From female leaders to AI bias: HR news round-up

This week’s HR news round-up covers everything from progress for female leaders, but only in certain roles, to bias in the models used in ChatGPT.

A group of women of varying ages in a meeting smiling


More women on boards, but in positions with less influence

The number of female leaders is growing at the top of leading companies, but many are in particular sectors and in people-focused jobs, according to a new report by Green Park.

The Business Leaders Index shows the roles of Chair, CEO and CFO have all experienced an increase in female representation during the period 2013 to 2023 and overall ethnic minority representation at all levels of seniority has increased, but it has fallen at the top level for black managers.

However, women remain significantly under-represented in many roles, notably Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Chief Finance Officer (CFO), Chair, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), General Manager (GM), and Vice President (VP).

The report shows most people-led positions in the FTSE 350 – which tend to be paid less and have less influence – are held by females, and there are no males represented in Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) roles.

The report also notes a huge divergence emerging amongst minority ethnocultural groups. Across the FTSE 350 Hindu & Sikh are the most prevalent ethnocultural group in the Top 3, Top 20 and Pipeline. Black representation is poor by comparison and at the top level has fallen since 2019.

Sir Trevor Phillips, chairman of Green Park, said: “Though there are women who have risen to the top positions, it is less that we would have expected, to be frank, and it’s in very particular sectors, like media.”

He added: “Regrettably, people are pretty afraid of addressing the issues of race and ethnicity because they fear that whatever they do or say they will somehow become the objects of people’s hostility . . . Talented people have other options and if you don’t look like a company that’s going to take them and their type of person seriously, whether that’s to do with their sex or race or religion, then they’re not going to join you and they will go to America or Germany or Australia.”

Concerns about bias in AI

A UNESCO study of the Large Language models (LLM) used in generative artificial intelligence shows how much of them are based on sexist, homophobic and racist stereotypes.

The report found women were described as working in domestic roles far more often than men – four times as often by one model – and were frequently associated with words like “home”, “family” and “children”, while male names were linked to “business”, “executive”, “salary” and “career”.

The study, Bias Against Women and Girls in Large Language Models, examines stereotyping in Large Language Models (LLMs) – natural language processing tools that underpin popular generative AI platforms – including GPT-3.5 and GPT-2 by OpenAI, and Llama 2 by META.

Open source LLMs such as Llama 2 and GPT-2 exhibited the most significant gender bias. However, the study also concludes that their open and transparent nature can be a strong advantage in addressing and mitigating these biases through greater collaboration across the global research community, compared with more closed models, which include GPT 3.5 and 4 (the basis for ChatGPT) and Google’s Gemini.

Part of the study measured the diversity of content in AI-generated texts by asking the platforms to “write a story” about different types of people. Open-source LLMs in particular tended to assign more diverse, high-status jobs to men, such as engineer, teacher and doctor, while frequently relegating women to roles that are traditionally undervalued or socially-stigmatised, such as “domestic servant”, “cook” and “prostitute”.

Read more here.

Call for ban on NDAs in sexual harassment cases

A Parliamentary committee has called for a legislative ban on the use of Non Disclosure Agreements in harassment cases.

The Treasury Committee’s new report on sexism in the City also calls for an end to the ‘era of impunity’ in response to a ‘shocking’ prevalence of sexual harassment and bullying, and a culture which it says is ‘holding back women’ in the City.

The Committee notes there have been incremental improvements since 2018, for example, a marginal increase in the representation of women in senior positions and a small reduction in the sector’s average gender pay gap, but says progress is still far too slow.

The Committee’s recommendations include stronger protections for whistleblowers in sexual harassment cases, a ban on prospective employers asking for salary history, a legal requirement to include salary bands on job adverts, a reduction in the size threshold for gender pay gap reporting from 250+ to 50+ employees for firms in the financial services sector, a mandatory gender pay gap action plan and explanation of gaps; the dropping of extensive diversity data reporting and target setting and changes to the Women in Finance Charter, including strengthening the link between executive pay and performance on improving diversity.

During the inquiry, MPs heard how NDAs are being misused in the sector to ‘cover up’ abuse, sexual harassment and discrimination – leaving victims silenced while perpetrators go unpunished.

The Committee also heard that firms’ internal whistleblowing procedures were inadequate, with HR teams prioritising the reputation of the business over the wellbeing of employees. This was backed up by evidence showing that 70% of whistleblowers within financial services were victimised, dismissed or felt resignation was the only option open to them.

While MPs welcomed proposals by the Financial Conduct Authority and by the Prudential Regulation Authority to strengthen their regimes for tackling non-financial misconduct, including sexual harassment, members of the Committee recommend that the regulators drop costly proposals for businesses to report data and set targets on diversity. They say these proposals would not capture the many smaller firms that have some of the worst cultures and levels of diversity and could be treated by firms as another ‘tick-box’ exercise. The Committee thinks that boards and senior leadership of firms should take greater responsibility for improving diversity and inclusion because of the business benefits of doing so.

Read more here.

Budget anger from child poverty action groups

The Chancellor has announced the lifting of the threshold on child benefit as part of a Budget statement which critics say had very little for the poorest families.

In his Budget statement, Jeremy Hunt announced a 2p in the pound cut to National Insurance contributions for employees and the self-employed, although tax thresholds have been frozen, meaning more middle earners are drawn into higher tax brackets. He also said that full child benefits would be paid to households where the highest-earning parent earns up to £60,000 [up from the current £50,000]. Partial child benefit will be paid where the highest earner earns up to £80,000. He said the government would review child benefit limits on a household rather than an individual basis, but not until 2026.

Hunt also said that he guaranteed “the rates that will be paid to childcare providers” in order to deliver the Government’s expanded free childcare pledge, although he didn’t say what those rates would be.  Childcare groups welcomed the commitment to ensure early years funding rises in line with provider delivery costs, but said it is only a start and doesn’t cover the existing funding gap arising from underpayment of subsidised care for three and four year olds.

Save the Children commented on the lack of provision for poorer families: “The Chancellor is leaving the poorest families out in the cold with his Spring Statement. The 4.2 million children living in poverty, one million of whom are destitute, continues to be a black mark for this Government. Benefit payments are at the lowest level in years and we fear threats of increased sanctions. While we warmly welcome the significant changes to child benefit and the extension of the Household Support Fund, more investment is needed in social security and the early years sector to support the country’s most vulnerable children.”

Read more here.

Report charts stress of women in tech

More than three quarters of women in technology (76%) have experience of burnout and varying degrees of sleep deprivation (75%), while 69% are experiencing job dissatisfaction, according to a new study by everywoman and Bupa.

Women currently make up 26% of the tech workforce. The report uncovers a number of barriers to the wellbeing of women in technology. Imposter phenomenon and the female role model deficit were identified as the top barriers to women’s success, leading to self-doubt and a sense of isolation. The report says a deficit of role models particularly hinders women’s access to mentorship and guidance, exacerbating the challenge of navigating an industry in which they are underrepresented, which profoundly impacts wellbeing.

The report also identifies the diverse gender-specific challenges compounding women’s wellbeing. Among these, the report stresses work-life balance difficulties, lack of workplace inclusivity and the gender pay gap as critical, with 38%, 36%, and 34% of the over 1,400 respondents, respectively, citing them. These challenges are coupled with limited advancement opportunities and gender bias in hiring.

Another barrier is the difficulty women have accessing leadership roles due to entrenched biases and a lack of sponsorship – a barrier that becomes more stubborn as women progress up the ladder.

Read more here.

Single parents struggling to meet 30-hour UC requirement

Over 80% of single parents in receipt of Universal Credit are unable to meet the new 30-hour work requirements introduced last October for lead carers of three to 12 year olds, according to new research from campaign group Single Parent Rights, supported by Save the Children.

In the survey of 638 single parents, the increase was “unmanageable” for 81%, while only 32% found their work requirements manageable prior to the increase. Only 6% reported they would be able to meet the new work requirements. Single parents on low incomes, those from racialised minority groups and sole carers were found to face even greater challenges in meeting their work requirements.

The new work requirements, introduced by the Government last October, require lead carers of three to 12 year olds to be available for work for up to 30 hours a week, up from 16 hours a week for parents of three to four year olds and up from 25 hours for parents of five to 12 year olds.

The research identified multiple barriers facing single parents looking for work/increased hours, and one of the biggest was childcare availability (65%) and affordability (60%). There were also concerns regarding the mental health impact on parents (60%) and their children (59%), a lack of flexible work (48%), and the prevalence of single parent discrimination within the workplace (35%). Almost half who are unemployed (45%) said they felt discriminated against for being a single parent when looking for work.

Read more here.

Dads not taking paternity leave

Dads are still not taking their paternity leave due in large part to low statutory rates, according to a survey by Pregnant Then Screwed.

Their poll shows three in five fathers took two weeks or less paternity leave following the birth of their most recent child; less than a third reported being able to access enhanced paternity leave pay around the birth of their most recent child; and nearly half who had access to enhanced paternity pay were still only able to take two weeks or less of paternity leave.

Meanwhile, analysis of ONS figures by Pregnant Then Screwed for Mother’s Day shows that not only did mothers earn 24% less per hour than fathers in 2023 because of the nature of the jobs they are in, but the gap in median weekly earnings was 43%, in large part because mothers are working reduced hours to look after children because caring responsibilities are not equally shared.

Tesco announces pay rise and paternity policy

Tesco has agreed a 9.1% pay rise for staff and an increase in paid paternity leave.

The announcement was made after an agreement was reached with trade union USDAW on the hourly pay rate for store workers, which will rise from £11.02 to £12.02.

The new rate will come into effect from 28th April 2024, nearly a month after the legal minimum wage rises to £11.44 for those over 21 – a delay which has angered some workers. Employees will be eligible for six weeks of paternity leave on full pay while the maximum company sick pay entitlement is rising to 18 weeks for eligible employees.  Tesco previously announced 26 weeks of fully paid maternity, adoption and kinship leave. It describes the paternity leave agreement as “industry leading”.

The supermarket chain has also recently launched a virtual GP service for employees and a right to request flexible working from day one.  Tesco says it is the first major supermarket to introduce a day one right to request.

Tesco also provides employees with Colleague Clubcard discount of up to 15% on their shopping, free food in store canteens and a pay advance scheme.  The annual Colleague Clubcard discount allowance to £2,000 (up from £1,500), which can be shared with a family member in a second household.

Read more here.

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