The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #ChooseToChallenge. At a time when we’ve seen lockdown restrictions fall heavily on working parents – and especially on working mothers – the most obvious challenge to rise to is reporting our Gender Pay Gap (GPG) figures. This will visibly keep up the commitment to levelling the playing field. The next key is to have a Gender Pay Gap Action Plan.

Employers have just been given another 6 months to report the latest GPG figures. That said, why wait? We’ve had clear guidance that employees furloughed on the 2020 snapshot date are treated as being on the payroll in headcount terms, but only those furloughed employees whose pay was fully topped up are counted in the figures . So, it’s not that complicated.

When GPG reporting was paused in 2020 amid the early demands of the pandemic, around half of relevant employers did still report voluntarily. Bodies promoting leadership and equality are calling urgently for the momentum on Gender Pay Gap reporting not to be lost this year.

Meanwhile, schools are now on a pathway to reopening. The strain of home-schooling has been legendary. Guardian Education Editor, Rachel Hall, along with many others, underlines its gendered impact. Read another way, we see the pressures have fallen on working parents across genders too.

Quoting Office for National Statistics figures, Hall describes “67 per cent of women and 52 per cent of men were taking charge of their children’s education at home this time. More women reported that home schooling was having a negative impact on their wellbeing, with 53 per cent struggling compared with 45 per cent of men.” There is a gender point to be understood here; and yet, it also shows a lot of working fathers affected too. So, as we follow the roadmap forward, employers should be mindful of the gendered impacts of the last year and also hold open the window of understanding for all working parents, across genders.

School life will involve coronavirus testing, there will inevitably be isolations and selective closures, limitations on after-school clubs and more. We are not out of the woods. Then it will be summertime again, with many parents balancing educational catch-up programmes with the annual quest for holiday clubs, to support wellbeing and sanity all round, alongside family time and working life.

The Government Equalities Office excellent advice on family-friendly actions to close the Gender Pay Gap is more relevant than ever and should be a timely part of every Gender Pay Gap Action Plan. The conversation has moved on exponentially this year about flexible working. In our experience, there has also been a huge step up in direct involvement in childcare provision by employers, particularly when the usual infrastructure was not operating. Commitments to keeping in touch during parental leave and support a confident return also matter more than ever in a remote or hybrid working world, as does inclusive leadership. We need to enable working parents, of all genders, to stay on a meaningful career track, not simply scrape through.

There is plenty of further practical inspiration in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work 2021 report published on 22nd February. Over the last year, the APPG has shone a light on the impact of COVID-19 on women’s employment, within the overall theme of women’s wellbeing at work. This latest report has ‘Toolkit’ pages throughout for employers, ranging across areas such as developing career pathways and progression in the workplace to supporting menstrual and menopausal wellbeing and also promoting financial wellbeing.

At a time when inclusion and belonging top the HR agenda, we need to act inclusively for all and also take action for groups that face particular obstacles, or have been especially impacted by the pandemic. For International Women’s Day, let’s act for women, and for gender equality, knowing the inclusive actions we take will also have much wider benefit.

This article was written by Jennifer-Liston Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions.





Jennifer Liston-Smith is Head of Thought Leadership for Bright Horizons Family Solutions. A business psychologist, sought-after speaker and innovator, she pioneered parent transition coaching at work. Jennifer set-up, and for a decade led, the Coaching & Consultancy side of what became Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions. She now focuses on identifying overarching trends through research and advising employers on work-life integration and how best to empower working parents and carers. Bright Horizons have supported families for over 30 years.