Tuesday 21 February 2017 12:01 am

UK opportunities for women in the workplace have rapidly improved but gender pay gap won't close until 2041, says PwC

The UK has considerably improved its performance in providing opportunities for women in the workplace, but it will still take until 2041 to close the gender pay gap in the UK.

That's according to PwC's Women in Work index, which measures levels of female economic empowerment across 33 OECD countries based on five indicators. It said the UK had rapidly improved since 2000.

It now ranks 13th out of 33 OECD countries, second to Canada in the G7 thanks to increasing female employment rates, a narrowing of the gender pay gap and a reduction of the gap between male and female labour force participation rates.

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However, the UK still falls behind on the number of women workers in full-time employment and ranks 30th out of 33 countries on this indicator – considerably below the OECD average. 

The top three spots in the Index were all taken by Nordic countries, with Iceland taking the top spot, followed by Sweden and Norway.

And while the gender pay gap is narrowing, PwC's research said that based on a continuation of historical trends it will take until 2041 – or 24 years – to close in the UK. It said that job differences between men and women, both across industries and job roles, is one of the most significant factors causing the gap in earnings.

Elsewhere, the likes of Poland, Luxembourg and Belgium could close their gender pay gaps within two decades if historical trends continue, while those present in Germany and Spain might not close for over two centuries unless "underlying structural factors" are addressed.

How long the pay gap will take to close in a range of countries
How long the pay gap will take to close in a range of countries (Source: PwC)

It also noted that women are still more likely to work in sectors and occupations that are relatively lower paid given the skills they need. Women make up over 70 per cent of workers in health and social work and 60 per cent of education roles. 

For the highest paying sectors including financial services and mining and quarrying, women made up a much smaller proportion of the workplace. And financial services was the sector with the largest pay gap at 34 per cent.

London in particular has much to gain from closing the gender pay gap – more than other UK regions – as female earnings would be boosted by £8,800 per person, compared to the UK average of £6,100.

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Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, said:

By fully closing the gender pay gap we could boost women’s earnings by £85bn, which is an average of £6,100 per woman per year.

It’s not just about getting more women working, but also about getting more of them into high quality jobs that offer career progression and flexibility.

In December, the government revealed details of how large employers will have to pay their gender pay and gender bonus pay gaps from April. 

The regulations will affect nearly 8,000 employers with around 11m employees, and the government hopes they will help "shine a light on workplace practices that could be preventing women from reaching the top in their organisations".