Employers must actively dismantle the barriers to gender equality exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis

21 August 2020

By Jeff Phipps, Managing Director at ADP UK

The UK has some of the strongest employee protection laws in Europe, yet gender equality remains an issue. Women are paid on average 17.3% less than men, a figure that has improved only marginally in recent years. While regulations are in place to protect women, we risk losing these advancements during the Coronavirus crisis

A study by think tank Autonomy found that over one million of the jobs with the highest exposure to the Coronavirus pay poverty wages, and a staggering 98% of workers who are in these high-risk jobs and being paid poverty wages are women. Not only are women more likely to be in lower paying jobs, but some of the primary sectors impacted by the crisis, such as travel and hospitality, have higher numbers of female employment. Research by The Institute for Fiscal Studies also reveals that women are likely to be disproportionality affected by the economic fallout of the current crisis. Yet, the British government suspended gender pay gap reporting this year due to the unprecedented uncertainty and pressure facing companies because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this move removes pressure on businesses to play an active role in helping women who are supporting their families while working remotely more than ever before. These compounding factors mean that it is likely the gender pay gap will widen, and employers should not ignore this within their organisations or risk alienating their workforce post-crisis. 

Although job security is currently likely to be top of mind for most employees, employers should consider the future consequences of side-lining gender pay gap reporting. According to the 2019 ADP Workforce View study, employee tolerance of the pay gap between men and women is wearing thin with 68% of employees stating that they would consider looking for another job if they found out there was an unfair gender pay gap at their organisation. The view that more needs to be done to fight pay discrimination is repeated in the 2020 ADP Workforce View research with two thirds of workers believing that there is a need for pay gap reporting in their organisation, rising to 70% amongst under 44s.

This means, even though employees may not act during the current crisis, the way companies approach gender pay equality at this time will play a role in future employee attraction, staff retention and business success. Companies must continue to work towards achieving pay equity in their organisations as employees are prepared to vote with their feet, risking severe engagement, performance, and reputational issues for the businesses that fail to support their workers.

Communities, the government, and companies need to work together to redefine gender roles in society; provide policies that nurture and prepare women for positions of power and businesses should design a workplace that works for everyone and ensure that women are getting a fair chance to progress in their career.  

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