Europe tops working environment for women, Nordics lead

08 April 2019 4 min. read

Nordic countries continue to be the most supportive of working women, with Iceland and Sweden the two countries providing the best environment for women and female leaders. A wage gap between men and women remains – and reducing this gender pay gap to the level of best practice countries could add $2 trillion to the GDPs of OECD countries.

The conditions and opportunities open to women in the workplace and wider society differs considerably across the globe. Recent decades have seen increased focus on ending millennia of discriminatory practices that have held back women from equal opportunities in the workplace. Barriers remain however, with women continuing to face a host of implicit and in some instance explicit conditions on opportunities according to a new study by PwC.

The Big Four firm’s ‘Women in Work Index 2019’ report explores trends around the economic empowerment of women across the globe, finding that Iceland remains the top country globally for working women. The Nordic country boasts strong performance across all measured metrics, boosting its score in female unemployment and participation rates on last year’s results. Sweden is in number two, offering a closer pay gap to that of Iceland but falling behind on female unemployment rates.

Female labour force participation rate, 2000 - 2017

New Zealand moves up a spot to number three, offering a lower pay gap than the top two spots, but a lower performance in participation rates. Slovenia and Norway round out the top five, the former improving one spot while the latter fell in its ranking by two places. Nordic countries remain well represented in the top ten, with Denmark in at number seven and Finland at number nine.

Of the 33 countries assessed in the report, Korea came in last place – falling one spot. Mexico climbed a spot, reflecting a shift in the country’s pay gap by 5%. Greece, Chile and Italy took the three next lowest spots respectively.

A number of countries have managed to boost their ranking significantly on the results from 2000, while some saw significant declines. The US, interestingly, has bucked the trend, falling from 9th place in 2000 to 23rd in the latest edition. Key European countries too have seen sharp declines, particularly Austria, down from 13th to 25th spot, Portugal, falling from 5th to 15th spot, and France, from 12th to 22nd spot.

Luxembourg saw the most significant improvement, up from 23rd in 2000 to 6th in the most recent survey, while Poland has moved up from 19th to 8th place. Belgium has increased ten spots in the intervening 18 years, while Ireland and the UK increased by eight and five spots respectively.

Gender wage gap, 2000 - 2017

Much to be gained

The net benefit to the global and regional economies of improving female participation rates to that of Sweden could be significant. For OECD countries, an additional $6 trillion in GDP could be generated, while a closing of the gender pay gap could see females' take-home pay across the countries surveyed increase by $2 trillion. The most significant amount could be won in Korea, followed by Estonia and Japan.

For the two most populace countries, considerably more could be gained from bridging the gap between men and women in employment and other economic activities. China has a high proportion of women in work, however, a significant gender pay gap exists – if the gap would be closed the country would see $2 trillion in additional pay flow to women. Meanwhile increasing female employment levels to that of Sweden would add around $500 billion to the country’s economy. On a positive note, the research notes that China has been highly successful in supporting female entrepreneurship.

India could also see significant additions to GDP were women to take part more in the economy, as Indian women perform considerable amounts of unpaid labour. Overall participation rates remain low in India – with a closing of the gap likely to generate around $7 trillion in additional GDP.