Gender equality remains a work in progress

The Cayman Islands still has significant work to do to ensure gender equality in the workplace. A survey by non-profit organisation Gender Equality Cayman of more than 1,000 people who live and work on island indicates that Cayman lags behind other developed countries and that gender equality is not an issue frequently discussed by businesses.

Less than half of the survey respondents (49%) believe their current company has attained the status of equal opportunity employer. One third feel it is a work in progress, while 9% said their employer is nowhere near providing equal opportunity.

One of the main survey findings is that men and women perceive the issue very differently. This is a marked change from an earlier survey done by Gender Equality Cayman in 2017.

“Previously, it seemed that men and women were thinking that there are barriers for women in the workplace. Whereas now, we are seeing that has diverged,” said Roxanne Lorimer, chair of the organisation. “Men seem to think there is less of an issue.”

While 88% of men stated that, generally, all genders are treated equally, that figure is much lower for women, at only 55%.

Increased media coverage of gender equality issues and of initiatives to tackle it may be one of the reasons for this. In addition, women are much more likely to directly experience inequality in the workplace and therefore may be more aware of the issue.

The different perception extends to inclusion policies in the workplace. Men are more likely than women – 52% compared to 35% – to note that their organisation has a diversity and inclusion policy.

Again, the divergent responses could be the result of a different awareness of how these policies take effect in practice.

Gender Equality Cayman secretary Emma Graham-Taylor said gender equality must become part of an organisation’s DNA and start with actions at the time when employees are hired. “It cannot just be a policy that sits in a handbook.”

A common misconception reflected by some of the respondents is that gender equality is not about more or less equal numbers of men and women in the workplace, but about employing equal numbers of men and women at every level and for every role.

In the legal services industry, for instance, an equal number of men and women graduate law school and start their career at an associate level at law firms. However, at the senior level, the industry numbers are skewed with only a fifth of the partners being women.

About half of male and female survey respondents, 47% and 53% respectively, acknowledged there are fewer women in senior roles in their workplace.

In-depth interviews that supplemented the survey data showed that there is some evidence of improvement, with an increasing number of women in senior positions in some organisations. But progress is slow, and a more concerted effort is needed to create gender parity in the workplace, Gender Equality Cayman said in a presentation at the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resources Professionals annual conference on Friday.

The organisation’s survey shows that men are generally more satisfied than women with their current standing and career opportunities in the workplace, as well as their salaries.

Two thirds of men said they and their colleagues are paid fairly, whereas less than half of women (49%) agreed with this statement. Two thirds of men also stated they are satisfied with their level of seniority but again only 53% of women are.

Men and women are also in disagreement about the existence of career opportunities regardless of gender. While 79% of men think their female colleagues have access to the same opportunities, only 52% of women do. The survey also noted a slightly higher share of male respondents had been promoted in the past five years.

The solution is complex and Gender Equality Cayman stresses that the organisation would like to take the emotion out of the discussion that is needed.

“The last thing we want to do is disenfranchise the men,” said Graham-Taylor. “We want to have men at the table. Some of the policies and procedures negatively impact men. Paternity leave, for example.”

Lorimer added, “We don’t see this as only a women’s issue, it is for all genders.”

Workplace flexibility around working hours or maternity and paternity leave are one part of the solution. “There is a strong theme that women get access to more flexible working and a lot of men want that, too,” the GEC chair said.

Another area of focus is how organisations recruit. Are job advertisements worded to appeal more to a specific gender? Are interview panels sufficiently diverse? Is the office hierarchy male- or female-dominated? Who gets access to training and what are general promotion practices?

And, importantly, are men and women in comparable roles compensated in the same way?

The survey results hint that female respondents believe this may not be the case and international data suggests that salaries for men worldwide tend to be higher than for women in the same roles.

In the UK, new regulations mandate large organisations of more than 250 employees to make their salaries transparent. Because of Cayman’s immigration regime, such salary figures for specific positions broken down by gender are available to the government.

Gender Equality Cayman says it is in talks with government to find a way for these figures to be regularly published.

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