UK outpaced by other nations when it comes to women in work

Despite holding firm in 16th place, the UK is being outpaced by greater improvements in female employment prospects in other OECD countries, according to PWC’s latest Women in Work Index, which analyses female economic empowerment across 33 OECD countries. While the UK performs above the OECD average and is second only to Canada when compared to other G7 economies, its position has barely budged since 2000 when it stood in 17th position, despite improving its performance across all five indicators.

Overall, the OECD countries achieved incremental gains to female economic empowerment. Iceland and Sweden retain the top two positions for the fifth year in a row, with Slovenia in third place. Czechia experienced the biggest improvement in its ranking of all OECD countries, rising four places from 23rd to 19th, whereas Estonia and Ireland recorded the biggest decline.

• The top three countries in the Women in Work 2020 Index are Iceland, Sweden and Slovenia, while the UK remains in 16th place.
• If the female employment rate across the OECD countries matched Sweden, OECD GDP would be boosted by more than US$6 trillion (£4.63 trillion).
• Closing the gender pay gap across the OECD would increase total female earnings by US$2 trillion (£1.54 trillion). Female earnings in the UK would increase by £93 billion – a rise of 20 percent.
• The South West, Northern Ireland and Wales are the top performing UK regions, with all regions except Scotland improving their absolute score since last year.
• On average across the G7, women account for only 30 percent of the tech workforce, highlighting the need for businesses to improve opportunities for women in the sector.


UK regional inequalities declining

Encouragingly, regional inequalities in women’s employment across the UK are declining, with every region except Scotland improving since last year. The East Midlands, North East and West Midlands achieved increases in their index score of more than 12 percent since last year, mainly driven by broad-based improvements to female labour force participation and full time employment rate. The South West unseated Scotland as the UK’s top region, improving on all indicators, while Northern Ireland jumped from 4th to 2nd.

London performed the poorest on the index due to poor female labour force participation and a high female unemployment rate. It fell three places to 12th, despite being the region that has achieved the most significant improvement in its index score since 2010, indicating that progress has stalled in the capital.


Women in technology

On average across the G7, women account for only 30 percent of the tech workforce, and even fewer women occupy the top echelons of tech companies. According to PwC’s Women in Technology Index, which is part of Women in Work, Canada is the best performing country within the G7 in terms of gender representation and equality in the tech sector, with France in second place.

The outlook is less rosy for the UK. In contrast to the main index, on which it is the second best performing country in the G7 and ranks in the top half of the OECD overall (16th), the UK is fifth out of the G7 in the Women in Technology Index. Its poor performance is driven by worse than average performance on all indicators except the share of women on boards in the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) sector.
Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PwC UK, commented:

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It’s encouraging to see progress being made in opportunities for women across the UK.[/perfectpullquote]

“Technology is front and centre for businesses and wider society, so it’s vital we take steps to make the industry as inclusive as possible. It’s encouraging to see progress being made in opportunities for women across the UK as businesses invest across the country, but more needs to be done.

“Long-term, targeted solutions will be vital in making changes sustainable. We know that in areas such as STEM women are under-represented. In order to build and sustain a pipeline of diverse talent, businesses need to work together to encourage girls at young ages through initiatives such as Tech She Can – a programme which inspires and educates young women to get into tech careers.”

The study suggests that AI and new technologies, such as robotics, drones and driverless vehicles, could displace jobs for women, but can also create new ones. Fewer female jobs are expected to be lost due to technology relative to jobs lost for the male population in the OECD, but the gains from job creation are likely to be bigger for men than women. The health and social care sector, the largest employer of women in the OECD, is expected to experience a net increase in female employment as a result of technology. However, the wholesale and retail trade and manufacturing sectors in the OECD are expected to experience a net decrease in female employment as a result of technology.

As workers are increasingly impacted by technology – a recent PwC global survey found that more than half of workers globally believe that automation will either significantly change or make their job obsolete within the next decade – it is vital that governments and businesses work together to offer more training in digital skills and STEM subjects, and support retraining into other jobs in sectors where the “human touch” is crucial.