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March 7, 2013 11:59 pm

Women’s labour market progress stalls

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Women’s progress in the labour market has stalled since the recession and left Britain lagging behind international competitors in efforts to narrow workplace inequality.

UK women suffer a bigger pay gap with men than counterparts in other developed countries and are less likely to be in full-time work, a report by PwC, the advisory firm, found.

A separate study by Grant Thornton International found that Britain was near the bottom of the global league table for the proportion of women in senior management.

It said 19 per cent of senior roles were filled by women, down from 23 per cent two years ago. That puts the UK 38th out of 44 countries.

Grant Thornton said more women were reaching executive ranks in fast-growing emerging economies than in the G7 group of developed nations. China topped its table with a 51 per cent female share of senior jobs, while Latvia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines were also in the top 10.

The findings come against a backdrop of concern that, while men in Britain bore the brunt of job losses in the recession, women – who make up two-thirds of the public sector workforce – have since been hit harder by austerity measures.

It is a political issue especially for the Conservatives, who have been polling badly among female voters. The coalition is working on steps to cut the cost of childcare and intends to adopt a system of shared parental leave from 2015, aimed at getting more women into the workforce.

PwC’s Women in Work Index, published on Friday to mark International Women’s Day, placed the UK 18th out of 27 OECD countries, using indicators including equality of earnings, the proportion in work, the unemployment rate and the proportion in full-time employment.

It said the UK had improved in most of these since 2000, but more slowly than other countries and progress had stalled since 2007. It fell from 13th in 2000 and 14th in 2007. Nordic countries led the index, with Norway top, followed by Sweden and Denmark.

The UK had 70 per cent of working-age women in employment, compared with the 62 per cent OECD average, but only 61 per cent of women worked full-time, below the OECD’s 74 per cent. Women’s median wages were 18 per cent below men’s, a wider gap than the 15 per cent OECD average.

Margaret Cole, PwC’s general counsel, said encouraging greater economic empowerment for women must “be a priority to get the UK back on the road to recovery”.

She added: “It is worrying that increasing employment opportunities for women seems to have been pushed down organisations’ agendas since the recession.”

Businesses should be held to account over their female promotion pipelines and diversity goals, she said. “Young women want visible and aspirational role models at all levels and boards should be accountable for providing these.”

Francesca Lagerberg, global leader of tax at Grant Thornton International, said the UK needed to create an environment where more women can succeed in their jobs.

The UK’s 19 per cent female share of senior management roles compared with 24 per cent globally. The G7 average was 21 per cent, compared with 28 per cent for the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China), 32 per cent in southeast Asia and 40 per cent in the Baltic states.

On developing economies, Ms Lagerberg said: “Traditional family models still exist more widely in these regions than the west. This means there is more family in the home and closer by, which frees up women from childcare obligations and improves their chances of career progression.

“In addition, huge numbers of women are going to college and getting a good education in Asia and the Bric economies. This is instilling women there with a real sense of ambition and drive.”

A report by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (Hescu) found that UK female graduates earn thousands of pounds less than male counterparts. The gap persisted even between those from the same types of university who studied the same subjects.


Failure to meet target resurrects possibility of quotas


The UK should impose quotas for women on company boards if it does not reach its 25 per cent target for the FTSE 100 by 2015, Lord Davies said on Thursday.

The former trade minister, who set the target in a government-commissioned report two years ago, said he was still against quotas but reiterated his view that these might be needed if persuasion failed.

His warning follows data this week showing the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards slipped to 17.3 per cent in March from 17.4 per cent at the end of last year, prompting fears that the drive may be stalling.

Lord Davies told a PwC forum that after 25 per cent, “companies must try and hit 40 per cent”. The next step would be to target gender balance at FTSE 350 companies and among executive directors, where progress has been glacial.

New research by Manchester Business School suggests women are more underrepresented in the boardroom than reported in official figures.

It said the number of “unique female directors” on boards of all listed companies was only 6.5 per cent in 2010, up from 5.1 per cent in 2004 – using data adjusted to exclude the effect of those holding multiple directorships. That is about half the 2010 figure for the FTSE 100 in the Davies report.

Tom Kirchmaier, co-author, said addressing the underlying causes was more likely to succeed than imposing quotas. For women to make it to director level, they needed to be working full-time for 10 years, so policies on childcare and family support were important.

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