Laurie Ollivent: Covid-19 is reshaping gender and diversity reporting

Working parents comprise a key demographic of the workforce. As mid-tenure employees, they are experienced and often have a level of institutional knowledge which can rarely be replaced with a lateral hire.

However, reports suggest this demographic is more likely than others to be re-evaluating their roles coming out of the pandemic, particularly working mothers.

At the start of the pandemic, the hope was that the move to home working might accelerate the pace of change in employers’ attitudes towards flexible working and help drive gender equality in the workplace.

But the hopes of a silver lining to the pandemic soon diminished as reports suggested working mothers were being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic compared to their male or non-parent peers.

An employment tribunal decision in summer 2021 also upheld the widely accepted view that working mothers take on the majority of childcare responsibilities.

If working mothers are a demographic that is re-evaluating their roles coming out of the pandemic, this will inevitably have an impact on employers’ gender pay gap reporting.

This would also come at a time when there is already scrutiny over the UK’s real gender pay gap. Whilst last year’s figures suggested a narrowing of the UK’s gender pay gap, the data did not give us the full picture owing to the fact that employees furloughed on reduced pay are excluded from the data and statistics told us that significantly more women than men were furloughed on reduced pay.

Whilst working mothers might be one of the largest demographics affected in the workplace by the pandemic, the interconnectivity between diversity strands means that employers should not see this as solely a gender issue.

Reports suggest that working women in ethnic minority groups who work in lower-paid jobs have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, and there are challenges and other opportunities for disabled employees.

Whilst the change in attitudes towards hybrid and remote working will favour many disabled employees who prefer to work from home, those employees that choose to work from home may be concerned about how this is perceived, as some leaders have publicly shared views around presenteeism in the office being a prerequisite to career progression and a sign of ambition.

As 2021’s volatile labour market progresses into 2022 and the war for talent continues across many sectors, only time will tell us the true extent of how the Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping the gender diversity of the workplace.

Laurie Ollivent is senior associate at Linklaters