· News

Coronavirus pandemic puts women’s equality at risk

MPs have put pressure on the UK government to support women’s employment during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group, co-chaired by Labour MP Jess Phillips and Conservative MP Laura Farris, said there have been clear ramifications on women’s employment during the pandemic.

Women were found to be overrepresented in sectors such as hospitality and retail which have been shut down for long periods of time. 

The Group's annual report shared findings from a House of Commons library research paper which found that women were a third more likely to work in a sector that had been shut down by coronavirus that men. One in six (17%) women were in hard hit sectors compared to one in seven (13%) men.

Phillips said: “The government cannot risk going backwards on women’s equality and must now look urgently at this issue. If these recommendations are ignored, we risk a more unequal society and damage that will take decades to reverse."

The group argued that women have also undertaken the majority of childcare and other caring responsibilities, therefore making them more likely to be in vulnerable or low-paid employment.

The APPG said it heard and received evidence from mothers who had requested furlough, holiday or unpaid leave so they could home-school.

This, they worried, had put their careers on hold and would ultimately disadvantage them in the long-term.

To alleviate such risk, the APPG advised government to make paternity and shared parental leave a ‘day one’ right for employees and include provisions for agency and self-employed workers.

New changes to maternity pay law could also help open more door for working parents as cabinet ministers are soon to be allowed six months maternity leave on full pay.

The CIPD has welcomed the APPG's call on government to support women's employment.

Speaking to HR magazine, Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion, said: "Evidence suggests that the pandemic has accentuated gender inequalities, with challenges being faced by working mothers, those over-represented in sectors such as hospitality and retail and already marginalised women. In particular, we support the Group’s call to make the right to request flexible working a ‘day one’ right."

At the beginning of February this year the CIPD launched its #FlexFrom1st campaign calling on employers and government to give employees the right to request flexible hours from day one of their employment too.

McCartney added that this campaign is to ensure equal opportunities for all.

She added: "It is crucial that inclusion and diversity issues remain front and centre in workforce decision-making and plans during and coming out of this pandemic.”

The APPG included an employer toolkit in its report to helping businesses empower women at work and recognise their responsibility to employee wellbeing.

The toolkit includes a list of free learning resources that can be signposted by employers to give furloughed staff training and upskilling opportunities. It also recommends that organisations continue to voluntarily publish gender pay gap data, and collect information on any redundancies made to make sure it is not unfairly discriminating against employees from specific groups, such as working parents.

Further reading:

Women work harder but progress less at work

Flexible working stunts women's career progression

Working parents lying over home-schooling