Equal Pay – Mind the gap!

Equal Pay – Mind the gap!

Anna Craig, Managing Consultant, Bradfield HR

The coronavirus pandemic could set women’s economic progress back half a century, according to warnings from international institutions including the UN and the World Economic Forum. In the downturn, the economic constraints that women around the world typically bear – from industry segregation to unequal access to capital – are painfully visible.

Friday, 20th November 2020, marked Equal Pay Day, a day organised by the Fawcett Society which roughly calculates the day in the year where women “stop earning” relative to men, due to the gender pay gap.

This year, Equal Pay Day was on 20th November 2020. In comparison to figures released by the Fawcett Society, a UK charity which campaigns for gender equality for women in all areas in their life, this day has interestingly fallen slightly later this year compared to previous years. The Fawcett Society suggest that this is due to the gender pay gap narrowing slightly from 13.1 per cent in 2019 to 11.5 per cent in 2020. The charity has also calculated the mean gender pay gap for all employees which has also fallen from 16.3 per cent in 2019 to 14.6 per cent now. However, the Fawcett Society warn that the data this year may be unreliable due to the impact of COVID-19 which has led to a quarter of the sample employer pay data to be missing from Office of National Statistics figures. (HRreview)

HRreview reported that McKinsey published a report in July 2020 outlining that although women globally made up only 39 per cent of the workforce, they accounted for over half (54 per cent) of job losses worldwide. Additionally, research conducted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in May of this year found that mothers were 14 per cent more likely to be furloughed and 23 per cent more likely than fathers to have lost their jobs in the UK.

According to the CIPD, the Equality Act – which was passed in 2010 – means men and women legally have a right to equal pay for equal work (which is the same work, broadly similar work, equivalent work or work of equal value). The Equality Act requires all private and voluntary sector employees with 250 employees and above to report on their gender pay gap data, based on pay data captured at the 5th April each year. However, this year, the deadline for reporting the data was suspended due to the impact of COVID-19 on businesses.

At the centre of women’s predicament is the expectation that they will sacrifice their own economic viability to provide care at home. The burden of care is the single biggest barrier to women’s economic participation everywhere in the world, whether in employment or business ownership. Because UK childcare is already more expensive than in most western nations, the percentage of part-time employment among working women – about 40% – was very high before Covid-19. Since women worked fewer hours in jobs that paid less per hour, limited childcare options had a direct effect on unequal pay. As three quarters of the part-time labour force, women were hit hard when part-time jobs fell 70% in the first 11 weeks of the pandemic. When schools and daycare centres shut down to stem the spread of the virus, women across all industries and occupations saw the support most critical to their employment disappear.

One female-dominated sector which did not close was healthcare, where 79% of the workers are women. Defenders of women’s inequality in the labour force often rely on the justification that men are paid more because they do more dangerous and important work. Fighting a contagious and potentially deadly virus surely counts as dangerous and important, and most of those on the frontlines of this crisis are female. Yet, even in health care, women are paid less during a pandemic. Grouping women in low-paying industries produces a significant part of the gender pay gap.

So, what can be done to turn the tide?

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive at The Fawcett Society, explained that there are steps that should be taken:

If we want to build an economic recovery that values the contributions of all people, then there are clear steps we need to take. First, we need to start early and provide role models for young women as well as help them to believe they can have any career they want. We should then use the unique opportunity the pandemic has given us to create a more flexible working environment that does not penalise women who often shoulder the burden of caring responsibilities outside of work. And finally, we must start to really value and pay those jobs that we have utterly depended on during this year such as education, social services, and nursing. There is so much more for us to all do before we can celebrate that we are becoming a fairer and more equal society in respect to gender, despite some of the progress that is being made.

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