UK climbs the ranks of female labour participation

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The UK has ranked 14th out of 27 OECD countries in the 2015 edition of PwC’s annual Women in Work Index. This puts the country four places up from last year.

The report found that the reason for the improvement was mainly the strengthening economic recovery, which has resulted in higher female labour force participation – both in absolute terms and relative to men. The UK has also seen a reduction in female unemployment.

The UK still has a way to go though. The Nordics once again ranked top of the Index, with Norway out in front, followed by Denmark and Sweden, the three countries having occupied the podium since the millennium.

Alongside the UK, Hungary and the US have also shown the most marked progress since last year, climbing five and three positions respectively.

Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, said:

“It is encouraging that the UK is making gradual headway and has returned to its position of 2000. The economic recovery has benefitted both men and women, but more so for women as indicated by the closing gap between UK male and female labour force participation and the employment rate. However, the UK is yet to fully address the underlying factors in the labour market that influence gender pay gap and the proportion of women in full time employment. So there is still a long way to go before we catch up with Nordic countries.

“If we want to see a meaningful change to women’s economic empowerment in the UK, we need to make sure that the contribution of women in the workplace is fairly recognised and remunerated, and to support women in continuing their careers after having children.

“Meanwhile, other 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.”

The UK The UK in the top 10 for female participation in the labour force and performs above average on female unemployment levels, comes in well below the OECD average on the number of women in full-time employment (25th place out of 27), and it’s this fact that cost it a place in the top 10.

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

 “Whilst it is positive that the UK is gaining ground, it is clear that the low number of females in full-time employment is preventing the UK from competing with the Nordic countries at the top of the index. 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. For example, childcare and household tasks are shared between parents, which has enabled a more equitable distribution of labour at home and improved work-life balance for both men and women.

“For the UK to make real progress we first need to solve the culture challenge. We know women are confident and ambitious; they just need a workplace and society that support these aims. This often means getting the basics, such as how people are assessed and rewarded at work, right.”

Need to know more about Shared Parental Leave? Look no further – it’s an upcoming topic in HRreview’s InsideHR webinar series.

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