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Social Justice

Fawcett Society: Use Covid-19 opportunity to push for gender equality

The Fawcett Society warns that working women are at a ‘coronavirus crossroads’ as 40 per cent fear for their career due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

Government and employers should use the economic disruption of Covid-19 to chart a path towards fairer workplaces, gender equality campaigners have urged.

A new report from the Fawcett Society, released on Equal Pay Day, has warned that 43 per cent of working women are at a “coronavirus crossroads” and are worried about their job or promotion prospects due to the pandemic.

But the virus’ impact on the world of work represents a chance to build an equal society, according to Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive.

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She said: “Throughout the last century, crises comparable to the pandemic have been forks in the path of history. The Second World War gave birth to the welfare state; the winter of discontent led to a new Thatcherite era. The coronavirus crisis puts us at a crossroads again, and it is clear that this applies to the gender pay gap.”

The charity is marking Equal Pay Day on November 20, the point in the year when the gender pay gap means women essentially work for free because they are paid, on average, less than men.

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This year the awareness day is six days later than in 2019 with the mean pay gap for all employees – not just those working full-time – at 14.6 per cent this year, down from 16.3 per cent, according to Fawcett Society calculations. The charity has said that the full picture will not be complete until 2021, however, as the pandemic has distorted data. The Office for National Statistics reports that the pay gap among all employees fell to 15.5 per cent from 17.4 per cent in 2019.

The coronavirus crisis has already changed work patterns for working mums. Over a third of mothers have lost work or hours due to lack of childcare, according to Fawcett Society research, but fathers have spent twice as much time caring for their children.

Promoting flexible working and equal sharing of care in the home would create more equal opportunities in work, the campaigners say. They also suggest it would reduce the gender pay gap and the motherhood penalty where women are seen as the ones who need to take time to look after kids.

The pandemic has laid bare the racial and structural inequalities as well as gender equality. As well as releasing the report, the Fawcett Society also unveiled a new Savanta ComRes survey that showed half of the working women quizzed from a BAME background are worried about their job or promotion prospects, compared to just 35 per cent of white men. 

Smethers added: “We must recognise the racial and gender inequality that exists in the UK and how they intersect. This is why we need gender pay reporting by ethnicity.”

To avoid growing inequalities, the Fawcett Society is urging the government to give women the ‘Right to Know’ how much a man in the same position is paid while a bailout fund is also needed to ensure the childcare sector doesn’t collapse.

A Government Equalities Office spokesperson: “As we look to unite the country and recover from the pandemic it is key that companies embrace flexible working initiatives which have a positive impact on recruitment and the productivity of staff.”

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