Which countries are the most equal for women in work?

The UK has some catching up to do.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 07 Mar 2017

Gender equality in Britain’s workplaces has come a long way in the past 20 years or so. There are more women in senior roles, gaps in pay have shrunk and employers are a lot more accommodating of those who want to juggle pursuing a career and starting a family. But there’s plenty more work to be done.

That’s reflected by PwC’s latest Women in Work Index, which ranks countries based on their equality in employment and earnings. Though Britain clocks in at a respectable 13th, up from 17th in 2000, and its score in the index has shot up by more than 12 points to 61.8 in the same period, there are plenty of other countries that put us to shame.

Many of the top performers are the usual suspects that seem to top every poll on issues from national happiness to press freedom and environmentalism. Iceland (pictured) landed the number one spot, ahead of Sweden, Norway (their fellow Nordic countries Denmark and Finland both made the top 10) and New Zealand.

More surprising is that Slovenia and Poland came in at 5th and 9th respectively. Women in the two eastern European countries are far more likely to be in work than those in the UK, and they have a smaller pay gap too.

The study only looked at 33 of the 35 countries in the OECD club of wealthy countries, so it’s perfectly possible there are some others that could have come out higher. The worst performers on the list were Greece, South Korea and Mexico. At current rates it would take South Korea (as well as Spain and Germany) 300 years to reach pay parity between the genders.

The index was calculated based on five criteria – the gap between female and male earnings, the participation rate of women in the labour force, the gap between male and female participation rates, the female unemployment rate and the proportion of women in full-time employment.

It’s worth comparing PwC’s findings with those of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report from last year. That factored in a broader range of criteria, including women’s educational opportunities, health and participation in politics, but produced similar findings – with Scandi countries dominating the top and New Zealand in 9th.

But it also highlighted the fact that many developing countries are more equal than much of the western world. Rwanda came 5th, (compared to the UK’s 20th), and the Philippines was 7th.  And the sub-ranking of countries based on economic equality was totally dominated by poorer countries, including Burundi, Laos and Botswana.  That’s not to say the lives of women in those countries is better on the whole, but there’s a lot of places the UK could learn from about how to level the playing field.

Here’s the PwC ranking in full: 

Top image: Diana Robinson/Flickr

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