Covid-19 and its affect on gender pay gap

On April 27th, Parental Choice hosted a free webinar with Michelle Gyimah, gender equality guru.  This article gives you a brief overview of the discussions, which were fascinating.  You can watch the full video here.

Gender Pay Gap reporting stops

The COVID-19 outbreak has put the country on a roller-coaster ride that is exposing our flaws and areas that need attention. Organisations are needing to change at an extraordinary pace where health and wellbeing are taking centre stage, and people are having conversations about emotional health.

During this time, enforcement of Gender Pay Gap reporting is being halted for this year, increasing the likelihood that working mothers having to furlough to take care of children will potentially miss opportunities for promotions when the COVID-19 outbreak ends.

The action to halt reporting comes from the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We recognise that employers across the country are facing unprecedented uncertainty and pressure at this time. Because of this, we feel it is only right to suspend enforcement of the gender pay gap reporting this year.” – David Isaac, EHRC Chair, and Liz Truss, Minister for Women & Equalities

This notice came through ten days prior to the reporting date deadline, with the intention that businesses can focus on getting through this tough period intact.

However, this sends a message that equality is a secondary regulation that is nice to have but not necessary during a crisis. History has shown that diversity and inclusion are the first things to go during a crisis, and to cancel reporting two weeks prior to the deadline sends the wrong message.

Inequality at home and how remote working is affecting women

Some businesses are adept at flexible working, but remote working on mass is challenging and not how any company would choose to roll it out. There has been no time for negotiations or a trial period. This time should be seen as an opportunity for businesses to look at how they do things.

The impact of COVID-19 will be felt differently depending on who you are and your circumstances. However, the vast majority of people are not prepared for remote working, and the impact as work and home collide.

In many homes across the UK, men take the home office and women are left looking after the kids, shouldering the burden of childcare, while attempting to juggle work. Employers expect them to be looking after the kids but still do their job, and men with childcare responsibilities are hearing statements from bosses such as ‘can’t your wife look after the kids.’

It is not sustainable for people to deliver seven hours of work a day and look after their kids and provide remote learning. This is not to say that some employers aren’t bending over backward to help and that men are taking on the role of childcare. But for the most part, women have to compromise and either reduce working hours or furlough.

COVID-19 highlights the inequalities that already exist more starkly, prompting the need for a discussion between partners to rethink boundaries.

The impact of COVID-19 by gender

We have seen higher redundancy rates in female-dominated sectors such as childcare, cleaning, hospitality, and retail, which are typically lower-paid roles and face-to-face roles. The outbreak is particularly bad for single parents, who again tend to be women. This is also a dangerous time for victims of domestic violence, where isolation together increases anxiety and stress.

There is little support from employers to help women manage childcare and their work responsibilities. They are often given the feeling of not being a team player and penalised for this. Good managers and line managers need to think about what their teams need and empathise, because many employees will not be open and internalise the struggle of their situation.

Many women are being furloughed because of their caring responsibilities. However, this should not be the only solution. There should be a discussion around flexible working. Women may also be overlooked for future promotions because they took furlough to look after their children. They will ultimately be less likely to be chosen to take on innovative projects, mentorship, sponsorship, training, and personal development.

All of these impacts will only lead to fuel the Gender Pay Gap.

Employers need to support, understand, and invest in women. The workplace culture needs to change to the benefit of everyone, and this situation will reveal the true nature of companies.

The potential cost of COVID-19

The immediate cost to the person can include burn-out, an inability to perform, illness, and time off, resentment, and a change in people’s relationship dynamic. Poor handling of the situation will lead to long term costs that could affect businesses. These costs might include a mass exodus and a loss of talent that is difficult to fill, negative brand reputation, decreased outputs, and an increase in competitor demand.

COVID-19 has already demonstrated that flexible working can work with many businesses still operating. People are reassessing their work and life priorities, and many men are visibly taking on more childcare responsibilities.

Flexible working requests are levelling out by gender, which has traditionally been the realm of women. During the outbreak, there is also an increase in shared parental leave conversations and negotiations.

What businesses can do now

It is vital to manage the expectations of what the new normal might look like. People’s expectations will change, along with those of stakeholders, teams, and managers.

Pay conversations should be based on productivity and not the number of hours people are sat at their desks. Transparent and open discussions should take place about what is achievable at this time. During this unprecedented time, when we are working through the crisis from home, companies need to drop fear-based management techniques, rethink work outputs, put assumptions aside, and look at alternatives to furlough for childcare so that women can continue to work.

There are four steps for managers to focus on to prioritise goals:

  1. Focus on what is achievable and not desirable
  2. Simplify goals to reduce and overwhelm
  3. Collaborate to establish goals
  4. Communicate regularly and have check-ins around gaols

To utilise the current crisis, businesses need to think long-term, consider their brand reputation, and embrace the unknown. They should consider how they can upskill and reskill existing talent and take a fresh approach to job design. Businesses should review their policies for parental leave and provide support for mentorship.

Companies should prepare contingency plans for if this happens again by creating a log of what has worked and what has not.

Most crucially, businesses should prepare for more conversations on pay transparency and pay equality.

Michelle Gyimah

Michelle Gyimah is the Director of Equality Pays, a gender equality consultancy dedicated to closing workplace pay gaps.

With gender pay gap reporting regulation, possible ethnicity pay gap reporting and a workplace talent shortage looming, redressing inequalities in the workplace is more  important than ever.

Michelle’s unique understanding of employee engagement and workplace challenges enables her to embed practical application into her consultancy.

Michelle is a passionate advocate for enabling women (and men) to progress in their careers in a way that suit their outside of work responsibilities and lifestyle choices. She does this by empowering workplaces to radically rethink how they can support their employees to  thrive at work.

Michelle has over 12 years’ experience of working at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and holds a Masters in Human Rights from The University of Manchester.

Michelle is a regular contributor to numerous national business magazines, international conferences and lives in Manchester, UK.



Parental Choice works with businesses to support their employees who have childcare or eldercare responsibilities.  We do this through helping them secure long-term dependable childcare or finding care homes for the elderly, all supported with a programme of wellbeing talks and presentations to provide emotional strategies designed to help with the challenges of juggling a family and a career.

We have a programme of webinars to help businesses support their employees through the coronavirus outbreak, check out our full programme.

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