Reducing the impact of Covid on the gender pay gap


  • “The Covid-19 recession seems practically designed to torpedo women’s employment”
  • Are you disconnecting gender-biased criteria from your Pay-for-Performance processes ? In this episode, learn practical steps you can take to reduce the impact of Covid on female employment and the gender pay gap !
  • “In the UK for example, companies topped up the government payment for 75% of furloughed men while only providing it for 65% of women.”
  • Watch the video to get the full training.




This week, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to talk to you about how Comp & Ben can help to fight the devastating impact of COVID on the gender pay gap.

I recently read a great BBC article . The introduction is a great way to explain the situation.

In early April soon after the US economy began its pandemic induced nosedive, a group of researchers from Northwestern University published a paper that noted some unusual patterns emerging. Regular recessions, that is routine economy contractions not spread by once-in-a-century pandemic, typically hurts men’s employment more than women’s, as male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing are often the first to slow down.

The COVID-19 recession on the other hand seems practically designed to torpedo women’s employment. Stay at home orders and social distancing guidelines took a heavy toll on service and hospitality jobs where women make up a large share of employees. They also shut down the support system schools and daycares that enable many women with young children to work. Grandparents, friends and neighbours who might otherwise have helped were off limits for fear of contagion.

These factors had the potential to push women out of the workforce en masse and without a concerted effort from employers to retain female talent, the damage to women’s careers could linger long after the virus is controlled., The Changes that could help women stay employed

Why the Covid-induced economic crisis is impacting women more than men

It’s true that there are a number of reasons why this crisis is hitting women more.

  • The first one is that the gender pay gap does exist so women do tend to earn less than men.
  • Women are more likely to be burdened with unpaid care and domestic work and therefore may have to drop out of the labor force. We know that, for example, before COVID on a global basis women were spending on average for 4.1 hours per day on unpaid domestic work while men would spend 1.7 hours.
  • We also know that women make up the majority of single-parent households and they were faced with more decrease in their overall worked hours in the face of the pandemic. For example, only 10% of low earners can work from home. And 69% of low earners are women in the UK. In the UK as well we see that 75% of men had a top-up on their furlough payment given by the company. Companies topped up the government payment for 75% of men while only 65% of women did get that top up. That probably reflects the industry that were affected or maybe the fact that companies try to be more protective of their senior, higher paid staff, which tends to be men.
  • We see also that women are more likely to become unemployed. A report from McKinsey highlights that women represent 39% of the global employment but 54% of the overall job losses during the pandemic :  the most impacted industries are the ones that had more women because they were holding frontline customer-facing roles such as in the food service, retail and entertainment. The challenge is that in general, increased unemployment tends to encourage people to go back to traditional gender roles. So what happens is that women will tend to stay more at home and the men who are unemployed will be favored more heavily in the hiring process later on.

Actions for HR and C&B to reduce the impact of Covid on the gender pay gap

So what can we do at the HR and Comp&Ben level to support women and their employment? There are many things that can be done at the policy and government level, but that’s not what I’m going to cover. I just want to give you a few pointers of things that you can think of in your own organizations to support women and try to reduce the gender pay gap, and also develop conditions to be more inclusive for women.

  • For example, making sure that you implement paid leave, reduced or flexible working arrangements. Flexible working hours, working from home permanent policies, flexible working days, part time work and so on will be supportive of women with smaller children.
  • You can also think of your Return To Work policies and make sure that they’re inclusive. For example, offer some options for the timing of meetings, asking employees for their feedback on when they would be more available to have meetings. Try to provide some predictability of the workload. Develop communication which is non-synchronous so that employees (including women) can treat it when they are available.
  • There are lots of things that can be done in terms of benefits, for instance in terms of childcare support, providing vouchers for childcare, or when things will get better an onsite creche, or virtual tutors as well. I’ve read recently that there’s a big company in the US that even hired some teachers ! I think they hired 20 teachers to support their female employees with the schooling of their kids.
  • Providing elder care support, as well as support for domestic work would also be helpful : you could provide vouchers for cleaning services, meal kits, these kind of things.
  • Another thing is to encourage fathers to take on their leave, to have a paternity leave which is the same duration as the maternity leave and also encourage people (not just women, but also men) to not work longer hours so that men have an opportunity to share more of the workload at home.
  • Another thing which we rarely think about is to disconnect/end all the criteria that are gender-biased and unfavourable to women from Pay-for-Performance actions. For instance, using billable hours as a criteria for career decisions (like salary increases, promotion criteria and KPIs for incentives), when women are not necessarily able to provide as many hours because they have to take care of their kids at home, is unfavorable to women and should seriously be re-thought.
  • Another thing which I kind of hinted at already is to rehire women as a priority. For example, in your former employees, try to focus on the women or try to see if you can get new female candidates. Also make sure to pay them at the same pay level as before, especially if that’s what you’re going to do with men. I know that we don’t always realize it, but we tend to offer for men the same salary upon rehire, while for women rehiring is like an opportunity to make a cost saving… and that further compounds the gender pay gap.
  • And finally, I think the classic is to perform a gender pay gap analysis and establish a specific action plan for your own organization.

Even though the context is  very difficult in terms of the economic situation for many, we know that it has not impacted everybody the same way. It’s going to be very important to try and ensure that you make decisions that are not going to impact females further negatively because they’re already burdened by a large share of the negative impact of COVID on the economy.

What are some of the actions that you have heard of or taken which will reduce the impact of covid on women’s careers and pay levels ? Please share in the comments !

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