The Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group heard yesterday that, while flexible working may be a benefit of the pandemic, it is likely women will suffer a long-term impact. That means policymakers need to be more alert to the gendered impact of the crisis.
The Women & Equalities Committee is determined to hold ministers to account annually on action over the gender pay gap and the activities of the race disparity unit, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work heard yesterday.
Caroline Nokes, chair of the Committee, said it was not enough to just measure race and gender-related information without doing anything to address sexism and racism. “We will hold their feet to the fire,” she said.
Nokes criticised the lack of mention of gender or childcare in the Chancellor’s summer statement, the lack of backing for women entrepreneurs and the lack of mention of gender and race in the provisions for apprenticeships.
Yvonne Braun from the Association of British Insurers said the association spoke about the potential benefits of the coronavirus for women. The association had seen a huge increase in homeworking as a result of the coronavirus. Ninety-five per cent of members had been working from home which would have been unimaginable before. She felt it was unlikely that employers would return to the status quo ante due to three main reasons: the practicalities of getting lots of people into city centre buildings, the cost of those buildings and the demands of employees. “The crisis is changing the way people are looking to work,” she said.
She singled out job shares as one way forward for women who worked part time and wanted to progress, but she said job shares also worked for portfolio workers, those approaching retirement and many more. She would like to see the Employment Bill being debated in the autumn enshrining flexible working and said that could be a positive legacy of the coronavirus. However, she feared the negative impact on women with men more likely to return to the office and women working from home to look after children which, she said, could worsen inequalities as women would not be in the room and could miss out on promotions.
Braun also spoke about the gender pension gap – already a big problem before the pandemic – which she said could get worse over the next years due to women being more likely to be furloughed or lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus as a result of the sectors they worked in and the fact that they were still doing most of the childcare. She spoke about a long tail effect that might not become apparent for years. She called on the Government to engage more with the equality agenda and to do more to dismantle gender stereotypes about career choices.
Laura Farris, co-chair of the APPG, said it was a “golden moment” to fight for greater flexible working that should not be missed.
Angela Ishamel from Diverse Matters talked about fears that diversity and inclusion would drop off employers’ agenda due to mass redundancies despite the momentum from the Black Lives Matters movement. She said managers needed to think more laterally, listen to their employees and reflect on their behaviour and the messages they were giving.
Michelle Gyimah from Equality Pays spoke about the decision to make reporting on the gender pay gap optional this year. She said this had had a trickle down effect, with only around half of employers reporting this year. She said diversity and inclusion managers were being made redundant, which signalled a deprioritisation of diversity and inclusion right at the moment when it was really needed.
Gyimah said women were more likely to be furloughed, in part because many managers were unwilling to offer the flexibility they needed to work around their children while men were under increasing pressure to be present. She believed it was likely that furloughed workers would be less likely to get pay rises and promotions because presenteeism still ruled.
Gyimah also reflected on the impact of the impending economic crisis, saying managers needed to rethink how they handled crises and not deal with them in the same way as they had in the past. They needed to talk to staff, consult them about redundancies and listen to their views, she said. It should be a collaborative conversation where employees had a voice. For Gyimah, how managers dealt with crises was testament to the culture of an organisation and that was important for the future as young people wanted a different world of work, with more flexibility, and were not only prepared to walk out if employers did not address the causes they thought were important – but to tell other people not to work there either.