Young Women’s Trust report: Equality at work? Positive Action in Gender Segregated Apprenticeships

Positive Action is being chronically under-utilised, which in turn is acting as a barrier to addressing the under-representation of women in key sectors within apprenticeships and beyond.

This is according to the June 2018 report (pdf) from the Young Women’s Trust (YWT) on the attitudes towards, and use of positive action in relation to apprenticeships aimed at addressing gender inequality in the construction, engineering and ICT sectors in England.

YWT commissioned Professor Chantal Davies of the University of Chester to carry out the research from from June 2017 – April 2018.

This research finds:

  • Almost all of those participating appeared to have an awareness of the term ‘positive action’. However, many participants reported a lack of clarity and confusion around the detail of a definition
  • Whilst, there was an apparent knowledge that positive action could easily cross over into illegal ‘positive discrimination’, very few appeared to be aware or indeed referenced the legislative framework provided by the Equality Act 2010
  • Very few were able to comfortably describe the distinction between ‘positive action’ and ‘positive discrimination’. This lack of clarity around the law and what amounts to legal positive action appeared to encourage reticence to exercise positive action
  • In spite of confusion around the boundaries and legality of positive action, the majority of those participating expressed favourable attitudes towards the use of positive action to address the underrepresentation of women in gender segregated apprenticeships and employment more generally.

The report recommends:

  • Employers should use Positive Action measures. This could include targeting where and how jobs are advertised, outreach, work experience placements, taster events, pre-application support, coaching and formal mentoring schemes for potential and current female apprentices
  • Organisations should use gender targets to drive Positive Action measures, with incentives for meeting targets. Young Women’s Trust welcomes moves from companies such as ITN who are using gender and diversity targets as performance indicators for bonus payments for chief executives
  • Sector bodies should focus on promoting the use of the ‘tiebreak’ under section 159 of the Equality Act 2010 to address under-representation in apprenticeships. They should develop, disseminate and promote in-depth and robust guidance on ‘tiebreak’ use
  • Government should endorse new guidance on the effective use of Positive Action. We recommend that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is tasked with producing this
  • The Government should review the legislative framework under the Equality Act 2010. This should include assessing whether Section 159 (the tiebreak provision) is adequate to enable employers to take proactive measures to address under-representation, and options for whether it should go further.

Read the full report (pdf).

Read the summary (pdf).