positive change whilst navigating what can be a tricky and nuanced legal landscape. We can also offer bespoke training packages for your managers to ensure they are equipped to deal with these issues sensitively and fairly. Get in touch to find out more.

[1] Figures taken from the House of Commons Library “Women and the UK economy” Research Briefing, published 4 March 2024.

[2] Responding to a Channel 4 poll, reported by the Fawcett Society 2022.