Gender pay gap exists. In the United States, women who work full time earn on average 82 cents for every dollar that a man earns, according to Census Bureau data. Women of color fare worse, although research for my book ‘Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias’ shows that they can be often left out of this discussion, as they are metaphorically invisible due to the additional penalty of their ethnicity. Black women earn 62 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women 54 cents. In the UK, a quarter of companies and public sector bodies have a pay gap of more than 20% in favour of men, according to new gender pay gap figures. There is no reliable data for ethnicity pay gap in the UK, and in many organizations, women are getting paid as low as 21 p for every 1 pound earned by a man.
However, as we face a global pandemic, women are likely to fare even worse than ever before. A new ongoing study being conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Mannheim in Germany and the University of California, San Diego shows that the crisis is likely to make inequities worse.
The closures of schools and daycare centers have massively increased child care needs, which has a particularly large impact on working mothers. As per UNESCO estimations on 25 March 2020, worldwide more than 1.5 billion children are out of school right now. In the US, there are 15 million single mothers who will be the most severely affected, with little potential for accessing other sources of childcare, and little possibility to continue working as take over the childcare. Even though men share childcare responsibilities in many households, the majority of the physical and emotional labor still falls on the woman’s shoulder in a heterosexual partnership. This study highlights that in the USA, dual full-time earner couples account for 44 percent of all couples with children. This group is heavily affected by the rise in child care needs during this pandemic and lockdown as other forms of childcare is no longer available. Families with the traditional division of labor of the husband having a full-time job and the wife staying at home will have to make far fewer adjustments to respond to the school closures. However, the study shows that currently this group accounts for only 25 percent of married couples with children. Only 5 percent of couples are in the opposite arrangement of the husband staying at home and the wife working full-time, thereby underlining once again that more women than men will be strongly affected by the rise in child care needs.The uneven distribution of the burden of childcare will persist during the current crisis.
Women are also prominently represented in small businesses. More women than men work as freelancers, and self-employed, often as a result of lack of flexibility in workplaces. So it is more likely that women will be less protected from employment loss during the downturn. This could also result in loss of potential earnings, disruption in career progression, as well as many women dropping out of the labor force.
While at least in the short term, this will have a huge impact on gender equality and cause setback to women’s earnings and careers, there is also a likelihood of things changing for the better. Workplaces are becoming aware that flexible working is possible. Parenting, and working with and around children is becoming normalized, as the majority of the workforce is now working from home. And, so it is possible that these trends will continue, and could change how women in general, and mothers specifically are perceived in the workplace.
It is possible that as men and women are both likely to be working from home, but more women than men are working on the frontline in medical and caring professions, this could invert the traditional gender norms, with more men taking over childcare responsibilities at home.
Today is Equal Pay Day, and as equal pay still remains a dream, we can only hope that while women would be facing more pressures and inequities during this crisis, things will change for the better in the long run.
(Stay safe and well!)