Gender Pay Gap: Exacerbated by the Pandemic

By Christie Summervill

Gender Pay Gap: Exacerbated by the Pandemic

This year, Equal Pay Day was observed on March 24, 2021. This day marks how far into the year the average U.S. woman must work to earn what the average U.S. man earned in the previous year. 

Simply put, women still only earn $0.82 on average per every $1.00 that their male counterparts earn for the same work. While this year’s celebration marks a seven-day improvement over the last year, during which Equal Pay Day was observed on March 31, 2020, there is still quite a way to go before Equal Pay Day for all women is celebrated when it should be: December 31 of each year. A recent 2020 survey by the Conference Board showed that this issue ranked toward the bottom of CEO’s “hot button” issues, which is not very promising.

The gender pay gap only increases when broken down by demographic.

The following figures show how much women are paid by demographic for the year 2021 (per their male counterparts’ $1.00): 

Moms in the U.S. $0.70
Black American Women $0.63
Native American Women $0.60
Latina Women $0.55

The industries that have been hit by the recession have been in industries that have a disproportionate amount of women, such as service, hospitality, education, and healthcare. In leisure and hospitality, for example, the February 2021 unemployment rate was 13.5% compared to a 6.2% overall unemployment rate. Many of those jobs aren’t going to come back. This means that next year’s Equal Pay Day may appear to demonstrate progress, but in reality, it is because the women paid a lower wage may not have returned to the workforce. We now have to invest in retraining. We have to look at the consequences that so many of our decisions during Covid have had on working women, because many women, who previously were 57.4% of the US workforce, have had to bear the brunt of the pandemic.
We know that women have left the workforce at a rate four times higher than men during the pandemic, with women of color leaving at higher rates. There were 2.2 million fewer females in the workforce in October 2020 than there were in October 2019. We know the fact that the majority of the caregiving responsibilities fall on women’s shoulders is a huge factor underlying women being pushed out of the workplace. A recent FlexJobs survey reports that 80% of working mothers said they took the lead on remote learning versus 31% of working fathers, and 40% of working parents have quit or reduced their hours since the pandemic began.

What would promote change?

The U.S. government could get involved in several ways. The Employment Opportunity Commission could conduct random pay audits, just like the IRS does, and mandate pay audit reporting requirements for all public companies to file annually—with penalties imposed for violations. The Department of Labor could get involved and conduct random audits of both private and public companies and impose requirements for pay equality and penalties for lack thereof. This would likely move the topic closer to the top of CEO concerns. In addition to government intervention, we need more leadership to take action. Equality is a cultural issue that has to be influenced from the top down.

Leaders can take steps right now to make a difference include: Running Pay audits, even if it’s just in your department to make sure everyone is paid equally with equal amounts of experience and performance levels. Equipping HR with the tools and methodology to truly determine an accurate market rate would be critical to determining how pay levels compare. As the head of talent management, the HR executive is responsible for pay inequities. It is the CEO’s role to ensure that this information is welcomed when presented.

Educational communities can make a difference by encouraging females to take classes in finance, law, technology, medicine, and sales, and our girl children to take classes in higher math and science.

Employees and managers can ask for more methodology transparency to better understand the stated salary range. Most companies do an inadequate job of evaluating salary ranges annually. Armed with this knowledge, employees can advocate for themselves more effectively.

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