Has COVID-19 widened gender inequality at work?

Wednesday June 10, 2020

In Australia, the principle of equal pay for equal work was first introduced in 1969. Yet despite this, Australia’s gender pay gap for full-time adult employees means women still earn 13.9% less than men. That’s $243 per week less than the average male wage. This discrepancy doesn’t just affect a woman’s annual income. It ripples through to a woman’s financial situation throughout her career and into retirement.

Of course, if viewed in terms of the more immediate impacts to the incomes of Australian families, the gender pay gap affects a family’s financial situation. It also affects the Australian economy’s ability to bounce back as we begin to come out of the COVID lockdowns.

This means, the gender pay gap is an issue for everyone and something we need to address. But what does this mean in the post-COVID era?

Good news and bad news for working women and their families

Obviously COVID-19 has changed everything – at least in the short term. But for working women, there’s a concern their income earning ability could be more seriously affected than their male work colleagues.

One of the most obvious changes was the need for thousands of Australian families to take over teaching responsibilities when schools closed down. This won’t be a short-term anomaly. Whenever a suspected case of COVID-19 occurs at a school, the school will be shutdown for a period of time.

While we have seen many Australian men participate in home schooling activities, the bulk of the responsibility fell on women. But how does this impact employers?

There is strong evidence to indicate fathers are less likely to have their request for flexible working accepted – especially if it relates to their parenting responsibilities. So as an employer, you need to be mindful of bias when it comes to parental leave.

On the plus side, there seems to be some hope that the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced some unexpected benefits to working parents.

Across the country, employers of all sizes have realised they can manage staff remotely and there are significant productivity gains when people are permitted to work from home. Not only that, many businesses have now invested in resources to support staff who wish to work from home. This could lead to financial benefits with reduced office space required.

The COVID shutdowns have also provided parents with a new freedom to negotiate a more equal division of parenting and childcare responsibilities. For fathers, shared parenting provides an opportunity to be more involved in their children’s lives. For mothers, it means they have more time, freedom and energy to focus on their careers. Surely, this shared involvement with childcare responsibilities will provide a long term benefit for generations to come!

As an employer, are you ready to embrace the opportunity for a changed workplace?

Most employers are also parents so this isn’t a discussion restricted to employee rights. All Australians can benefit when we have a more equitable society.

COVID-19 and the resulting shutdowns have given workplaces an experience in what remote and flexible working could mean for them. While there will always be staff performance issues, in the majority of cases, offering remote working opportunities has led to more productive workplaces and happier staff.

But the question is, can your business learn from recent experiences and use them as an opportunity to review how you manage your staff and operate your business?

Explore your opportunities

We are still in uncharted territory as Australian businesses come to terms with the medium-long term impacts of COVID-19. You may need to reduce staff numbers. It may be difficult to return teams to the workplace due to physical distancing requirements. But whatever people management challenges you face, you don’t need to do it alone.

The HR Dept is here to help you navigate how best to manage your staff as well as any terminations, performance issues or recruitment requirements. To explore your options, contact the HR Dept today.




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