New guidance for public sector employers on gender and the public sector equality duty

The public sector equality duty forms s149 of the Equality Act 2010. It is a positive duty which requires public authorities to take a proactive and organised approach to tackling institutional discrimination, and aims to mainstream equality into public bodies in practical ways. It has a general duty which sets out requirements for all public authorities and those bodies exercising a public function, and specific duties which place additional requirements on listed public authorities.

The general duty has now been in place for five years, with the specific duties in place for four years. In that time listed public authorities in Scotland have been required to publish their first mainstreaming reports, employee information, equal pay statements, gender pay gap information, and equality outcomes, and report on progress made towards mainstreaming equalities, and their equality outcomes.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission considered listed authorities’ compliance with the duty in its Measuring Up? reports, and a number of other equalities organisations have also scrutinised the standard of reporting. Close the Gap completed assessments of the first round of reporting in April 2013, and the second round in April 2015, with a focus on gender and employment.

The first assessment identified significant room for improvement in public authorities’ responses to PSED across all aspects of the duty. Public authorities failed to recognise data collection, interpretation and use as a process. Some authorities were stronger in data collection but then provided insufficient or weak analysis. Others had ostensibly better outcomes but these were not based on the data collected. Inconsistencies were also evident around the calculation of the gender pay gap and authorities’ understanding of the causes and types of occupational segregation.

The findings of the 2015 assessment showed that of those public authorities assessed, compliance with PSED has largely regressed, with the majority of organisations having lower overall scores than in the 2013 assessment. Just under a third achieved an improved score. Similar themes were identified, indicating a need for public authorities to renew their focus on work to meet the duty.

We have used the findings of this work, alongside learning from work done with individual organisations to develop updated guidance on the duty as it relates to gender and employment. It is hoped in being responsive to the experiences of public authorities this guidance will assist with the development and implementation of work to meet the duty, and improved reporting in the future.

It is important to acknowledge that gender inequality exists, and is perpetuated by gender-blind policies that fail to account for the different needs of women and men. Women’s inequality is not only an issue for female employees and their families. Barriers to men’s and women’s participation in stereotypically gendered occupations, and to women achieving the most senior posts, mean that employers cannot be assured that they are recruiting the most skilled and talented people to specific areas of their organisation.

Employers who take steps to address gender inequalities benefit from a more productive, loyal and motivated workforce. Diverse workforces bring a range of skills and experience to an organisation. This diversity of thought makes an organisation more creative, more innovative, and more attuned to the needs of all service users. Action on equalities therefore has the potential to drive excellence in service delivery.

Although the new guidance focuses on gender and employment, it covers fundamental principles such as mainstreaming, impact assessment, and the process data gathering, analysis and use. Public authorities may therefore find this guidance useful when considering these principles in relation to service delivery, or other protected characteristics.

The new PSED guidance can be found here. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the guidance please get in touch with us at We are also offering free training for public authorities on this new guidance. Further information and registration details can be found here.

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