Knowledge & Insight

Women in Work – opportunities and challenges

Wed 1 April 2020

In a new white paper by PwC, four highly respected economists celebrate the success of women in the workplace and explore the opportunities and challenges that exist around the globe.

The Women in Work Index

This year saw PwC publish their eighth annual Women in Work Index, which offers a clear view of the relative levels of female economic empowerment across 33 OECD countries. The top three positions remain unchanged from 2019, with Iceland, Sweden and Slovenia leading the way. The UK’s position also remains unchanged at 16th, and rather worryingly, the UK is increasingly being outpaced by strong forward momentum achieved in most other OECD nations. The Czech Republic made the highest gains, rising 4 places from 23rd to 19th, while Estonia and Ireland suffered the largest slide in rankings, each falling by four positions.

The UK’s performance

The PwC study breaks the UK down into 12 regions, and the good news is that the index highlights a narrowing of inequality in women’s employment opportunities across the regions. The South West now leads the way, having seen an improvement in all contributory indicators, and Northern Ireland moves into second place, thanks to its improvement in female labour force participation rate. In fact, Scotland is the only region not to have improved its absolute score since the previous index was compiled. Last place in the regional table is occupied by London, primarily a result of a widening gender pay gap and gender participation gap.

Economic and individual benefits

Empowering women to participate and succeed in the workplace clearly brings enormous individual benefits, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction, yet the rewards for the wider economy are just as great. PwC calculate that if all OECD countries were able to implement Sweden’s performance in enabling women to engage fully in the workplace, this would deliver a £2tn boost in women’s earnings through closure of the gender gap, and a colossal £6tn boost to OECD DGP. At a time when long-term economic growth faces serious headwinds, this would appear a relatively easy win.

Affirmative action

There are a number of practical steps that organisations can take to promote opportunities for women in the workplace. Developing strong female role models can encourage a pipeline of female talent, and delivering gender-neutral branding and job descriptions can help to attract women into a particular industry or sector. Creating a culture of inclusivity is of course vital in attracting and retaining female talent, as are mentoring schemes and intelligent career planning. Training and education initiatives also have an important role to play, particularly for career returners, and creating innovative hiring pathways can empower women to move into new roles.

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