Women – especially those from marginalised communities – have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis. To even start addressing this, we need transparency.
In 2020, gender pay gap reporting was cancelled. Amid the uncertainty and disruption of the coronavirus pandemic and first national lockdown, the government declared there would be “no expectation” for employers to publish their data, an act which was first made mandatory in 2018.
“We recognise that employers across the country are facing unprecedented uncertainty and pressure at this time,” the minister for women and equalities Liz Truss and EHRC chair David Isaac said in a joint statement at the time. “Because of this we feel it is only right to suspend enforcement of gender pay gap reporting this year.”
The decision, which was published on 24 March, came just one day after Boris Johnson first told people across the UK to “stay home” in order to stop the spread of coronavirus. At the time, it was easy to shrug off the announcement as just “one of those things” which would be sorted when the crisis ended in a couple of months.
The only problem? It didn’t. And with statistics from the last year showing that women are more likely than men to have lost their jobs and to have experienced an overall drop in earnings (with BAME and disabled women among the worst affected financially), the prospect of another year without gender pay gap data – which gives us a better idea of the current struggles’ women are facing – was particularly worrying.
To rectify this, last month author, Heart FM presenter and campaigner Anna Whitehouse launched a campaign to get gender pay gap reporting for 2021. And while that campaign succeeded in bringing back mandatory reporting, the government has placed a six-month suspension on the enforcement of these reports – something Whitehouse says sends a message to employers about the importance of these statistics.
“It simply says this is not a priority when it absolutely is,” Whitehouse tells Stylist. “Transparency is such a basic requirement here and delays on providing that transparency simply says ‘it’s not an essential right now’.”
For Whitehouse, who has also been campaigning for a temporary right to furlough to be introduced for working parents, gender pay gap reporting is important not just because it provides transparency, but also because it’s only through data like this that we’ll be able to understand the situation women are facing post-pandemic.
“There has never been more need for gender pay gap reporting – only through transparency will we get equality,” she explains. “The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that mothers were 47% more likely to have lost their jobs or quit during lockdown compared to fathers, and according to a recent McKinsey report, women’s job losses due to Covid-19 are 1.8 times greater than men.
“Alongside consistent gender pay gap reporting, we are calling on the government to urgently introduce legislation requiring employers to report on ethnicity and disability pay gaps. Tracking what happens to women’s pay is vital to building a fairer future and holding employers to account.”
Although this year’s gender pay gap reports may not paint a full picture of the impact of the pandemic on women’s careers (the 20/21 period requires employers to report their data from a ‘snapshot date’ between 31 March 2020 to 5 April 2020), it’s still a step in the right direction for transparency – something we desperately need if we’re going to see a Covid-19 recovery plan that works for all women.
It’s indisputable that women – especially those from marginalised communities – have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, not just economically, but in terms of their health and wellbeing, too.
Indeed, if the debate around gender pay gap reporting has shown us anything, it’s that the government needs to take decisive action to ensure that the transparency we need to address inequality remains front and centre as we deal with the aftermath of this crisis.