The gender pay gap is real but opinion divided on its priority right now

Flexible workplaces and supporting women and girls facing violence and abuse key to ensuring COVID-19 recovery addresses issues facing women

A new global study carried out in 28 countries by Ipsos, in collaboration with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London for International Women’s Day, shows that:

  • People believe the gender pay gap is real and important, but are divided over whether it should be a top priority right now
  • More flexible working practices and support for women and girls facing violence and abuse are seen as key to ensuring the recovery from COVID-19 addresses issues facing women

Gender pay gap is seen as a real and important issue, but there are divisions over whether it is a top priority right now

While studies highlight the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on women[1], people are divided over whether closing the gender pay gap should be a top priority right now. In line with global opinion, two in five Australians (43%) think that closing the gender pay gap is important but should not be a priority right now compared with 36% who think it should be one of the top priorities in their country.

Australian women are much more likely to say that it should be a priority now than men; 41% vs 31% of men.

Countries where closing the gender gap is seen to be a priority more than the global country average are Chile (53%), South Africa (52%) and France (51%).

Despite these divisions, there is broad sympathy for the need to address the gender pay gap with half of Australians (53%) saying that concerns about the gender pay gap are a response to a real problem. This is in line with the global average across the 28 countries surveyed. But there is a sizeable minority of around one in five (21%) Australians who believes that concerns about the gender pay gap are an example of political correctness gone too far and 14% believe that reports about the gender pay gap in the media are fake news. Australian men are more likely to think that reports about the gender pay gap are fake news compared with women (18% vs 10% for women).

There is majority support (56%) across the globe for greater transparency over pay. In Australia, half (50%) support the right for people to know what colleagues who are doing similar work are being paid. And support to know this information is slightly higher among women than men (54% vs 46%). A quarter of Australians (24%) do not think people should have the right to know what colleagues doing the same work are being paid.

Countries where calls for transparency is greatest are Chile (70%), Peru (67%), Argentina (66%) and Hungary (65%).

More flexible working practices and support for women against violence and abuse are key to ensuring the recovery from COVID-19 addresses issues facing women

Broadly in line with global opinion, Australians believe more flexible working practices (48%) and more support for women and girls who face violence and abuse (36%) are the top priorities for ensuring that any program for recovery addresses issues facing women. In contrast, Australians place significantly more importance on better mental health support services (39%), than the global average (24%).

Countries where more flexible working practices, such as working from home and working part-time, are higher than the global country average are Chile (49%), Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea (all 48%), The Netherlands (47%) and Great Britain (46%). They are considered relatively less important in Brazil (28%), France and South Africa (both 32%) and in Argentina (33%).

Respondents in Turkey (56%), South Africa (52%) and Peru (51%) are much more likely to prioritise support for women and girls who face violence or abuse than the global country average. In contrast, this is seen as less of a priority in Russia (24%), The Netherlands (23%) and Italy (21%).

However, as countries recover from the pandemic, half (52%) think that gender equality between men and women will revert to what it was before the pandemic. And opinion is split as to whether gender equality will improve or get worse; one in ten (11%) think women will become more equal with men and the same proportion (11%) think women will become less equal. Women are slightly more pessimistic than men on this measure with 13% saying they will become less equal with men compared with 9% of men who think this.

Putting people before politics is key to recovery

The study shows that globally the most important quality that people want from their political leaders in order to do a good job in handling the recovery from the pandemic is to put their country’s needs before politics – mentioned by a third of people (33%) and equally likely among men and women. This is followed by being honest with the public (29%), understanding the problems facing ordinary people (28%), taking into account the impact on the economy as well as health (25%) and making the right decisions at the right time (25%).

Women are slightly more likely to pick out the following over men:

  • For political leaders to understand the problems facing ordinary people (30% for women vs 26% for men);
  • To take into account the impact on the economy as well as health (27% for women vs 22% for men); and
  • To act quickly to protect people in their country (26% for women vs 22% for men).

Women more likely to be looking after their health and wellbeing now than before the pandemic

The study asked about a range of things people are doing differently now in their lives compared to before the pandemic started.

Women are slightly more likely than men to say that they are taking actions to improve their health and wellbeing than they did before the crisis started (50% vs 46%). Countries where people say they are most likely to be taking actions to improve their health and wellbeing now than before the pandemic are Peru (73%), Mexico (69%) and South Africa (68%). On the flipside, countries where people are least likely to be doing this are Turkey (32%) and Poland (29%). In Australia, 43% are more likely to be taking actions to improve their health and wellbeing than they did before the crisis.

Across the 28 countries, close to four in 10 people (37%) say they are now more likely to spend less time working and more time with their family compared to before the crisis began. A similar proportion (39%) say the crisis has made no difference, whereas almost one in five (17%) say they are less likely to do this now. Similar to the global average, 31% of Australians say they are now more likely to spend less time working and more time with family.

Globally, 44% of people in work say they are now more likely to worry about losing their job than they did before the crisis started. A third (34%) say there is no difference while 13% say they are less likely to worry now. Women are slightly more likely to worry about losing their job than men (45% vs 42%). Respondents in South Africa (63%), Mexico (60%) and Peru (58%) are much more likely than the global country average to say they are worried about losing their job. In contrast, Australians are doing relatively well, with 35% worried about losing their job.

“Women’s work” is underpaid?

Jobs in caring professions - childcare, nursing, care work - are seen as predominantly done by women, and also as underpaid, and the same applies to shop work (although there are also examples of professions that people think on balance are more likely to be made up of men that are also seen as relatively underpaid, such as delivery drivers and police officers). In contrast, politicians and bankers, who are seen as being paid too much, are viewed as predominantly male occupations (although it should be pointed out this is not necessarily seen as a causal link).

  • Four in five (82%) Australians think that those providing childcare (such as nursery workers, childminders and nannies) are predominantly women and over half (57%) think they are paid too little for the work they do.
  • Around eight in 10 (79%) Australians think that nursing is mostly made up of women  and  two-thirds (65%) think they are paid too little
  • 72% of Australians say that care worker jobs, such as helping the elderly and those with disabilities are predominantly done by women and two-thirds (67%) think they are paid too little for the work that they do.
  • Seven in ten (71%) Australians surveyed think that politicians are predominantly male and 71% think they are paid too much for the work that they do.

Ipsos Australia Director, Jess Elgood, said: “The findings from this Ipsos global study shed some positive light on Australian life – most of us have come through the pandemic feeling well supported by our employers, family and friends. However, we are twice as likely to see the impact of COVID as negatively impacting women’s lives, than men’s, half of us recognise the gender pay gap as a real problem in Australia and believe we should have the right to know what other colleagues doing the same work as us are paid.

“In terms of how we move forward and identify specific areas that need attention, 2020 has left us with a clear appetite for more flexible working and for access to better mental health support services. There is clearly more to be done in order for women’s experience in the workplace – both in pay and conditions – to be on a par with that of our male counterparts.”

Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said: “It's been said that we’re at a coronavirus crossroads: we face a choice between building back better or allowing progress on gender equality to stall or even be reversed. As the world decides which path to take, the good news is that the vast majority of people recognise that closing the gender pay gap is important. The bad news is that in many countries, people are less clear it should be a top priority right now, as we begin to reopen and rebuild society. But if we’re to have any chance of ensuring women don’t lose out further because of the crisis, we need to keep this issue high on the agenda.”

 

[1] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/9/feature-covid-19-economic-impacts-on-women

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