New figures on the gender pay gap came out this week, but any figures on the last 18 months should be treated with caution. The impact of Covid will be far-reaching.
What is happening with the gender pay gap? The truth is that it’s a bit difficult to know, given the Covid disruption. An Office for National Statistics report out earlier this week showed that the gender pay gap for full-time employees was 7.9%, slightly up from 2020 [7%], but down from April 2019 when it was 9%.
It advises people to focus on the longer-term downward trend, given that 2020 was not an average year by any accounts. It notes, however, the large gap between those below 40 and those over 40 [18.6%] and says that the gap is higher for higher earners, reflecting the lack of women in leadership roles, particularly after having children, although it says that the gender pay gap has fallen significantly for senior leaders over 50 due in part to focus on women on boards.
While the figures take into account furlough, the impact of Covid has yet to fully feed through. There will be years of reports and analysis of the impact of Covid on all sections of society and the mental health impact in particular is hard to gauge as it is ongoing.
The same is true for the gender pay audit figures which are a mixed bag and show that, while some employers are making progress, some not only aren’t making progress, but don’t appear to be interested in doing so, given the lack of any action plan to deal with often significant gaps. Trawling through the figures per sector can be a dispiriting experience. There are pockets of action and interesting analysis, but by and large a lot of it is bland and fairly meaningless – and that is for those who do have an action plan. In some cases, the action plan appears to be little more than a defensive statement. There is really no excuse for not having an action plan. It should be embedded in HR processes and not something that has to be produced especially for the audits. It should be something that employers are looking at regularly – not just because they are legally required to submit their figures.
There are many factors that contribute to a gender pay gap. As the ONS figures show, issues around working mums are key, ie the fact that women still take most of the hit work-wise for having children. Part of this is due to a lack of affordable or sufficiently flexible childcare; part is the lack of equal sharing of the parental burden; and another part is the lack of flexibility in senior posts.
Interestingly, we are doing a survey for our sister site workingwise.co.uk [for over 50s] and it shows a significant interest in job shares. Many of the over 50s will be in middle or senior leadership roles. The pace of many of these jobs is intense, perhaps too intense for one person in many cases. Hence burnout. Would two heads not be better than one? Would that not make for greater resilience long-term? It is certainly something that should be supported more, for instance, by lowering the associated costs when it comes to National Insurance contributions. If we want a more high skilled workforce, we need to ensure that there are not barriers that unnecessarily prevent some people from accessing the roles.