We are approaching that time of year when the gender pay gap between men and women is such, that women are effectively “working for free” till the end of the year.
What contributes to the Gender Pay Gap?
We’ve had the Equal Pay Act since 1970. This landmark legislation gave an individual a right to the same contractual pay and benefits as a person of the opposite sex in the same employment. When you think about the pay gap that exists still today you might think that women are being paid less for doing the same work as men but that’s rarely the case because, it’s illegal. No, you must look at how the pay gap is calculated to appreciate what causes the pay gap.
How to calculate the gender pay gap
Put simplistically, you add up what all the men in an organisation earn and all the women earn, and you divide each of these sums by the number of men and women there are and that gives you the averages which determine the gap. The main reason for there being a persistent pay gap is that more men occupy senior roles which pay more. So, the metric of the gender pay gap is really a check on gender equality at the top. And things are not looking too rosy on that front.
Impact of the pandemic
During the last two years of lockdown a light was shone on the significant imbalance in the split of the domestic load in homes across the country. Parents had to cope with home-schooling which was extremely taxing. Most home-schooling was done by women; 67% of women and 52% of men were taking charge of their children’s education at home this time. Furthermore, 53% of women reported struggling with their mental health compared with 45% of men (Guardian, 2021).
I could see in my own company of mainly women that trying to hold down a job while ensuring kids logged on and stayed logged on was incredibly stressful. I’m not surprised that it resulted in many couples re-thinking their lives and the Great Resignation ensued. The pandemic has resulted in a significant exodus from work of busy parents and most of these are women. It transpires that many were in dual career couples and so could just about afford for one to step back, meaning that that the pool of potential women leaders shrunk significantly as the default position was for the women to take a back seat on the career front.
In addition to this, older women, perhaps leaders themselves, got a taste of life without the relentless commute and packed diary and many decided to retire early.
All in all, the pandemic has exacerbated the gender pay gap because more women have come out of organisations leaving more men to shoulder the responsibility of being the primary earner.
Not so great for men
This reversion to an older playbook isn’t something that men want either. The spell of working from home was for many men a great chance to claw back some personal life. Whether that’s being able to see the kids or get to the gym there’s no doubt many benefitted from forgoing the daily commute. Although some more conventional companies are keen to get people back into the office, something like 83% of the working population want to continue to work in a hybrid way (CEPro, 2021) which means it’s not just those with boundaried lives that welcome the chance to have more autonomy over their working lives. Men in “greedy jobs” i.e., jobs that require c.70 hours face time in the office are having a re-think.
“By forcing working from home, the pandemic definitely had a positive impact on work life balance. I think hybrid working was always going to be the direction of travel but Covid-19 shifted things forward a few years. Coming out of the pandemic and as things have settled, I’m finding that there are undeniable advantages to working in the office and in many ways I missed that environment. That said, there are also a number of undeniable advantages to working from home that have enriched my life immensely – it’s about finding a balance that works for you, your home life and the organisation you work for.
I am fortunate to work in an industry (media) where hybrid working is possible and for an employer who embraces it. For many (men and women) this is not the case as either their job requires a physical presence or their employer has (in my opinion) a short sighted view of how to work in a post pandemic, forward facing world.
Looking back now it seems unimaginable that I would spend 15 hours a week and thousands of pounds a year to commute to and from an office to perform a task that, for the most part, could be performed remotely and missing time with my family for the privilege of doing so.” –Sam Olive, Head of AV – The Specialist Works
The Great Re-evaluation
I think the pandemic has made people re-evaluate their relationship with work. I think many men having had a taste of working from home a bit may start to question their role as primary earner and will seek a greater involvement in family life even if that’s at the cost of higher earnings. Younger people coming into the workplace cite purpose, learning and flexibility higher than money in their priorities when it comes to choosing a job. Younger couples are keen to share childcare and the prospect of the corporate career ladder is losing its appeal. The gender pay gap doesn’t just hurt women it’s also a sad indictment on our society which continues to draw a too sharp divide between the roles of caregiver and bread winner. This out-of-date paradigm results in some women feeling resentful about not being able to have the careers they would like. However, it’s not working for most men either as they forfeit too much of their personal time to keep up with the unsustainable demands of unreasonably long hours at work.
So, when it comes to ways to address the gender pay gap, I beseech men to push back against unreasonable hours. If flexible working is seen as a concession to mothers, then the status quo will prevail where women peel away from the leadership track as heteronormative couples conform to an outmoded division of labour.