Why action on the gender pay gap matters more after Covid

Why it makes little business sense not to prioritise attempts to narrow the gender pay gap.

Demonstrating the gender pay gap with men on the higher ledge than women


This week has seen the launch of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Chartered Institute of Management’s guidance for employers on how – and, crucially, why – to tackle the gender pay gap. It comes amid concerns that momentum on the gender pay gap has been lost due to the Covid pause and that, whereas before 2020 there was a big focus on it in the news and elsewhere, that will get lost in the chaos of the next phases of the pandemic.

Yet there are many very strong reasons for employers to ensure that they tackle the gender pay gap. One key one is the impact of the pandemic on women. We know that women dominate in some of the worst-hit sectors [as well as in many of the stretched key worker sectors], often because those sectors are more flexible. We know that their mental health has taken a battering. The impact of working and being the main person responsible for childcare/homeschooling during the pandemic has exhausted many women.

It is not just the effect of having to work while simultaneously doing childcare/overseeing school work/motivating teenagers that often pushed women to the edge, but the cumulative effect of chopping and changing, dealing with bubbles closing and opening and generally keeping on top of everything that has worn them down. We know, for instance, that the second lockdown was perceived as more challenging than the first, despite childcare for the  youngest being still open and more support being available through schools.

We know from our survey that women are more reluctant to apply for promotion as a direct result of the pandemic. This and related issues, such as policies to support those with caring responsibilities, the majority of whom still tend to be women, will have an impact on the gender pay gap and on diversity at the higher levels of organisations.

Given the interest in diversity and inclusion for talent attraction and retention and the importance of employers reflecting and understanding their client base, not to mention research showing the economic benefits of diversity, this is something that employers would do well to pay attention to.

And it links to the second major reason for not de-prioritising the gender pay gap: the skills shortage. Commenting on the latest labour market statistics, released yesterday, Tony Wilson from the Institute for Employment Studies said the problem during the earlier part of the pandemic was a lack of jobs. That has switched to being a lack of workers to fill job vacancies. That means that employers will need to do more to target groups who are not in work due to ill health, caring or studies. Many in that middle group are women, priced out by high childcare costs or a lack of social care support.

Allied to this skills shortage are the expectations of the incoming workforce – young people. They expect a more equal workforce in every respect. Employers tell us that they are increasingly being asked about issues such as diversity and equality as well as climate change during the application process.

The gender pay gap statistics are there for everyone to see along with other data and information on what the best employers are doing to address the pay gap and other diversity issues. A failure to prioritise not just the figures themselves, but serious efforts to narrow any gaps – whether related to gender, ethnicity or other equality issue – is not a smart business move.

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