North relinquishes top spot in UK Women in Work index

Gender pay gap increases - but rate in Northern Ireland is half the UK average

An index for PwC show s that the gap between men and women in the workplace is widening in Northern Ireland (ronstik/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Northern Ireland has fallen from top spot to fourth among the UK’s nations and regions for women’s employment outcomes, according to PwC’s annual Women in Work Index.

First launched in 2011, it looks at five key indicators that reflect women’s labour market outcomes and assess progress made towards achieving gender equality at work.

A global index assesses the performance of 33 OECD countries including the UK as a whole, while the UK regional Index then digs down to assess the various regions.

The gender pay gap in Northern Ireland increased by 2.8% from 4.7% in 2021 to 7.5% in 2022 and is the lowest in the UK (where the average is 14.5%).

The north also has a higher female full-time employment rate than most (the third best across the UK at 61%).

But its plunge in ranking was largely driven by a widening in participation rate gap (up from 5.5% to 7.9%), and it continues to have the lowest female labour force participation rate (69.7%) of all nations and regions in the UK (75% overall).

PwC Northern Ireland market lead Cat McCusker said: “The index shows the gap between men and women in the workplace is widening here, so it is important policy makers and businesses work together to address this.

“This will not only help to address equity, but also help to alleviate labour and skill shortages in the region.”

Cat McCusker
Cat McCusker Cat McCusker, regional market leader at PwC Northern Ireland

She added: “There are numerous obstacles women face - and one significant factor is the absence of a comprehensive childcare strategy in Northern Ireland, which lags behind the rest of the UK.

“Immediate attention should be given to the issues surrounding the cost of childcare so that women are not prevented from participating in the workforce due to financial constraints.

“More broadly, it’s crucial that working parents are properly supported - and championing flexible and hybrid working, alongside progressive parental leave policies, is key.

“These findings come at a time when policy-makers and businesses are planning ways to accelerate economic growth here through continued focus on longer-term levers that will increase productivity and stimulate investment.

“Our priorities must be getting more people into work, and supporting skills and education in areas which will have the greatest, lasting impact.”

Scotland jumped from third place to first as the top performing UK region, driven by greater female participation in the workforce.

Conversely, the West Midlands was the worst performing region, falling two places from 10th to 12th.