Northern Ireland rises two places in UK female economic empowerment index

Northern Ireland has risen two places in this year’s PwC Women in Work Index, which analyses female economic empowerment, and is now second in the UK table.

The report shows that Northern Ireland has the smallest gender pay gap (GPG) of all regions by 4 percentage points, and the gap between the number of men and women in work has decreased (from 10% to 8%) and is now below the UK average (10%). 

The region has also seen an increase in the number of women entering the local workforce, which hit a joint record high in the last quarter of 2019, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (418,000 in employment). Despite the increase, Northern Ireland remains 12th in the table for female labour participation and highlights a key area for strategic action.

Lynne Rainey, PwC NI Partner, commented:

“The single biggest factor in Northern Ireland moving up the Index is the increase in the number of women coming into the workforce. This underlines how important it is that we continue to find ways to remove the traditional barriers that prevent women from choosing to work and enabling them to fully participate in society.

“Practical and progressive approaches like having flexible working hours, working from home policies and returnerships which support women to re-enter the workforce all have a role to play. 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. 

“Introducing these approaches may mean substantial changes in some businesses, but the prize of getting it right is the prospect of significant economic gains.”

A 2019 report from the Northern Ireland Assembly on the GPG highlighted that while this has decreased since 1998 when it stood at 22.7%, during 2018 women earned less than men in all of the nine occupation groups. The GPG in 2018 was 9.6%, a slight reversal from 2017 when it was 8.6%.

Lynne added: 

“Our Index shows that since 2000, Northern Ireland has seen the largest narrowing of its Gender Pay Gap. Though this has increased slightly, this could be due to more women entering lower-paid, part-time work.

“However there’s no room for complacency when you consider the difference between female earnings in the public and private sectors, where women earn 3% more than men in the former and 16% less in the latter. This remains an area that needs to be remedied.”

Nationally, while the UK performs above the OECD average and is second only to Canada when compared to other G7 economies, its position has barely budged since 2000 when it stood in 17th position, despite improving its performance across all five indicators.

Overall, the OECD countries achieved incremental gains to female economic empowerment. Iceland and Sweden retain the top two positions for the fifth year in a row, with Slovenia in third place. Czechia experienced the biggest improvement in its ranking of all OECD countries, rising four places from 23rd to 19th, whereas Estonia and Ireland recorded the biggest decline. 

Jing Teow, economist at PwC, commented: 

“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. Indeed both the OECD and UK would receive massive boosts to GDP amounting to US$6 trillion (£4.63 trillion) and £189 billion respectively if they could match the best performing country, Sweden. 

“In order for these gains to be realised, businesses and governments need to work together to help get more women into work and ensure that there is a fair and equal pay structure. 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.”

Women in technology

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.

The outlook is less rosy for the UK. In contrast to the main index, on which it is the second best performing country in the G7 and ranks in the top half of the OECD overall (16th), the UK is fifth out of the G7 in the Women in Technology Index. Its poor performance is driven by worse than average performance on all indicators except the share of women on boards in the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) sector.

Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PwC UK, commented:

“Technology is front and centre for 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 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. 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.”

The study indicates that AI and new technologies, such as robotics, drones and driverless vehicles, could displace jobs for women, but can also create new ones. Fewer female jobs are expected to be lost due to technology relative to jobs lost for the male population in the OECD, but the gains from job creation are likely to be bigger for men than women. The health and social care sector, the largest employer of women in the OECD, is expected to experience a net increase in female employment as a result of technology. However, the wholesale and retail trade and manufacturing sectors in the OECD are expected to experience a net decrease in female employment as a result of technology.

As workers are increasingly impacted by technology - a recent PwC global survey found that more than half of workers globally believe that automation will either significantly change or make their job obsolete within the next decade - it is vital that governments and businesses work together to offer more training in digital skills and STEM subjects, and support retraining into other jobs in sectors where the “human touch” is crucial.

UK Region 

2018 Ranking


2017 Ranking

South West

1st 

2nd

Northern Ireland

2nd

4th

Wales

3rd

3rd

Scotland

4th

1st

South East

5th

5th

East

6th

7th

North West

7th

6th

North East

8th

8th

East Midlands

9th

11th

Yorkshire & Humber

10th

10th

West Midlands

11th

12th

London

12th 

9th

 

Women in Work Index rank

OECD country

1

Iceland

2

Sweden

3

Slovenia

4

New Zealand

5

Luxembourg

6

Norway

7

Denmark

8

Poland

9

Finald

10

Belgium

11

Canada

12

Australia

13

Switzerland

14

Ireland

15

Portugal

16

United Kingdom

17

Hungary

18

Netherlands

19

Czechia

20

United States

21

Germany

22

Israel

23

Estonia

24

France

25

Austria

26

Slovak Republic

27

Japan

28

Spain

29

Italy

30

Chile

31

Greece

32

Mexico

33

Korea



Contact us

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