Regulation with Rosie: Gender equality legislation

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on gender equality legislation.

Now that it's 32 years since the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, it's difficult to remember back to that time, when it was lawful to discriminate against half of the population.

Since 2003, we've recognised promoting equality and diversity as a charitable purpose in its own right. There's also been a significant increase in the number of women chief executives in some of the big charities. I like the idea that the charitable sector scores more highly than other sectors in terms of equality and diversity - but this isn't consistently the case.

By April there will be additional legislative forces behind gender equality: first, the gender equality duty for public authorities in the Equalities Act, which will largely affect charities carrying out public functions for public authorities; second, the Work and Families Act 2006, which will give extended rights for parents and new ones for carers.

The sector has much to gain from embracing the changes this legislation will bring. Women are still the primary carers and child rearers in society.

Research by the charity Working Families suggests that promoting flexible working can make organisations more efficient by improving morale and motivation. It gives case studies from both small and large charities whose commitment to flexible working has paid dividends.

And with retention of staff a perpetual headache, Working Families' finding that working parents put family-friendly hours ahead even of such benefits as pensions provides yet another reason to consider it.

Tomorrow is International Women's Day. I hope all charities combating gender inequality find an opportunity to celebrate the difference they make. More charities should join them by ensuring they keep pace with both the letter and the spirit of the new law.

• Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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