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BLOG: Why women are working for free

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

It’s the second week of December, 95% of my Christmas shopping is done, nativity costumes have been procured and it’s day 21 of working for free.

Yes, that’s right. Since 18 November, myself and every other working woman in the UK have effectively been working for love rather than money.

Every year, the Fawcett Society, (a charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life), works out on which day ‘Equal Pay Day’ will fall.  It marks the day in the year when women effectively, on average, stop earning relative to men because of the gender pay gap.

Annoyingly, the pandemic has only served to increase this gap which is 11.9% this year compared to 10.6% last year. Not only have women been more likely than men to lose their job or be put on furlough during the pandemic, but research shows that they have also been taking on a bigger share of childcare and household duties in lockdown.

Felicia Willow, Interim CEO of the Fawcett Society, said: “Our recent research has shown the severe impacts of the pandemic on younger women particularly, both on the sectors they work in and on their mental health. Today’s data suggest the pay gap for them may be rising, and that action is needed to stop this turning into a long-term increase in the gender pay gap.

“The pandemic has had a tough and disproportionate impact on women, in particular women of colour, disabled women and mothers. And now in addition to this, a widening gender pay gap paints a worrying picture. The government needs to take bold action, from improving childcare provision, making flexible working available to everyone, and tackling the rising cost of living.”

Experts have predicted that the pandemic – and subsequent economic fallout – could delay the closing of the gender pay gap (the difference between average male and female earnings) by as much as 30 years. Not only this but missed pension payments could also leave women substantially worse off in retirement too.

So, what can we do?

First, we can start by asking for a pay rise. A study a couple of years ago found that men are much more confident doing this than women and I doubt that has changed over the past 24 months. Yes, companies have been struggling, but wages are going up in some areas. So, if salaries are increasing in your area of the workforce, make sure yours is too.

Secondly, we can increase our pension contributions. Yes, we may have less money to start with, but women tend to be better at budgeting and finding that spare bit of cash. And, if you put this cash into a pension, it’s likely your employer will increase their contribution too. That’s ‘free’ bonus right there.

And, importantly, while we might start off with less, Fidelity’s 2021 women and Investing Study found that we have the edge over men when it comes to long-term gains.

The study found that over a 10-year period, Fidelity’s female customers earned, on average, 0.4 percentage points more annually than their male counterparts. That may not seem like a lot, but over a few decades it can add up to tens of thousands of pounds or more.

For those needing that extra push, here are six funds and trusts that you could consider from all around the globe:

European Opportunities trust

European Opportunities Trust offers investors access to a high conviction portfolio of European equities with a bias towards medium and larger companies. The manager has developed a consistent investment process that has a record of success in different economic environments.

Baillie Gifford Shin Nippon

Shin Nippon means ‘new Japan’ and this trust focuses on emerging or disrupted sectors in the country, where the manager sees innovative growth opportunities. He is prepared to bide his time while these mainly smaller companies reach their full potential and, while the trust can be highly volatile, patient investors have been richly rewarded.

Fidelity Special Values

Launched in 1994, this trust invests in unloved UK companies and waits for them to come back into favour. Manager Alex Wright says: “I’m drawn to unfashionable stocks that are out-of-favour and trade on cheap valuations. I’m looking for potential positive change that others haven’t seen yet.”

Rowe Price Asian Opportunities Equity

This fund invests across Asia ex-Japan in a concentrated portfolio of high-quality companies. These companies tend to be established, with leading market positions and good management teams who prioritise shareholder returns. Portfolio turnover is low. The manager has a ‘safety first’ approach and the funds tends to do well when times are tough.

Lazard US Equity Concentrated

This extremely concentrated US fund typically holds no more than 20 to 25 companies, ranging in size from the fairly small all the way through to the very large. Manager Christopher Blake says: “Each stock offers something different, so our only theme is that we don’t have a theme. We swing for base hits not home runs.”

Invesco Global Focus

This is a high conviction, concentrated fund which invests all over the world. The manager’s approach is refreshingly simple: understand the structural trends which are changing the world and then invest in the best companies which are benefitting from these trends.


Past performance is not a reliable guide to future returns. You may not get back the amount originally invested. The views of Juliet and the fund managers are their own and do not constitute financial advice.

Juliet Schooling Latter is research director at FundCalibre