The first discussion on 17 June was hosted by Felicia Willow (pictured), interim chief executive at gender equality charity Fawcett Society. She covered Covid-19 and the ‘She-cession’, looking at how the pandemic had disproportionately impacted women at work.
Willow said unequal pay and women taking on part-time employment so they could look after children were two of the things which caused a gender imbalance at work.
“There are a lot of things going on and understanding what those things are is a really essential thing for employers to do,” she added.
Willow also laid out some tips on how employers could make sure they were not contributing to inequality between those of a minority gender or ethnicity.
She suggested reviewing the people on furlough with gender in mind to understand the impact. She also advised making sure there was no connection between those being made redundant and those who had been furloughed.
Willow said: “If you’ve had more women on furlough because they’ve had to look after the children, and then they’re therefore the ones who are made redundant, we’re going to see a huge number of women being made redundant really unfairly.
“Making sure people who have been furloughed aren’t prioritised to be made redundant is essential.”
Willow also said it could help to check the redundancies being made, separate them by demographics and make the outcome public.
“Make sure you’re thinking about how that falls across gender and ethnicity. If there is a gender imbalance, then stop, take stock and go back,” she added.
Salaries and promotion
With hybrid working becoming more favoured, Willow encouraged businesses to ensure people who worked from home, particularly to spend more time with family, were not overlooked for promotion.
Willow said: “We know from experience that part-time women are often paid less per hour than those who are doing the same job on a full-time basis, and we also know that they’re more likely to be passed over for promotion.
“Is the same thing going to happen if someone’s not working in an office with other people?”
Making salaries explicit when recruiting can also reduce gender pay gaps, Willow said.
“Salary secrecy is one of the major things that contributes to unequal pay. Women are still paid less for the same job in a lot of cases, four in 10 aren’t even aware that they have the right to equal pay for equal value; 60 per cent don’t know what male comparators are getting paid or believe they are earning less,” she added.
Not asking about previous incomes can help to avoid pay gaps across both gender and race as it prevents the practice of paying someone what they are used to accepting, rather than what the role is worth.
She also suggested introducing pay bands and comparing the tasks of those in different roles, to ensure there was not a discrepancy between female-dominated and male-dominated departments.
Pay gap reporting
Participating in gender and racial pay gap reporting can help companies address inequalities, Willow said.
“Your gender pay gap is a snapshot. It just tells you that something is going on,” she added.
She also said adopting family friendly policies for both men and women as well as recognising the value of all jobs could change attitudes towards the work women do both at home and within their profession.
She also suggested action to address differences could temporarily increase pay gaps but insisted certain practices could be beneficial in the long run, such as employing junior female staff and training them up to senior roles.
Personal life challenges
The second day of the DIFF sessions took place on 21 June.
It covered the impact the pandemic has on women in their personal lives, with heightened domestic and economic abuse, which has placed increased importance on housing.
Denise Fowler, chief executive of Women’s Pioneer Housing, said having good quality housing for women was vital in combating gender inequality as it acted as a “springboard” for the rest of their lives.
She said: “If you have good quality, safe, affordable housing in a good location, then you can access work you can access study, you can access a social life, you can live a good life basically.”
Fowler added that the pandemic had potentially changed people’s priorities around housing and said this was particularly pertinent to women.
She said: “For a lot of women, I think it has highlighted specifically the need for space, partly for home working but partly also to have a bit of refuge or respite from children, the need for gardens, the need to be near those that were supporting you. The difficulties of travel during Covid have also placed increased the importance of amenities close by.”
Fowler said the pandemic had caused a spike in domestic and economic abuse, highlighting the “extent to which it is an issue in our society”.
She also called on the financial services industry to challenge sexist assumptions around issues like maternity leave, economic and domestic abuse.
Fowler said: “Businesses have really got to build up trust, so women have to go in thinking ‘I can talk about these things, and I can talk about what I am planning to do when I return from maternity leave’ and know that there won’t be an assumption that she says these things but she’s not going to do that.”
“I would be really interested in seeing what mortgage lenders are out there trying to avoid those kinds of assumptions in the way they offer and price their mortgages.”
Julie Budge, chief executive officer for My Sisters’ House Women’s Centre, said from an employer’s perspective it was important to have a member of the organisation who knows how to react to domestic abuse disclosures.
Budge said: “In the organisation, there should be an ambassador or whatever you want to call them… so that you can ring them up and then they can go ‘right this is the number you need’. This is what you need to tell her, because at that point she’s disclosed it is one of the most dangerous periods for her.
She explained: “Generally… the abuser they’re controlling, and once they feel like they’re losing control that makes them the most dangerous, so it’s about doing that in a safe way.”