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LCN Says

Covid-19 and the growing gender pay gap

updated on 08 March 2022

Reading time: four minutes

Mind the gap, inclusivity where?

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are values expected to exist in every organisation, they are the topic of almost every conversation. In the 21st Century ‘modern world’ that we live in, it’s alarming that women, and other minority groups, are still facing gender pay discrimination.

Check out our Diversity hub to read about insights into diversity in the legal profession.

The Law

UK legislation states that it is unlawful to discriminate against people with certain characteristics. This is outlined in the Equality Act (2010) which also stipulates that men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive equal pay, unless any difference in pay can be justified.

The reality

The unprecedented hit of covid-19 in March 2020 had an adverse impact on everyone but did not affect everyone equally. The pandemic exasperated existing gender inequalities, had a detrimental effect on female workers and has been described as a “disaster for feminism” and “the first female recession”.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data indicates that the pandemic has widened the gender pay gap for both full-time and part-time workers. Before the pandemic, the ONS reported that gender pay gap for full-time workers was at 7.9% – this rose to 15.4% for all workers in 2021.

The impacts were so severe that the House of Commons, Women and Equalities Select Committee were moved to launch an enquiry into the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act. Based on its findings, it has implemented a new equalities’ strategies for government.

A global issue?

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 sheds light on the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on women and how this differs in each country. Iceland has ranked first place as the most gender-equal country in the world for the 12th time, closing 89.2% of their gender gap. Other countries in the top 10 for closing their gender gap include:

  • Finland;
  • Norway;
  • New Zealand;
  • Sweden;
  • Namibia;
  • Rwanda;
  • Lithuania;
  • Ireland; and
  • Switzerland.

The UK ranked 23rd so still has a lot of progress to make, while the US moved 23 spaces from 53rd (2019) to 30th, having closed 76.3% of its gender gap.

Supreme Court case of unequal pay

The gruelling issue of gender pay in the UK was highlighted in the Supreme Court case against the big five supermarkets including:

  • Asda;
  • Tesco;
  • Sainsburys;
  • Co-op;
  • Morrison’s; and
  • other major retail stores.

Over 50,000 supermarket female workers brought claims against their employer and argued that their work is of equal value to male colleagues so they should be getting equal pay. Due to the pandemic shop floor workers have to work longer hours compared to warehouse workers who don’t deal with members of the public, therefore strengthening their claims that they should be paid more.

As it stands, the Supreme Court ruled that female store workers can compare themselves to male distribution warehouse workers. The courts are currently considering whether both types of work are of equal value and whether this justifies different pay scales. Further court rulings are expected to emerge in 2022 as the case continues to develop.

But there’s still a lot to be done.

Transparency and honesty

Firms that claim to support diversity and inclusion, and principles of equality must be more transparent about their pay rates. This includes reporting gender pay gap and being transparent about salaries when advertising for job roles.

Read this LCN Says: ‘Championing social mobility and disability inclusion in the legal profession’ to learn about the obstacles socially advantaged lawyers face.

Flexibility and change

A large proportion of women adversely affected by the pandemic had to leave full-time jobs due to being mothers, and carers or other reasons. There needs to be a shift in corporate culture which encourages flexible working so that women can be mothers, maintain their careers, and be paid what they are worth, like their male counterparts.

Understanding and accountability

Human resources and people professionals should ensure they keep up to date with employment laws and policies, transfer that knowledge to their organisation and keep senior managers in a position where they can be held accountable.

Encouragement and accessibility

Men tend to dominate the highest paying careers such as engineering, technology, and finance, which is why they are further ahead than women in terms of pay bracket. From a young age, girls must be encouraged to pursue such ‘male-dominated industries’ to remove these inequalities.

If you’re a recent graduate who is unsure what to do with your degree, read Kahlicia’s LCN Says: ‘What should I do with my law degree?’

Kahlicia Hurley is a first-class law graduate and policy assistant in ABI’s conduct regulation team. If you would like to have a chat, feel free to contact her via LinkedIn.