NI could gain most in UK by levelling up number women in work

  • Photo: Lynne Rainey, Head of Place and Purpose for PwC NI

    £2.3bn could be added to Northern Ireland’s economy by increasing the number of women in work to that of the top performing region in the UK, according to a recent report by PwC.

    Assessed by areas of female economic empowerment, the Women in Work 2021 Index placed NI third in the UK as it has both the lowest gender pay gap (10%) and the lowest female unemployment rate (2%). 

    It’s held back by also having the lowest female labour force participation in the UK (70%). 

    Scotland and the South West of England were the only regions ahead of Northern Ireland in the report. Other areas examined were female full-time employment and the gap between female and male labour force participation. 

    The professional services firm’s research also warns that without significant intervention, the impact of Covid-19 means progress for women in work could be set back to 2017 levels.

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    It’s estimated that by bringing the overall UK number of women in work to that of the South West, it could grow the labour force by 840,000 jobs, adding as much as £48bn to the UK economy. 

    This amounts to boosting annual output on average by 2.5% across UK regions. 

    However, these gains are greatest in regions with currently low rates of female participation. Northern Ireland stands to gain the most, with regional output growing as much as 5.5%. 

    The total number of new jobs it could create is estimated at 50,600, with around 31,400 full-time roles and 19, 200 part-time jobs.

    Lynne Rainey, Head of Place and Purpose for PwC NI said: “When we make policies that enable more women to join the workforce, everyone benefits - as this year’s Index shows. 

    “The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the vulnerability of women’s place in paid employment - in the UK, women are a third more likely to work in a sector that was completely shutdown compared to men.”

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    In PwC’s 2016 Women Returners report, it found 60% of professional women are likely to return to lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs after career breaks.

    A survey for UN women conducted over 16 countries suggested that during the pandemic, women spend 5.2 more hours on unpaid childcare, on average per week.

    PwC’s report warns that the longer this higher burden on women lasts, the more likely women are to leave or reduce time spent in the labour market permanently.

    Lynne Rainey warned there is no time to lose and called on businesses to commit to publishing gender pay gaps: “Although jobs will return when economies bounce back, they will not necessarily be the same jobs.

    "We should look to the opportunities, such as those in our incredible tech sector, and tailor recovery plans to meet the needs of women, with focused skills development and training initiatives.

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    “If we don't have policies in place to directly address the unequal burden of care and to enable more women to enter jobs in growing sectors of the economy, there’s a risk women will return to fewer hours, lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs.

    “Gender pay gap reporting is one issue that should be a fundamental piece of accountability but we should work together with the Government and policymakers to look at the whole picture.

    "There are a wide variety of factors creating barriers for women in work and overall economic growth, from the macroeconomic factors such as number and quality of jobs in the region to individual factors such as access to childcare, household income and employability - we don’t have time to lose to get this right.”

    Latest Women in Work Index (pre-COVID-19)

    The UK is ranked 16th on the Index against the OECD group of countries, with Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand topping the table in 2019. If female employment rates across the OECD increased to match those of Sweden, this would boost OECD GDP by more than US$6 trillion (£4.63 trillion). 

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    The UK held its second place ranking across the G7, narrowing its gap with Canada in first place and growing at twice the rate of the OECD average between 2018 and 2019, although the COVID-19 pandemic will have reversed these gains.

    Despite improvements, the UK lags behind other countries in the share of female employees in full-time employment. In 2019, only 64% of women in work were in full time employment, compared to 89% of men, meaning that, at historical growth rates, it could still take the UK 32 years to reach the current OECD average.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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