The Impact of COVID on the Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap is something that organizations across the nation are working to eliminate, and while the battle continues to rage for equality, the gap does not seem to be shrinking as much as we would like. Women consistently hold fewer executive and board positions and on average still make less than their male counterparts. COVID-19 has drawn attention to the gender pay gap in a new way and highlighted the reasons that it continues to persist.

The first issue is that women hold more positions in low-paying sectors, such as restaurant and retail workers than men. These sectors have been hard hit with furloughs, layoffs, and closures, causing women to be disproportionately affected by the downturn in the U.S. economy. In addition, women have been more severely affected by the uncertainty brought by COVID-19; without access to adequate and safe childcare, the responsibility of caring for children at home and elderly family, has fallen heavily on women. This responsibility has not only affected blue-collar workers but goes up the ladder to high-level white-collar positions as well, where women are taking leaves of absence and resigning from positions at an alarming rate.

On average, a person who leaves the workforce will return making 7% less than their previous salary. Currently, we are seeing the gender pay gap widen because women are leaving positions, temporarily or permanently, but experts fear that we will see long-term effects as women reenter the workforce, making significantly less than their male counterparts, who never left. Despite this, some advocates for closing the gender pay gap are optimistic. They believe that COVID-19 is highlighting issues that have long been ignored and allowing businesses to proactively address the issues and provide a foundation for closing the gap. They say that the pressure is now on business leaders to take steps to ensure gender equality in the workplace and encourage the implementation of new policies to do so.

As employers, we can empower women in the workforce, ensuring that our company does not fall prey to the widening gender pay gap, and helping to advocate for equality across the board. The first step is to reassess your policies, keeping in mind the information that COVID-19 has brought to light. Take a look at policies and procedures and make changes where necessary to support women in your organization, and ensure the pay gap is shrinking and not growing. In addition, providing support to working parents can allow more women to remain at your company and in the workforce. While these policies can help any parent, women are primarily affected by parent-friendly work environments, especially now.

No matter what industry or what changes need to be made, the responsibility is on the employer to ensure that we can keep quality workers and empower them to succeed in both their personal and home life. Encourage flexibility, assess the needs of your employees, and offer employee assistance programs, and other supports to ensure those needs are met. Women are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 but this does not need to be the case. As advocates have made clear, the change can start with us.

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