By Rachel Hargreaves, Campaigns and Research Officer – Good Work

We are in the midst of a global pandemic.

In a matter of weeks the world has been tipped on its head. Thousands of people have already lost their lives, and countless more their jobs and livelihoods.

The key focus for businesses right now is on keeping people safe.

On top of this, they are grapplling with how to support workers and stay afloat as the economic fall-out of Covid-19 takes hold.

In the wake of the “unprecedented uncertainty and pressures” facing business the government has suspended gender pay reporting regulations for 2020.

This move to suspend these requirements is sensible. But early signals show that the economic impact of coronavirus is unlikely to be gender neutral.

It is likely to have a significant impact on women in the labour market.


Covid-19 and the impact on female workers

Twenty four per cent of working women in the UK – around 3.4 million – earn less than the real Living Wage.

These women are often in sectors such a healthcare, cleaning and retail – recently dubbed as ‘unskilled’, but now considered the ‘key workers’ of this crisis.

They are being relied upon to keep us safe and well.

And as key workers, they face heightened exposure to the virus. Yet, research from the TUC shows that 1.4 million women – that’s one in 10 working women – don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay, less than £118 a week.

This is just one example of how the current crisis – like so many others – could impact women disproportionately.


The role for investor action on gender equality

It is clear that we need a cultural shift in how we value ‘key roles’ and the individuals, many of whom are women, who perform them.

As argued by Harini Iyengar, from the Women’s Equality Party: “Now is the time for a seismic shift in how we measure the success of our economy and society, to invest in the sectors and the workers who will save us now and keep us afloat in the tumultuous period ahead.

Institutional investors have power to ensure that these workers are protected.


Keeping gender on the agenda

One key way that they can do so, both now and as we move forward, is to ensure gender equality policies and practices are not deprioritised.

Gender equality reporting is a vital component of this. Reporting to date has provided a strong evidence base on inequalities and imbalances in our society. We encourage those businesses who are in a position to publish their data to still do so – as recommended by CIPD.

We hope that others we be able to resume reporting, as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, it is vital that investors continue to hold companies to account. They should encourage time-bound actions to implement diversity policies, and using their voting power, and shareholder resolutions, where engagement fails.

We are already seeing a growing investor interest in what companies were doing to tackle pay gaps and improve diversity & inclusion. This year, ShareAction is continuing to build our campaign of shareholder activism to encourage progress on this topic.

With the crisis offering another reminder to the gap that remains in securing gender equality – and the vital role this will play in building a resilient workforce – it is critical that we keep gender of the agenda at companies across the country.