How can we get progress on gender equality back on track?

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Lara Haskins. Picture credit Andy Le Gresley (30380475)
Lara Haskins. Picture credit Andy Le Gresley (30380475)

The impact of Covid-19 risks turning back the clock on gender equality in Jersey. Getting progress back on track would not only strengthen opportunities for women but also boost prosperity, growth and international competitiveness. Against this background, Lara Haskins, advisory senior manager at PwC Channel Islands, asks how we can make equality a reality for women here in Jersey

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate women’s successes in creating a more equal and inclusive world. It’s also an opportunity to challenge biases (#ChooseToChallenge) and to think about how we can all help to tackle discrimination.

How far has Jersey come? From family-friendly employment rights to gender-pay-gap reporting in the public sector, there have been important steps forward in recent years. However, our research indicates that progress is not moving fast enough.

Falling behind

PwC produces an annual Women in Work Index that gauges equality in OECD countries across a range of measures including female employment rates and how pay and participation in the economy compare with men. In a follow-up to our 2019 Women in Work Index report, we’ve analysed how Jersey and Guernsey would perform in the latest international rankings. Worryingly, Jersey has slipped from 20th (based on 2017 data) to 24th place (based on 2019 data). Guernsey has fallen from 14th to 19th, moving it into the bottom half of the index with Jersey.

While Jersey’s indicators remained much the same between 2017 and 2019, other countries have been moving further and faster in improving gender equality. Pacesetters include Luxembourg (5th), against which the Channel Islands directly compete for talent and investment.

The good news is that Jersey actually outperforms the OECD average for female participation in the labour force, as well as female unemployment rates. Where the Island falls down is in its gender pay gap. There is currently no economy-wide gender-pay-gap figure for Jersey (reporting in the private sector is voluntary and take-up is patchy). But based on data available from Guernsey, we estimate that Jersey’s gender pay gap would be similar at 21% – five percentage points above the UK and one of the highest in our international rankings, with only Estonia, Korea and Japan with a higher gender pay gap.

Losing out on high-paid jobs

The main reason that Jersey’s gender pay gap is so high is that men still hold most of the senior and best paid positions within Jersey businesses and in particular in financial services, the mainstay of our economy.

This isn’t an issue that’s confined to Jersey and Guernsey – latest figures for the UK show that the gender pay gap in FS is around 30%. Moreover, other sectors, including our own, face a lingering gender imbalance within senior management. While the overall gender pay gap at PwC Channel Islands is 2.5%, this rises to 33% when partners are included in the calculation.

However, gender pay gaps are not inevitable. Despite also having an economy that is highly dependent on FS, Luxembourg has the lowest gender pay gap of all OECD countries (1%). The point isn’t to put Jersey in a bad light in comparison to Luxembourg, but to show what can be achieved when steps to close gender pay gaps are accelerated. For our part here at PwC, we know that this is an issue we need to tackle and have embarked on a five-year talent development plan to make our leadership more diverse.

Pandemic jolt

Concerns over inequality have been heightened by the impact of Covid-19. In Jersey, even though female labour participation rates are much lower than men (77% vs 92%), there are still more women than men actively seeking work, with data showing a 30% increase in women seeking work between December 2019 and December 2020. While we have no specific figures for Jersey, a recent parliamentary report reveals that women in the UK, as a whole, are more likely to be employed in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic and hence at risk of being laid off.

Despite some change, women also still bear the weight of caring responsibilities. This makes it more likely that they will have to work part-time, which is the type of employment where job cuts among women have been concentrated. While some women may choose to leave the workforce temporarily due to Covid-19, with the intention to return post-pandemic, research shows that career breaks have long-term impacts on women’s labour-market prospects, and women will return to lower-paid and lower-skilled positions.

Looking at all the countries in our Women in Work Index, our analysis shows that progress on equality will need to be twice as fast as historical rates between now and 2030 just to get back to where we would have been without Covid-19.

Catalyst for change

At the same time, the pandemic could prove to be a catalyst for progress and change. For one, the upheaval of the past year has intensified the spotlight on inequalities within society and forced policymakers to recognise the value of the unpaid work performed by women. The drive to create more and better-paid opportunities for women could also form an important part of the workforce-wide upskilling Jersey needs to compete in an increasingly digitised global economy. Yes, change is challenging. But the successful shift to remote working shows how much can be achieved when the commitment is there.

Five ways to boost equality

How can we move forward? Building on the action plan set out in our 2019 Women in Work Index report, here are the five priorities we believe will accelerate progress as we move out of the pandemic:

1) Future-proof jobs

A step-up in upskilling offers the win-win-win of helping to keep women economically active now, while equipping them with the in-demand skills they and their employers need in the future. This skills boost would in turn help women secure higher salaries and hence narrow the gender pay gap.

2) Take a diversity lens to key decisions

Look at public policies and business strategies through a diversity lens to ensure women and other potentially marginalised groups are not unintentionally disadvantaged by the Covid-19 response and recovery plans. Appropriate data is a critical part of this.

3) Reduce the burden of unpaid care

Policies such as shared parental leave, affordable access to childcare and flexible working options for both women and men enable women to work more and develop their careers. Jersey continues to make valuable strides, including the recent announcement to increase free nursery hours from 20 to 30 hours per week from September 2021. It’s important to keep pushing the bar even higher so that we can match or overtake other countries. It’s also essential that the value of the unpaid work women do is fully appreciated.

4) Open new doors

Many women move to Jersey when their partners take up posts in FS in the Island. But unless they have worked in FS themselves, they can find it hard to find work. Setting up their own businesses could provide a route back into employment. It’s also important for both workers and employers to think about how skills acquired in one sector could be transferred into another, including FS. Could government support and incentivise female entrepreneurship in the Island and can recruiters and employers focus more on skills rather than industry experience?

5) Tell it how it is

With reporting still voluntary, few private-sector organisations currently disclose their gender pay gap. Clearly, they may have a lot of other priorities right now. But tracking and reporting progress is the surest way to identify issues in need of tackling and holding the business to account – what gets measured gets done.

In the public sector, it is important to build on the foundations of gender-pay-gap reporting by tracking progress through annual updates and considering targets to work towards.

Gains will be felt by everyone

Progress needs to keep moving at pace and in the right direction again and we at PwC will do everything we can to support this. And what’s good for equality is good for our economy as a whole. Our analysis reveals that matching our female employment rates to Sweden’s would boost Jersey’s GDP by 5% equating to £259 million for the economy. In addition, closing the gender pay gap would generate a 26% increase in female earnings, equivalent to a further £226 million boost. Look out for our upcoming Women in Work Index 2021 report, where we’ll be setting out more analysis and ideas on the way forward.

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