Pandemic widens gender pay gap

Worrying stats reveal we’re taking leaps backwards

Experts have warned that the pandemic could “set women’s economic progress back half a century” as the pay gap widens again. Worrying stats have been revealed that suggest we’re taking leaps backwards when it comes to workplace equality. By Sadia Nowshin.

The drive towards equal pay felt like it was making progress, but the facts are concerning.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies found that the effects of the pandemic have meant mothers were:

  • 47% more likely to lose their jobs than dads.
  • Their hours have been reduced 50% more
  • They were also more likely to be furloughed.

As their paid work is reduced, the domestic labour has risen, with women spending twice as long as men on household chores before the pandemic – around four hours daily – and lockdown has only exacerbated the situation.

When the schools and daycare centres shut, many parents were left in a predicament.

Even before Covid, the cost of childcare meant that about 40% of working women were on part-time contracts. However, childcare services are vital in enabling women to pursue a career. When those facilities disappeared, mums were significantly more likely to sacrifice work to care for the kids.

“But you’re working from home now,” some cry, “so you don’t need childcare!”.

This is a big part of the problem – sometimes, the response to mothers struggling with balancing kids with work has been the offer of remote working.

As we’ve discovered in lockdown, that doesn’t really fix anything, as childcare is no walk in the park. Since companies have moved operations online, it’s mums who are trying to do video meetings while their kids burst in asking for biscuits, only to be rudely cut off by a male presenter.

One defence of pay inequality is that men work more ‘important’ jobs, and so are paid accordingly. Arguably the most vital, and dangerous job of the past few months has been healthcare – and 79% of those workers are women.

You can’t blame a lack of education in female employees either. There are currently around a third more women than men in higher education, and there’s been a consistent trend since 2013 where more women have gained a 2:1 or First compared to male students.

Many industries are still waiting for the go-ahead, and most beauty salon employees waiting to work again are female.

A big setback in women’s careers, that has also played a part in the economic effect of the pandemic, is the ‘motherhood penalty’.

Though we’d like to say that traditional gender roles aren’t enforced anymore, a 2019 study revealed that the average pay for mothers takes a dive after their first child and never recovers, even after 10 years. The bias means women are less likely to be up for promotions or big tasks and are often singled out when it comes to job cuts.

The pandemic has revealed a ton of issues that need addressing, but this is one that needs tackling sooner, rather than later. After the government made the gender pay information for companies available for public viewing, there has been progress towards achieving equality within the workplace.

With the effects of lockdown and the expectations or attitudes that are creeping back in as a result, however, all this work is at risk of being undone.

What are your thoughts – what needs to be done to help?