Four-day week would help close gender pay gap

A four-day week could help close the gender pay gap for good, research has suggested.

Think tank the Women’s Budget Group (WBG) has found that fewer days in paid work could lead to a better balance in men and women’s share of unpaid care work, such as for children or other dependents.

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During the pandemic, it found men’s share of unpaid care work increased to 40% of the total, up from 35% in 2015. 

When working hours picked up again, however, men let their share of the care work fall back down to 37%.

Sara Reis, deputy director and head of policy and research at the WBG, told HR magazine that if men were free to take on a greater share of those responsibilities, women would be able to take on better-paid jobs.

She said: “Men still tend to be the primary earners and women the primary carers

“A shorter working week would free up men’s time to do more care work, like being involved in child-rearing, and that would free up women’s time to increase their paid hours or enter the labour market, as women are more likely to work part-time.”

Part-time work is usually paid less per hour than full-time work, but for many women, it is the only type of work that fits around caring responsibilities. 

Reis added: “This is a significant cause for the gender pay gap. 

“If men step up at home, women can step up in their careers and as a consequence the gender pay gap will be narrower.”

Around 30 UK companies joined a six-month trial of the four-day week from January, which aims to measure whether companies or employees will benefit from such a policy.

Proponents of the policy point to increased productivity and employee morale, and, according to the WBG report, it may offer significant environmental benefits. Microsoft Japan’s trial run in 2019, for example, saw the firm use 23% less electricity.

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society, told HR magazine that big changes are needed to close the pay gap.

She said: “The current pace of change is just too slow

“More flexible working is essential and if a shorter working week helps to close the caring gap and improve equality in the home and the workplace then it can only be a good thing.”

Reis added that there are plenty of ways for businesses to close their pay gap, and they should embrace the creativity they found within themselves during the pandemic.

She said, “[Potential solutions] include a truly flexible working culture that is role-modelled at all levels of seniority, and equitable parental leave so that dads and second parents are encouraged to share care.

“In the scramble for talent and the current labour shortage, these types of policies should be a no-brainer for any employer.”


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