The UK has moved up a “women in work” league table after the economic recovery helped cut female unemployment, but it still lags well behind Nordic countries when it comes to overall empowerment of women in the workplace.
The UK is at its highest position since 2000 on the Women in Work Index from consultants PwC. It ranks 14th out of 27 developed economies, up four places on a year ago.
UK, US and Hungary rise. Australia, Portugal, Poland and Ireland fall
The authors have put the progress down to the UK’s strengthening economic recovery, which has driven improvements in female labour force participation – both in absolute terms and relative to men – and a reduction in female unemployment.
On female participation, the UK is in the top 10 performing countries. But its performance is negatively impacted by the low proportion of women in full-time employment, where the UK is in 25th place out of the 27 countries, which are all members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Gaenor Bagley, head of people and executive board member at PwC, said despite the perception that flexible working helps women, “our index and wider research suggests that it is still holding back women’s career progression”.
The reality for many flexible workers is that they have to work harder for promotion and don’t progress as quickly. The decision to go part-time is often made for short-term reasons, but unfortunately for women it often seems to have a wider, long-term negative impact.
The Shared Parental Leave policy, which comes into force in April, is a step in the right direction but the UK’s cultural perception of gender equality needs to catch up with such changes in policy. Some of the reasons the Nordic countries top the index is down to the recognition that all individuals should be able to balance their career and family life, and to support themselves.
Norway, New Zealand and Belgium have smallest pay gap
The average gender wage gap across OECD countries has remained unchanged since 2012, the PwC report notes, while the UK has achieved “a small narrowing of the gap” since last year. But Ireland and Australia fared the worst, reversing the gains made since 2000.
The Nordic countries continue to lead the overall index, with Norway maintaining pole position, followed by Denmark and Sweden. The three countries have occupied the top three positions since 2000.
Female unemployment rises most in crisis-hit countries
Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, drew a link between those countries hit hardest by the economic crisis and the fortunes of women in their respective labour markets.
Southern European countries such as Greece and Italy at the bottom of the index are still struggling to improve their performance since the fallout from the economic crisis.
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