“Had it not been for this pandemic and the decision taken by the Government Equalities Office to suspend the Gender Pay Gap reporting requirement for 2019/2020, I imagine gender equality and diversity and inclusion would feature more in our discussions right now. More than 3,000 employers have already reported their data via the gov.uk website this year but that’s only 26% of those expected to submit their data. Whilst these are unprecedented times and businesses across the country are rightly focused on continuity and contingency planning, delivering for their customers, and keeping their workforces safe, keeping diversity and inclusion on the agenda is more important than ever.
If anything, what the covid-19 crisis has revealed is the deep and entrenched inequality in our economy and society and how disproportionately women are being affected. It is women who represent the majority of frontline workers in health and social care across our NHS, pharmacies, and care homes. Women, whom we depend upon to serve us our essential goods that represent the majority of workers across our supermarkets. Women, who represent the majority of teachers and staff looking after our keyworkers’ children. Women, who often take on the care for elderly family members or for their children who are not in nursery or school. And for women with jobs still intact and able to work from home, they are often the ones who have to balance childcare or home-schooling in addition to their normal work and who continue to take on the load of household labour.
This doesn’t even cover the single parent households or the fact that because women dominate low-paid professions and hold three quarters of part-time jobs in the UK, it is mostly women who do not receive Statutory Sick Pay even though they may be in work. What about the women amongst some 950,000 people who have signed up for Universal Credit who are waiting five or more weeks for payment, unable to support their families? And what about the women at risk of gender-based violence trapped in their homes with their abusers during lockdown, at a time when support services are disrupted or inaccessible?
The fallout for women right now is starker than ever and these inequalities are easier to see in our personal day to day lives, inequalities which were probably easier to ignore in the days before the pandemic. I hope that companies will honour their reporting commitments once this crisis has passed because women are not the “babysitters for the economy” but for this kind of change to happen, we need women to have equal representation and with decision making powers to shape our response to this pandemic. So, whilst the government’s decision to suspend gender pay gap reporting is understandable, we absolutely have a responsibility to keep gender equality in focus. And perhaps what the coming months present is a rare opportunity for us to rethink how we can rebuild a more gender balanced, inclusive world after covid-19.”