UK climbs to highest ever position in PwC’s Women in Work Index

Published at 06:41 AM on 21 February 2017


  • The UK outperforms the average for OECD and G7 economies on opportunities for women in the workplace
  • It could take until around 2041 to close the gender pay gap fully in the UK -  achieving this could boost female earnings by around £85bn per year
  • Job segregation between men and women, both across industries and job roles, is one of the biggest factors contributing to the gender pay gap
  • More high quality roles needed for women in the workplace to address imbalances
  • Within UK, the West Midlands has the furthest to go in closing the gender pay gap, while Northern Ireland has made the most progress


New PwC research reveals that opportunities for women in the workplace have rapidly improved in the UK since 2000 and it now rank 13th out of 33 OECD countries, and second only to Canada in the G7.

PwC’s annual Women in Work Index, which measures levels of female economic empowerment across 33 OECD countries based on five key indicators, shows that over the long-term the UK has surpassed the average performance of both the OECD and G7 economies due 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.

Despite the encouraging rate of improvement, 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, far below the OECD average.

Even though the gender pay gap in the UK is narrowing, PwC’s research shows that based on a continuation of historical trends it will take until 2041 (24 years) to close it. Job differences between men and women, both across industries and job roles, is one of the biggest factors contributing to the gap in earnings. PwC’s research shows that women are still more likely to work in sectors and occupations that are relatively lower paid given the skills they require. For example, women make up over 70% of workers in health and social work, and 60% of education roles.

In the highest paying sectors of financial services (average weekly pay £949), mining and quarrying (average weekly pay £889) and electricity and gas (average weekly pay £834), women make up a much smaller proportion of the workplace. Financial services is the sector with the largest gender pay gap at 34%, whereas public administration and support services have the lowest at 15% and 13%, respectively.

Regional differences in female employment across industries also go a large way in explaining the regional variations in the gender pay gap. PwC’s research shows that the West Midlands has the largest gender pay gap at 21% and over half (52%) of women in the region are employed in lower-paying sectors such as wholesale and retail trade, and health services. Whereas, Northern Ireland has the smallest pay gap, falling from 22% in 2000 to 6% now. This is partly driven by a higher than average share of women working in public administration, which has a smaller pay gap.

Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, said:

“It’s positive news that women in the UK have benefitted from the improving economy and there are now more women in work than ever before, but we still have a way to go. By fully closing the gender pay gap we could boost women’s earnings by £85 billion, 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.”

Laura Hinton, executive board member and head of people at PwC, said:

“While it’s encouraging that the UK is making progress on closing the gender pay gap, it is depressing that it will still take around a generation to close it completely. Pay reporting requirements should help speed up change as businesses will face greater accountability. But merely reporting numbers without any concrete action, won’t change anything.

“We know that women are ambitious - we now need to create workplaces that support their ambition, and enough skilled and senior roles that have the flexibility to accommodate work and caring responsibilities.”

Some countries, such as Poland, Luxembourg and Belgium, could close their gender pay gaps within two decades if historical trends continue. Much slower progress in Germany and Spain means that their pay gap might not close for over two centuries unless underlying structural factors are addressed, although making this a policy priority could accelerate progress. Achieving pay parity across the OECD could increase female earnings by $2trn. Closing the gap in the UK could result in an £85bn boost to female earnings at today’s values - an average of around £6,100 per working woman.

The UK’s ranking for each indicator in PwC’s Women in Work Index

Indicator (% weights in parentheses)

UK’s ranking out of 33 OECD countries

Gender pay gap (25%)

20th (below OECD average)

Female labour force participation rate (25%)

12th (above OECD average)

Gap between female and male labour force participation rates (20%)

18th (above OECD average)

Female unemployment rate (20%)

10th (above OECD average)

Share of female employees in full-time employment (10%)

30th (below OECD average)



Notes for editors.

  1. For more information on PwC’s Women in Work Index and to explore the data, visit
  2. The gender pay gap for the UK at the regional and sectoral level has been calculated using ONS data as the difference between the median gross weekly pay for men and women as a percentage of the median gross weekly pay for men. This methodology is consistent with that of the OECD for calculating the pay gap at the national level.



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