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UK crawls up the gender equality rankings

Increasing the UK’s female employment rate and closing the gender pay gap could boost GDP by billions and increase women’s spending power by 20%

PwC’s latest Women in Work Index finds that the UK is slowly improving gender equality in the workplace – it is now ranked 13th in the index of 33 OECD countries, up one place since 2018 and up four places since 2000.

However, as the Big Four firm points out, if the UK were able to match second-ranked Sweden’s level of female employment (69% v the UK’s 57%), the benefit to the economy would be in the region of £178bn. Equally, closing the gender pay gap would boost female earnings by £92bn.

PwC says that both government and business have a major role to play in improving gender equality in the UK.

“This research shows that an area of weakness for the UK is the number of women in full-time employment,” explains PwC chief people officer Laura Hinton

“Employers can help address this by supporting women returning to the workplace and creating a culture where ambition and progression is encouraged at all levels.

“It’s also important to remember that policies such as flexible working need to benefit men just as women. This will help balance some caring responsibilities traditionally held by women and, over time, should increase the number of women who enter – and stay – in the workforce.”

The Women in Work Index is based on five indicators: the gender pay gap; female labour force participation; the gap between male and female labour force participation; female unemployment; and the female full-time employment rate.

The Nordic countries dominate the top 10 rankings, spending large amounts on family benefits such as affordable childcare and freeing up women to work full-time. Iceland takes poll position followed by Sweden and New Zealand. Norway is in fifth position, Denmark in seventh and Finland in ninth.

The countries with the farthest to go in terms of gender equality are Korea (33rd), Mexico (32nd) and Greece (31st).

Interestingly, the UK ranked the second highest of the G7 countries, behind Canada in 11th place.

Within the UK, Scotland, the South West and Wales come top in terms of female economic empowerment. PwC’s senior economist Yong Jing Teow suggests that this is because they have large hospitality sectors and a high concentration of public sector jobs, which tend to have more balanced representation.

Elsewhere, the performance varies significantly. London, which ranked ninth out of 12 regions, boasts the highest female full-time employment rate in the UK but its performance is undermined by the fact that the pay gap has essentially flatlined since 2010.

The worst performers were the East and West Midlands. Both regions have high female unemployment rates and a wide variation in male and female labour force participation rates.

Originally published in Economia on 5 March 2019.