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Getting more women in work could increase GDP by 9%

Women think asking for a pay rise puts their job in danger

New research shows that the UK is missing out on up to £170bn worth of economic benefits by not having enough females in employment. PwC’s annual Women in Work Index shows that the UK could boost its GDP by 9% (£170 billion) if it could increase the number of women in work to match that of Sweden, the highest performing country.

The research shows that the main area where the UK underperforms is the low share of women in full-time employment. The UK performs below the OECD average and ranks in 30th place out of 33 countries on this indicator.

The report shows that although the UK’s overall female employment rate is higher than the OECD average, many women are struggling to return to work after having children or career breaks. The number of mothers in work in the UK lags behind Sweden and is slightly behind the OECD average (66.6% in the UK, versus 83% in Sweden and 66.8% OECD average) and ONS data show there are 1.5 million women in the UK who want to work more hours than they currently do.

More work needs to be done in the UK to encourage dual-earner households and to keep mothers in employment. Businesses and the Government could learn from the Nordic countries, which continue to lead the index due to their high levels of overall and maternal employment. These countries are reaping the economic and business benefits of introducing family friendly policies, such as paternity leave, as early as the 1970s – allowing more women to get back into full-time employment.

The UK’s overall position on PwC’s Women in Work Index has climbed to 16th, from 21st last year, due to progress on narrowing the gender pay gap since 2000 and a significant reduction in female unemployment as a result of the improving economy.

Although the UK has reduced its gender pay gap, it is still above the OECD average and is the 21st largest out of the 33 countries. PwC’s analysis shows that closing the gap could boost overall female earnings by around £80 billion. This would mean a £5,500 pay rise, on average, for every woman working in the UK.