Strong job creation puts South West at top of UK table for women’s economic empowerment

March 8, 2020

The South West has emerged as the UK’s best region for women’s economic empowerment – outperforming other parts of the country for female participation at work and narrower pay disparities between the sexes.

According to the latest Women in Work Index, produced by accountancy giant PwC, the region also has the second-lowest female unemployment rate among UK regions. 

The survey looks at a range of indicators for how well each part of the country is performing in terms of female employment and engagement in workforce.

The South West’s strong performance over the past year enabled it to rise to top spot in the table from second in 2019’s survey.

This is based on five indicators making up the index – the gender pay gap, female labour force participation, the gap between male and female labour force participation, female unemployment and female full-time employment rate.

According to PwC, the South West’s large hospitality industry and a high concentration of public sector jobs are among the reasons for its placing at the top of the table as both tend to have more balanced gender representation at all levels and, therefore, smaller pay gaps.

However, one negative for the region was that it had the lowest female full-time employment rate in the UK – which may indicate that many of the new jobs that are being taken by women in the South West are part time.

PwC West and Wales region partner Heather Ancient, pictured, said: “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 the South West performing so strongly in an area that receives ever-more attention from society as a whole.”

While the news is positive for the South West, the research also 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.

PwC economist Jing Teow added: “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 £189bn respectively.”

But in order for these gains to be realised, businesses and governments needed to work together to help get more women into work and ensure that there is a fair and equal pay structure, Jing said.

“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,” she added.

Research from PwC also shows that, when it comes to the tech sector, women are still trailing behind men.

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. 

PwC UK Chief People Officer Laura Hinton said: “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.”

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