PwC report shows UK’s best place for women to work is still the South West, but says more must be done

March 29, 2021

The South West continues to be the best place in the UK for gender equality at work, according to research by accountancy group PwC.

The firm’s latest annual Women in Work Index places the region in the top spot for the second year in a row. It has also extended its lead over second-ranked Scotland and Northern Ireland in third. 

The report shows South West continues to have the highest female labour participation rate in the country at 79% and has improved on some of its previous weaknesses – for example, the gender pay gap fell on average 5.7% year on year from 2017-19, the latest annual figures available.

However, it is not all positive news as the region has the lowest female full-time employment rate in the UK at 56% – a fact holding it back from extending its lead further.

The Index assesses five areas of female economic empowerment – the gender pay gap, female full-time employment, female unemployment, female labour force participation and the gap between this and male labour force participation.

While there has been welcome progress in these measures over recent years, PwC is warning that the pandemic is expected to disproportionately impact women, setting back workplace progress to 2017 levels.

This is because female-dominated industries, such as accommodation and food services, the arts, entertainment and recreation, have been hit the hardest and have the highest share of furloughed jobs.

Women have also been taking on a significantly larger proportion of unpaid childcare than men – and the longer this higher burden lasts, the more women are likely to leave the labour market permanently or reduce their working hours.

Alarmingly, PwC estimates that even if job market growth returned to pre-pandemic rates by next year, progress would still be four years behind where it would have been by 2030. To reverse this damage, progress will need to proceed at twice the pre-pandemic rate, it says.

PwC West and Wales partner Katharine Finn, pictured, said: “It’s fantastic to see the South West continuing to perform so strongly in the Women in Work Index by being the most attractive region to be employed as a woman.

“Recent research from PwC also found that the South West is the best place to live and raise a family, so it’s clear this region is doing a lot right at the moment.

“But there is, of course, always more to do. It’s concerning that the full-time employment rate for women is as low as it is, and the disproportionate effect that Covid-19 has had on women poses a huge challenge.” 

She said the report made it clear where improvements could be made, including reducing the burden on women of unpaid care through workplace policies, such as flexible working and affordable access to childcare, as well as supporting and empowering the progression and promotion of women in the workplace.

“The emphasis on skills is also crucial – something we have long maintained,” she added.

“There needs to be a focus on retraining and upskilling women to access jobs in growth areas such as digital, AI, renewable energy and the green economy. Financial support schemes for female entrepreneurs and female-led start-ups in these areas will also reap significant benefits towards gender parity in the long term.”

PwC chief people officer Laura Hinton added: “Based on our findings, if we don’t have policies in place to directly address the issues of burden of care, job changes post-pandemic and the number of women in growing sectors of the economy, women will return to fewer hours, lower-skilled, and lower paid jobs.

“There is absolutely no time to lose in addressing the very real impact of the pandemic on women. Governments, policymakers and businesses all have a responsibility to work together to empower women and create opportunities for meaningful participation in the workforce.”


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