What does Equal Pay Day 2021 mean for women at work?

Despite the growing opportunities post pandemic, women risk being locked out of our economic recovery because of a lack of access to relevant training, says Ann Limb

Yesterday (18 November) marked Equal Pay Day 2021 – the day in the year when women stop earning relative to men until the following year. But what does this really mean?

A staggering 44 days ahead of the year end, and falling two days earlier than in 2020, this year's Equal Pay Day highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women’s development in the workplace. And as a consequence, we face a real risk of undoing the progress towards gender parity made within the last few years.

Women risk being locked out of our economic recovery

As the UK economy continues to grow and recover from a series of national lockdowns and restrictions, it’s promising to see new jobs and career opportunities being created in high-paying sectors including digital, construction and transportation. 

However, despite this growing opportunity post pandemic, there is potential for women to be locked out. This is because women are already significantly underrepresented in these sectors, largely due a combination of boys generally being encouraged to take STEM routes at the expense of girls while at school, alongside workplace cultures often being viewed as hostile or not flexible to the caring responsibilities that more often fall to women.

But, if we’re truly looking to fill the million plus empty vacancies the UK is currently experiencing and capitalise on the huge planned civil projects that are supposed to kickstart our economy, ultimately, we’re going to need women in the workplace to fill critical skills gaps and provide the diverse perspectives and leadership styles that help organisations and societies to thrive.

And women are currently not being provided with the training they need to enter and succeed in these growth sectors. For example, despite there being so many jobs available in the rapidly growing digital sector – with one in eight job opportunities in digital or IT – recent research from City & Guilds found that only 6 per cent of women (of working age adults) feel confident about their ‘advanced digital’ skill set.

Without access to the training and re-skilling opportunities they require, we run a real risk of women being permanently locked out of these sectors, widening the gender pay gap even further.

So, what needs to be done to solve this?

There are steps we can take to get back on the path to progress for women, and it starts by working from the bottom up. Firstly, we need to offer better career advice and guidance to girls from primary school age onwards, including the development of a more comprehensive online advice system.

Research by City & Guilds also found that 59 per cent of women have not received any training in the past year, and that 30 per cent don’t believe that the training they have had is useful for their future career aspirations. So it’s clear there is a disconnect between the training being provided to women, and the training they need to succeed. 

As a result, government and employers must work towards providing an improved careers service for women who want or need to retrain later in their careers, and flexible training opportunities that will allow women to mould their working lives around their other commitments. Ultimately, we must provide comprehensive and relevant training that will genuinely benefit women at all levels, across all sectors, at every point in their careers. 

The widening of the gender pay gap brings frustrating news for women across the UK. But we must not lose hope – there are clear steps we can take to get us back on track, and work towards gender parity once and for all. And the time to take them is now.

Dr Ann Limb CBE is the first female chair of City & Guilds