A STRENGTHENING economy has helped the UK climb the ranks of PWC's Women in Work Index, rising to 14th position out of 27 OECD countries, up four places on last year.
PwC’s research shows that the improvement in the UK’s performance was largely due to the strengthening economic recovery, which has driven improvements in female labour force participation and a reduction in female unemployment.
This improvement in the UK’s labour market performance has been markedly stronger than the OECD average, pushing the UK back up the PwC index rankings.
Despite this increase, the UK still lags well behind some other countries in overall female economic empowerment.
The Nordic countries continue to lead the Index, with Norway maintaining pole position, followed by Denmark and Sweden. These three countries have consistently occupied the top three positions in the Index since 2000.
The Index shows that the UK is in the top 10 performing OECD countries on female participation in the labour force and performs above average on female unemployment levels, but its performance is negatively impacted due to the low proportion of women in full-time employment. The UK ranks well below the OECD average on this measure and is in 25th place out of 27 countries.
The average gender wage gap across OECD countries has remained unchanged since 2012. Whilst the UK has achieved a small narrowing of the gap since last year, Ireland and Australia fared the worst, reversing the gains made since 2000.
Ian Morrison, PwC’s Yorkshire & North East regional leader, said: "Despite the perception that flexible working helps women, our index and wider research suggests that it is still holding back women’s career progression. The reality for many flexible workers is that they have to work harder for promotion and don’t progress as quickly. The decision to go part-time is often made for short-term reasons, but unfortunately for women it often seems to have a wider, long-term negative impact.
"The Shared Parental Leave policy, which comes into force in April, is a step in the right direction but the UK’s cultural perception of gender equality needs to catch up with such changes in policy. Some of the reasons the Nordic countries top the Index is down to the recognition that all individuals should be able to balance their career and family life, and to support themselves. For example, childcare and household tasks are shared between parents, which has enabled a more equitable distribution of labour at home and improved work-life balance for both men and women.
"For the UK to make real progress we first need to solve the culture challenge. We know women are confident and ambitious; they just need a workplace and society that support these aims. This often means getting the basics, such as how people are assessed and rewarded at work, right."