The pandemic has forced most employers into crisis management mode, focusing on contingency planning. Issues like technology for remote working and making the workplace Covid-secure have understandably been prioritised. It is however crucial that gender pay does not slip down the agenda.
Recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports, published in March 2021, show the disparate impact the pandemic has had on women when compared to men. Women were more likely to be furloughed and to spend significantly less time working from home and more time on unpaid household work and childcare. The consequential impact on pay equality is inevitable. When tackling gender pay employers will need to consider innovative ways to help counteract this disadvantage.
In addition, with the gender pay gap reporting suspended until 5 October 2021, it will relieve some pressure from employers in incredibly challenging circumstances. This provides the opportunity to consider what steps can be taken to help close the gender pay gap, a narrative most employers will want to clarify. For example, with home working tested on an unprecedented scale during the pandemic, could this be something employed as the next ‘new normal’? Having the option to work from home will undoubtedly help with work-life balance and make it easier for those with caring responsibilities. If businesses see working from home as an option going forward, clear communications on how this works and any flexibility around caring responsibilities should be delivered.
Many employers and employees have also embraced altered hours to allow for caring responsibilities. Again, lessons from trialing this during the pandemic can open the door for a more flexible approach going forwards.
Employers should also consider what diversity and inclusion initiatives may help combat the negative impact the pandemic has had on women and pay equality. From adapting recruitment processes to salary and promotion transparency, employers should ensure pay equality is addressed. Communication and collaboration with the workforce, and demonstrating a clear commitment to equality, will reduce staff turnover and enhance market reputation.
While there are many positive steps employers can take to stay focused on pay equality, there are still reports of women dropping out of employment due to the impact of the pandemic. If this continues and action is not taken then the effect on the gender pay gap will be devastating. Maintaining a positive workplace culture with diversity and inclusion – including pay equality – centre stage, will inevitably help mitigate the disadvantage presented. Employers that have been able to motivate, support and unify their employees during the most difficult of times will inevitably triumph.
Joanne Frew is partner and UK head of employment at DWF Law