Aug 8, 2020

Gender Pay Gap Worsened by COVID-19

Kristin Kerr

Though Coronavirus is totally unprecedented, restrictions have started to lift in several areas, and organizations in the US and Canada have begun opening doors to laid-off employees. While good news, it’s important to consider a critical topic before fully celebrating. Could the pandemic have a long-term effect that worsens the gender pay gap?

Husky, Uber, WestJet, Shaw. These are just a handful amongst hundreds of companies that were forced to lay off a large percentage of its employees due to the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak. Last month, Statistics Canada verified the unemployment rate is set to reach 25% as the situation continues to evolve, leaving many in a vulnerable, shocked, and emotional financial and mental state. The United States reported its unemployment rate has risen to 15 percent over the last few months. A significant decline in employment through March and April are considered larger and more impactful than any major recession since the 1980s.

What Gap?

If you just asked yourself, “the gender pay gap still exists?” The answer is yes, and it’s affecting a large percentage of women across the entire world. It’s a legitimate question to be asking right now.

Passed in 1977, The Pay Equity Act requires employers to pay female workers at least the same as male workers for jobs of comparable value. Fast-forward almost 50 years, a large gender wage gap still exists, and according to data from the US Census Bureau, a full-time working woman makes 81.6 cents for every dollar a full-time working man works in a comparable position. Obviously the situation has improved since the passing of the Act, but the Institute for Women’s Policy Research predicts it won’t be until at least 2059 until we see the gap close. With Coronavirus ultimately shutting down the economy, it is quite believable that the outbreak could worsen or put a halt on the possibility of the gap actually coming to a close.

It’s more Important now than ever

Amid the Coronavirus outbreak, government measures created a massive wave of layoffs worldwide and having an income, especially as a woman, is critical in financial security in such an uncertain time. It’s not just major companies making layoffs either, businesses of all sizes made up of primarily female staff – cashiers, waitresses, saleswomen, retail support, maids, and housekeepers. In addition, many are often already lower paid and don’t provide employers access to a benefits system or even paid leave. If women in these positions weren’t already financially unstable, COVID-19 has placed more of a damper on these women and the families they provide for. A recent study by the National Women’s Law Centre reveals that 41 percent of women act as the primary family breadwinner, and they typically make only 69 cents on the dollar compared to the father.

What about the Essential Women Workers?

It’s not just waitressing jobs and cashier jobs where pay gaps exist. Women are experiencing a gender pay gap in both low-income and high-income jobs, regardless of the industry and location. Frontline workers are more important than ever, and even though the entire world is depending heavily on these workers, it’s extremely unfortunate that a gap STILL exists.

A recent Fortune article breaks it down into specifics. In grocery stores for example – women make up approximately 66% of the workers and their income is 11% less than the men in the exact same role. Or a hospital where women represent 88% of the frontline staff. A woman nurse’s income is still 8% less than a man nurse’s for the same responsibilities.

Times are tough, without a doubt, but if those stats don’t make women workers seem completely undervalued, what does? It’s quite evident that even when the world is in a complete economic downturn and frontline workers are dependent on more than ever, COVID-19 has put a new perspective on gender pay gaps.

Looking Ahead

Though it’s impossible to predict what this means for wage gaps going forward, the spiraling impacts of the COVID-19 virus have definitely made it clear there are still a large percentage of women on the short end of the stick when it comes to economic workplace laws.

Optimistically, COVID-19 could potentially be a wake-up call for the world to realize long-term structural changes must be considered to not only address issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, but also to ensure the gender inequity doesn’t remain the same, or get even worse. Realistically though, if this were to be a wake-up call, it’s sad to think that it took an unprecedented global health crisis for women and the families who depend on specific income targets to be equally considered.

Truth hurts

It’s great to be optimistic, change doesn’t just happen overnight and with a pandemic that’s already taken over half of the year, the truth is, COVID-19 only worsens the effect on women. The U.K., along with other areas of the world have made the decision to suspend enforcement of the gender pay gap deadlines for this reporting year. It basically means employees are off the hook for the rest of the year when it comes to reporting gender pay gaps. Yes, companies are facing unprecedented times and that’s the reason why the reporting deadlines were lifted, but don’t forget, women are, and will continuously face uncertainty (or should we say inequality) until more serious action is taken.

Covid-19 Affects men and Women Different

How could a virus be considered ‘unequal’? There are constant societal inequalities between men and women out of our control, but a virus would be a contributing factor to these inequalities? Now that’s unheard of. Why is this so?

Unemployment has spiked drastically due to the outbreak, but women have once again, been on the short end of the stick because jobs aren’t being lost equally across men and women. In the U.S., the women’s unemployment rate increased by 0.9%, while the men’s rate only increased by 0.7%. Justification for this is because not every woman was able to work remotely since the outbreak and isolation kicked in. Yes, an accountant or financial director might be able to work remotely during the lockdown, but with restaurants and pubs closed, a waitress or bartender would not be able to do this.

With all of this in mind, and while organizations are attempting ‘business as usual’, a lot of the female-dominated industries, such as travel, food, and hospitality will be one of the last to resume ‘business as usual’ due to health and safety precautions. These industries are far different than a regular office building. Travel restrictions are now in place and the food industry is facing extreme hardships. In conclusion, women impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak aren’t only losing employment at a higher rate, they are being hit harder and making less money, to begin with.

Road to Recovery

Even if the COVID-19 outbreak were to only have lasted two months, based on everything discussed, there would still be long-term effects on the current state of the gender pay gap. Seeing as it’s nearly August and the world is still taking precautions (as it should) to reopen its doors to large public groups, it’s safe to assume the effects will be detrimental.

A brief note on Gender pay gaps

Gender pay gaps quite clearly exist, but why? There are five main reasons why the gap hasn’t fully closed yet.

  • Hiring Bias and Discrimination
  • Whether it occurs at a conscious or unconscious level, women are more often than not, overlooked by potential employers regardless of their skill level is more fitting or competent than a man in running for the same position
  • Bonus Gaps
  • Women have been found to receive fewer pay bonuses than men regardless of matching performance reports
  • Female Dominated Industries
  • It has been noted that female-dominated industries, such as childcare, teaching, and nursing generally attract lower wages than male-dominated industries
  • Time off
  • Though statistics have changed over time, women are generally the family members expected to take large amounts of time off to raise a newly welcomed child to the family
  • Female Mothers
  • Though there are certain maternity laws in place for expecting mothers, many workplaces could still improve flexibility to those employers who are mothers. Potential employers who identify as mothers are less likely to land a high-demanding job or even an interview compared to a single man or woman

With so many things in our society being uncovered due to COVID-19, issues like these are getting the well-deserved recognition and consideration they deserve.

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