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Women are disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19

The CEO of Payscale says the economic crisis is hitting women hard as they are not only paid less than men but women make up 75% of healthcare workers and a greater percentage of service workers.

Women are disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19
[Photo: arlutz73/iStock]

We’re all facing very real fears right now, fears about our health and fears about the economy. People are afraid of getting ill and losing loved ones to the coronavirus pandemic. They are also afraid of losing their livelihoods.

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Statistically, this situation is affecting women more than men. Women are on the front lines of healthcare, making up 75% of healthcare practitioners according to the World Health Organization and 87% of healthcare support staff. They also make up a greater percentage of the workforce in service-related jobs that have been let go or furloughed as a result of businesses having to shut down to enforce social distancing.

Women are also paid less than men, despite being at increased risk during this coronavirus pandemic.

Equal Pay Day was March 31, traditionally a day in which the country focuses on the gender pay gap and how much longer women have to work to earn what men make. According to PayScale’s research on the gender pay gap, women make 81 cents for every one dollar that men make in 2020, an increase of only 2% since last year.

When data are controlled, meaning when we look only at women doing equal work to men based on job title, seniority, location, and other factors, women make 98 cents compared to men. This gap is more pronounced in some occupations. While female family doctors make 94 cents for every one dollar that male family doctors make, the gender pay gap among anesthesiologists is 83 cents even when data are controlled.

In addition, women suffer penalties when they leave the workforce. Past research from PayScale, the company where I work, on the gender pay gap has showed that women who return to the workforce after a gap receive compensation offers that are 7% less than offers made to employees who never left the workforce. Women are more likely to leave the workforce in order to care for children or family members who are ill. With schools closed during the coronavirus and a higher percentage of women in service positions laid off or furloughed, we have to wonder if women will suffer a similar penalty upon return to the work after the current crisis.

It doesn’t help that, like healthcare practitioners, women in community and service positions are already paid less than men. For example, women servers (waitresses) make a controlled median pay of $19,600 compared to male servers who make $22,800, or a gap of $0.86 to every $1 that men make.

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Another occupation that has been highly impacted by the coronavirus and adversely affected by the gender pay gap are flight attendants. Female flight attendants make $0.92 for every $1 male flight attendants earn or $56,800 for men at the median compared to $52,230 for women. Female elementary school teachers also make only $0.92 compared to every $1 men make.

At PayScale, we think about compensation every day. Although the coronavirus is occupying the attention of the entire world right now, we can’t abandon principles in the face of crisis. If anything, our principles matter more. Every employee should be valued equally for doing the same work.

Employers are grappling with a lot right now, but it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Over the past two years, the gender pay gap has entered into our collective consciousness, riding on the wave of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements from 2017 and continuing into 2019. While action has been taken to address the gender wage gap, it hasn’t yet been closed. It’s therefore important that we continue to work against the unconscious biases that result in women earning less than men.

According to PayScale’s Compensation Best Practices Report for 2020, only 38% of organizations planned on doing some kind of pay equity analysis in 2020. That was before the coronavirus upended 2020 planning. However long it takes, when the waters finally calm and businesses are able to rehire, we urge employers to strive to compensate women fairly and equitably, and not at reduced rates for having left the workforce as a result of this crisis.

To facilitate this, we suggest employers shift their thinking when it comes to determining compensation for employees, moving to a more modern and mature approach to compensation that prices the job, not the person, using pay ranges informed by multiple data sources that are regularly refreshed and up-to-date.

If employers use a data-driven approach, they can avoid compensating women less than men for the same job and price jobs accurately to the market. Even during these difficult times, employers can be mindful of the gender pay gap as we look ahead to a future that is brighter, steadier, and fairer to all of our employees.

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Scott Torrey is the CEO of PayScale, a provider of compensation data and software.

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