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Gender inequality in the workplace must be addressed to support Northern Ireland’s recovery plans

Gender inequality must be addressed in Northern Ireland’s economic recovery plans, according to a new survey from PwC, which assessed how people felt about their careers and opportunities for progression.

The Targeting Gender Equality report, which surveyed 4,000 people in the UK, highlights a variety of barriers to workplace equality amid a backdrop of worsening career progression, for all respondents, caused by the pandemic. 

It found that concern about a large gap in opportunity between men and women was highest in Northern Ireland (40%) compared to all other UK regions. With almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents in Northern Ireland believing that there are differences in the chances given to men and women to progress in work, it also identifies a set of recommendations for employers to consider. These include:

  • Providing support for women returning from maternity leave to build confidence such as technical reskilling or training (73%)
  • Improving provision for childcare (66%) - including flexibility around working times and locations.

The results from this survey build on findings from previous PwC surveys on women in work, which have found that although Northern Ireland has the lowest gender pay gap (10%) in the UK, it also has the lowest percentage of women who choose to enter the workplace (70%).

Childcare is seen as a significant obstacle to gender equality, with four in ten (41%) people saying making it more affordable would be the most effective direct Government intervention. This was closely followed (40%) by providing targeted support for women to access industries which are traditionally seen as male-dominated.

Lynne Rainey, Partner in PwC NI, commented:

“If a team only brings out half its players, it will never succeed. We need the same energy and force that employers and government brought to handle the challenges of the pandemic applied to making the recovery fairer and more sustainable. 

“Many women feel they need to choose between building a career and being a parent; there is a key opportunity to level the playing field through the provision of sustainable, affordable childcare. As more women are supported to enter the workforce, it’ll bring benefits to all. We know that increasing the number of women in work improves productivity and growth. We also know it increases wages, for men as well; and we know that it brings wider societal benefits for future generations. It’s now time for action.”

Rachel Taylor, Government Leadership Partner at PwC, said:

“The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated what were already deep-rooted gender inequalities in the labour market. This research points to a lack of confidence among women who find themselves out of work, and comparatively fewer opportunities for young women starting out on their careers. This is compounded by the physical and mental health burden faced by many of the women surveyed. 

“As we look to the future, we must take the opportunity to address these inequalities and this should be front of mind when planning the recovery. With the continuing momentum of the green revolution and the resulting emergence of new industries, policy-makers and businesses must work side-by-side in bringing about a level playing field which will allow women to play a leading role in shaping the future.”

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