The suspension of compulsory gender pay gap reporting comes at a difficult time as research shows women are facing particular threats in the workplace.
Last week the BBC published its latest pay gap report which showed that the median pay gap has reduced to 6.2% (6.7% last year). There has been similar improvement on the ethnic minority pay gap, while the pay gap for disabled and LGBTQ+ workers has risen slightly. The part-time pay gap has also gone up.
The BBC has given pay rises to more than 700 women since July 2017 when equal pay at the corporation became a big issue, reflected in a number of high-profile cases. A number of women were given pay rises after going through formal channels, while the majority received a pay revision or increase as a result of an informal pay inquiry process.
Over the past few years there has been more activity generally on equal pay or pay in female-dominated sectors. Recently a group of care workers were awarded an average of 10K pounds each after a tribunal ruled they had been unlawfully paid less than half the minimum wage for looking after elderly and disabled people in their homes. Most of the workers were black or ethnic minority women on zero-hours contracts who were not paid for travel time between visits, which lowered their overall earnings to below the minimum wage.
However, there are now fears that in the current economic climate means the focus and progress will go backwards at a rapid rate. For example, this year the gender pay gap reporting was suspended in light of the pandemic. Whatever the shortcomings of the reporting system it at least kept people talking about the problem and challenged employers to analyse and address what the particular issues were in their sector – whether that was a lack of women in senior roles or a lack of women generally.
There is concern that this sends the wrong message to employers at precisely the wrong time, given research showing how much women have been affected by Covid-19. Study after study shows women have taken on the majority of the childcare, have been more likely to be furloughed as a result and that many have lost their jobs due to childcare issues. We know that if the data is not available, the Government will be reliant on charities and other organisations to do the work, with greatly reduced resources to Government. Realistically, they will only be able to provide a snapshot view in different sectors.
The need for good data is abundantly clear in order to press for action. Last week the Women and Equalities Committee heard from three sectors renowned for low pay, all of which are female-dominated – hair and beauty, social care and childcare. All face different challenges – short term pressures on hair and beauty, staff shortages for social care and the long-term risk of closure for nurseries. What unites all three is the issue of low pay. We need to keep a spotlight on this issue and be clear that in the fight for equality good data matters.