Close the Gap

Case study

Close the Gap is Scotland’s expert policy advocacy organisation working on women’s labour market participation. Since 2001, we’ve been working with policymakers, employers and unions to influence and enable action to address the causes of women’s inequality at work.

Of central importance to our work is the gender pay gap and its causes. The gender pay gap is the key indicator of women’s labour market equality, representing the divergent experiences men and women have not only in employment but also in education, training, care and other domestic labour. It is a persistent feature of Scotland’s labour market, remaining stubbornly high at 13%.

Close the Gap aims to influence policymakers to ensure they use a gendered approach to labour market policymaking. We also engage with employers to encourage and support them to tackle gender inequalities in their own organisations.

The causes of the gender pay gap include occupational segregation, where men and women are concentrated into different types of work and different levels of work, a lack of quality part-time and flexible working; the economic undervaluation of stereotypical female work such as care, retail, admin and cleaning; women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care; and discrimination in pay and grading systems.

The COVID-19 crisis has illuminated the importance of “women’s work” to the economy, through the greater visibility of key worker roles which are overwhelmingly done by women. While research has indicated there is public support for a pay rise for these essential workers, this does not make the connection with the fact that this work is low paid because it is seen as “women’s work”. The undervaluation of “women’s work” results in the low pay associated with those jobs and sectors and has lifelong impacts for women such as having less access to resources and assets, including occupational pensions, and a higher risk of in-work poverty.  It is therefore important that policymakers and employers reckon with gendered nature of undervaluation. This means more than just a pay rise, it means that how we value and pay women’s work relative to men’s needs to change. Fair work is a key policy priority of Scottish Government, but we are yet to realise fair work for women. Fair work for women will not be achieved without tackling the undervaluation of “women’s work” and recognising and rewarding their skills.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, our current focus is on the impact this is having on women’s workplace equality. Our recent report has highlighted that women are experiencing  disproportionate labour market disruption as a result of the pandemic, which is likely to continue as we move beyond the pandemic. This will compound and entrench women’s labour market equality, women’s and children’s poverty levels, and wider gender equality.

Our report Disproportionate Disruption: The impact of COVID-19 on women’s labour market equality identified a number of significant concerns.

  • Job disruption will disproportionately impact women because men and women tend to do different types of work.
  • Women are more likely to have lost their job, had their hours cut, and to have been furloughed.
  • Women in low-paid jobs will be particularly affected by job disruption, placing them at greater risk of poverty.
  • Women are disproportionately affected by the need for more unpaid care, impacting their ability to do paid work.
  • Women are less likely to do a job that can be done from home during periods of social distancing, creating increased risk to their job retention and financial security.
  • Women, particularly BME women, young women and women on zero-hour contracts, are more likely to work in a sector that has been shut down.
  • Women are more likely to lose their jobs in the predicted “jobs recession”
  • The rise in underemployment will disproportionately affect women.

Our briefing highlights the importance of gender analysis and gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data in labour market policymaking. Applying a gendered lens to existing predictions and analysis highlights that women are likely to be disproportionately impacted by labour market disruption in a number of ways.

Through its “A Fairer Scotland for Women” action plan, Scottish government has committed to tackling the gender pay gap. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have the opposite effect, rolling back progress on delivering fair work for women. It’s therefore critical that gender-sensitive data analysis and gender mainstreaming approaches are integrated into all labour market and economic recovery policymaking. Without a gendered approach to economic recovery, women’s labour market equality will be entrenched, and fair work for women will remain out of reach.

Our report highlights the importance of gender analysis and gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data in labour market policymaking. It’s critical that gender-sensitive data analysis and gender mainstreaming approaches are integrated into all labour market and economic recovery policymaking. In the report, we call on Scottish Government to:

  • Ensure policymaking to address COVID-19 labour market disruption addresses occupational segregation as a central aim, and
  • Address the undervaluation of “women’s work”, including in adult social care and childcare, should be core to labour market and economic recovery policymaking in response to COVID-19

Delivering fair work for women means employers must take action too. We need to see proactive steps from employers to identify and tackle pay discrimination embedded in their systems, to offer genuinely flexible working patterns which enable women to combine paid work with unpaid caring roles, and to do gender-sensitive job evaluation to identify where “women’s work” may be undervalued in their organisational structures.

This month, Close the Gap and Engender, have published 9 principles for an economic recovery that works for women. The principles, which are endorsed by national women’s and single parent organisations, are a set of ideas, challenges, and calls that are rooted in evidence, describing features of an economy that works for women as well as men. They put care and solidarity at the heart of a new economy, which will create better jobs, better decision-making, and a more adequate standard of living for us all.

We need bold action on what Covid-19 has exposed, that women’s work is undervalued, underprotected, and underpaid. We are calling on policymakers at national and local government level to respond to the crisis of women’s labour market inequality, and their wider inequality, in their response to the COVID-19 crisis. Without an economy that works for women, there will be no economic recovery.


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