POSTED: March 09 2016
Getting more women into work could bring the UK £170bn of economic benefits – PwC’s Women in Work Index

Getting more women into work could bring the UK £170bn of economic benefits – PwC’s Women in Work Index

New research shows that the UK is missing out on up to £170bn worth of economic benefits by not having enough females in employment. PwC’s annual Women in Work Index shows that the UK could boost its GDP by 9% (£170bn) if it could increase the number of women in work to match that of Sweden, the highest performing country.

The research shows that the main area where the UK underperforms is the low share of women in full-time employment. The UK performs below the OECD average and ranks in 30th place out of 33 countries on this indicator (see table below).

PwC’s Women in Work Index shows that although the UK’s overall female employment rate is higher than the OECD average, many women are struggling to return to work after having children or career breaks. The number of mothers in work in the UK lags behind Sweden and is slightly behind the OECD average (66.6% in the UK, versus 83% in Sweden and 66.8% OECD average) and ONS data show that there are 1.5m women in the UK who want to work more hours than they currently do.

More work needs to be done in the UK to encourage dual-earner households and to keep mothers in employment. Businesses and the Government could learn from the Nordic countries, which continue to lead the Index due to their high levels of overall and maternal employment. These countries are reaping the economic and business benefits of introducing family friendly policies, such as paternity leave, as early as the 1970s – allowing more women to get back into full-time employment.

Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, said:

“It is encouraging that the UK is making progress on the employment prospects for women, but there is still a way to go before we match the Nordic countries. There are now more women in work due to the improving economy – but where we fall down is on how many of these women are in full-time work.

“Getting more women into work could deliver huge economic benefits to the UK to the tune of £170bn or a 9% increase in GDP.”

Gaenor Bagley, head of people and executive board member at PwC, said:

“It’s great to see that the UK has improved its overall performance in the Women in Work Index, but businesses and the economy are still losing out due to the low number of women in full-time employment and the low number of mothers in employment. The high cost of childcare has a role to play, but businesses need to play their part in supporting parents to combine work and family life. This includes following the lead of the Nordic countries and offering more flexible roles and working patterns for men and women, shared paternity leave and helping women back into work after career breaks.

“At PwC, we started our Back to Business programme as we know that many women want to return to work, but are often pessimistic about their prospects due to their experience gap. A strong focus on getting more women back into the workplace makes business and economic sense, and will help to build a stronger pipeline of female leaders.”

The UK’s overall position on PwC’s Women in Work Index has climbed to 16th, from 21st last year, due to progress on narrowing the gender pay gap since 2000 and a significant reduction in female unemployment as a result of the improving economy.

Although the UK has reduced its gender pay gap since 2000, it is still above the OECD average and is the 21st largest out of the 33 countries. PwC’s analysis shows that closing the gender pay gap in the UK could boost overall female earnings by around £80bn. This would mean a £5,500 pay rise, on average, for every woman working in the UK.

Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, added:

“The focus in the UK on tackling the gender pay gap should help the UK continue to rise up the Index and could add £80bn of economic benefits.”

Gaenor Bagley, head of people and executive board member at PwC, continued:

“Progress is being made to close the gender pay gap, but the UK still has a way to go to catch up with other countries. Public reporting of companies’ gender pay gap should speed up change and increase accountability for businesses to take actions to close the gap – resulting in huge benefits for women, businesses and the economy.

“One of the main reasons why there is a gender pay gap in the UK is due to the low number of women in senior positions. If we want to close the gap, businesses need to help women back into the workplace and make sure that opportunities to progress are equal for all.

“We know that women are confident and ambitious – to make real progress, we need workplaces and a society that help support those aims.”

The Women in Work Index is now in its fourth year and tracks female economic empowerment across five key indicators, including: the gender pay gap, the proportion of women in full time employment, the proportion of women in work, the gap between male and female labour force participation and female unemployment. The results are then ranked across 33 OECD countries.

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