Employers must dismantle barriers to gender equality exacerbated by Covid-19

The coronavirus crisis may jeopardise advancements in gender equality, and organisations should not underestimate the future consequences of sidelining their pay gap reporting, says Jeff Phipps

The UK has some of the strongest employee protection laws in Europe, yet gender equality remains an issue. According to the Office for National Statistics, women are paid on average 17.3 per cent less than men: a figure that has improved only marginally in recent years. While regulations are in place to protect women, we risk losing these advancements during the coronavirus crisis.  

A study by think tank Autonomy found that over one million jobs with the highest exposure to the Coronavirus pay poverty wages, and a staggering 98 per cent of those workers are women. Yet, the British government has suspended gender pay gap reporting due to the uncertainty facing companies because of Covid-19, removing the pressure on businesses who should be playing an active role to support women. Unfortunately, when crisis strikes, most businesses revert to outdated ways of working. This makes it challenging for women to work and perform at their best due to the lack of support, flexibility and resources. 

To combat these challenges, employers need to recognise the issues facing women and implement processes and systems that will enable them to succeed. Where possible, companies should shift to flexible work patterns to help parents manage their childcare duties. By doing so, businesses can play their part in creating an equal playing field for women.  

Although job security is top of mind for employees, employers should consider the future consequences of side-lining gender pay gap reporting. According to an ADP study, employee tolerance of the pay gap is wearing thin as workers’ attitude towards gender inequality has changed. More than 68 per cent of employees state that they would consider leaving their jobs if they found an unfair gender pay gap. Even though employees may not act now, companies’ approaches to equality will play a role in future staff attraction, retention and success. Companies must work towards achieving pay equity as employees are prepared to vote with their feet, risking severe engagement, performance and reputational issues for businesses who fail to support their workers.

Jeff Phipps is managing director of ADP UK

For more information visit adp.co.uk