Wales Leads the UK in Female Economic Empowerment

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Wales has made more progress in getting women into the workforce and closing the gender pay gap than other regions of the UK, according to new research.

PwC’s latest Women in Work Index looks at a range of indicators for how well each part of the country is doing in terms of female participation in the labour force and pay disparities between the sexes.

In 2010 Wales was seventh in the index, but according to the most recent data it ranks third, two places behind neighbouring South West. Wales performs well on the index as it has the second smallest gender pay gap. Furthermore, the region has a smaller gap in male and female labour force participation rates and a lower female unemployment rate than the UK average.

Felicity Rees, PwC Cardiff office senior partner for the West and Wales region, commented:

Getting more women into the workforce and reducing the pay gap are priorities for the UK Government – and the economic benefits for doing so are huge. So it’s fantastic to see Wales performing so strongly in an area that receives ever more attention from society as a whole.

Previous studies we have carried out in this area provide evidence for why Wales, along with the South West, has performed strongly. Both have large hospitality sectors and a high concentration of public sector jobs, and both of these tend to have more balanced gender representation at all levels and hence smaller pay gaps.

While the news is positive for Wales, the research reveals the UK is being outpaced by greater improvements in female employment prospects across 32 other OECD countries.

Although the UK performed above the OECD average and is second only to Canada when compared to other G7 economies, its current position (16th) has barely budged since 2000 when it stood at 17th position, despite improving its performance across all five indicators.

Jing Teow, economist at PwC, commented: 

Although progress has been made across both the UK and OECD, the rate of improvement is still slow, despite the prospect of huge economic gains from increasing female participation in the workforce for both the OECD and UK. Indeed, both the OECD and UK could receive massive boosts to GDP amounting to US$6 trillion (£4.63 trillion) and £189 billion respectively.

But in order for these gains to be realised, businesses and governments need to work together to help get more women into work and ensure that there is a fair and equal pay structure. It’s also crucial that women get the right opportunities to upskill in the face of increasing automation as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Women in technology

On average across the G7, women account for only 30% 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 its 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:

Technology is front and centre for all 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 in communities 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, so 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 also finds 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 than 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.