Women in Work index

Scotland at top for gender balance in the workplace

women female engineeer (Institute of Engineering and Technology)

Women in Scotland performing above average


Scotland has retained its position at the top of an index charting the representation of women in the workplace across the UK. Women are also highly represented in senior positions.

PwC’s latest Women in Work Index analyses the representation and welfare of women in the world of work across 33 OECD countries in 2017.

The UK overall rose one place from 14th to 13th in the index, and was second among the G7 nations behind Canada.

Scotland ranked above the UK average in two of the five metrics used to compile the index and equal in a further two. The only metric where Scotland trailed the UK average was in the number of women in full-time employment, with 59% to the UK’s 60%.

In 2000 Scotland had one of the highest female unemployment rates in the UK. Since then it has declined from 6%, to 4% in 2017. This put Scotland fifth in the UK rankings for female unemployment.

Looking at the labour force participation rate, Scotland ranked fourth with 73%. The gap in the male and female labour force is 8%, ranking Scotland third in the UK. The country was fifth for females in full time employment, at 59%. In the final metric, Scotland’s gender pay gap is 16%, ranking fourth overall.

It was this strong performance across the board that led Scotland to rank first overall. One reason why Scotland performed well is the high proportion of jobs in the hospitality sector and a high concentration of public sector jobs, which tend to have more balanced gender representation – while areas such as London and the Midlands have more jobs in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing and financial services.

Lindsey Paterson, an assurance partner and head of diversity and inclusion for PwC in Scotland, said: “Scotland’s strong performance across all metrics shows our country is making significant progress in addressing gender imbalance. The issue is clearly moving up the political agenda and is something all businesses must address with a sense of urgency.

“The one area where Scotland is below average is in relation to the number of women in full-time employment, albeit this is offset by the higher level (72%) of female labour force participation.

“Scotland benefits from better female representation at senior levels but to improve overall we must create a culture where ambition and progression is encouraged at all levels, even for those on reduced hours contracts.”

“We would also encourage businesses to ensure flexible working policies benefit both male and female workers and allow them to achieve their full potential no matter their family responsibilities.” 


The potential economic benefit of increasing the number of women in work is significant for the UK. By matching Sweden’s level of female employment of 69%, the second best performing country on the Index behind Iceland, the UK (at 57%) could boost its GDP by £178 billion. 

Similarly, closing the UK gender pay gap by increasing female average wages to match their male counterparts would increase female earnings by £92 billion, a rise of 20%. 

Yong Jing Teow, senior economist at PwC, added: “The variation in performance across the UK shows how the makeup of each region’s economy influences female economic opportunity. To help the UK as a whole improve further we need to tackle local issues, a one size fits all approach isn’t going to work.

“As the UK economy evolves in the digital age, we need to ensure negative gender imbalances aren’t exacerbated. One way to do this is by providing women with training opportunities to learn the skills required to navigate the fourth industrial revolution.

“Governments and businesses both have a role to play. Many firms are investing in developing diversity policies and embedding these practices, but their efforts are not always matched by their results. Ensuring companies have clear outcomes, targets and accountability will help their pursuit for tangible change.”

UK region

PwC Women in Work Index Rank



South West




Northern Ireland


South East


North West




North East




Yorkshire and The Humber


East Midlands


West Midlands


Source: PwC analysis

This year, for the first time, PwC looked at what two of the world’s most populous countries, China and India, stand to gain by promoting gender equality and female participation in the workforce. Combined, the two countries currently account for more than a third of the global female workforce.

In China, closing the 25% gender pay gap would have the biggest impact, generating a 34% increase in female earnings, equivalent to $2 trillion. In India, increasing female employment rates to the same level as Sweden would generate a $7 trillion boost to GDP, which is equivalent to approximately 79% of India’s GDP. 

Nordic countries continue to perform well in the Women in Work Index, supported by larger government spending on family benefits such as affordable childcare, which helps to reduce the gender pay gap and increase female employment. Policies in turn influence culture, creating role models and influencing aspirations and expectations. This year, New Zealand enters the top three for the first time since the Index was first published in 2013.

Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PwC, said: “There are long standing societal reasons behind the gender pay gap in countries across the world. It’s encouraging to see the UK making progress. Mandatory pay gap reporting has shone a spotlight on the issue, with gender equality now a real priority for business leaders in this country. 

“As employers and influencers in the societies they serve, businesses play a key role in solving this important problem by improving opportunities for women. From recruitment through to retirement, it’s vital employers support all staff fairly at every stage of their career.”

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