New report reveals gender equality at senior levels can be achieved in a major employer

Press Releases

21 Jul 2016

With a near-equal gender mix at the top of their organisation, Lewisham Council has successfully overcome the continuing gender pay and position inequality that still persists in many organisations across the UK.

A new Institute for Employment Studies (IES) report investigates how Lewisham, with 56 per cent of those in senior grades female and a pay gap slightly in favour of women, has achieved this.

Although many organisations have diversity policies, few achieve an equal gender mix at the top or equal pay, and fierce debate continues over how effective policies such as Unconscious Bias Training actually are.

In the UK, the gender pay gap stands at almost 20 per cent, and recently there has been a range of government gender equality initiatives almost competing for employers’ attention. The new prime minister, Theresa May, has also recently emphasised her ambition  to address gender disparities.

With the finalised government mandatory gender pay reporting guidelines due any day now, Lewisham’s success in achieving gender parity is a significant achievement many others will be looking to replicate.

The IES report suggests that Lewisham’s success is down to a number of factors. The council’s ability to show in word and deed that talent really is promoted and supported throughout the organisation, regardless of background, seems to have been particularly important.

Likewise a combination of history, culture and leadership were shown to be crucial to their success. HR and diversity policies were seen to play an important supporting role, as were training and the monitoring of diversity statistics. Equality targets are not rigidly enforced but the data is monitored closely and regular equal pay audits have been acted on.

Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham said: 'I’m pleased that we have become a local government leader in this issue. Workplace gender equality is a real focus for us - and the median earnings for female employees in Lewisham are now higher than for men.'

Another significant aspect of the Council’s approach has been to ‘grow your own’ senior talent, with 12 out of 26 of the most senior roles currently held by internal appointees. Management and talent development programmes continue to be important aspects of the Council’s HR and diversity approach.

Duncan Brown, head of HR consultancy at IES, said: 'Gender pay and power gaps are not always easy to close so it is nice to be able to report on an HR success story. The learning for other organisations is that there are no easy policy formulas or 'quick wins' to copy. It’s about a sustained focus from the top over a number of years with a wide range of supporting HR and diversity policies.

'And Lewisham are by no means complacent. They continue to work hard on appropriate representation of all groups in the workforce and recognise policies and practices will need to evolve with continuing external and financial pressures.'


The report

The report is available to download from the IES website:

Duncan Brown

Duncan Brown has over 20 years’ experience in HR consulting and research on topics such as pay and reward, and talent management. He has participated on Governments taskforces on pensions and human capital reporting and was a member of the expert advisory group to the Hutton Review of Fair Pay. Human Resources magazine placed him in its listing of the top five most influential thinkers in UK HR in the past three years.

About the Institute for Employment Studies

The Institute for Employment Studies is the UK’s leading independent centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment, labour market and human resource policy and practice. It is apolitical and not-for-profit, its activities being funded through research and consultancy commissions, and from its corporate membership programme. The Institute aims to improve employment policy in the UK and internationally by carrying out authoritative research of practical relevance to policy makers and those responsible for implementing policy programmes and initiatives.

IES tweets from @EmploymtStudies