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UK Women in the Workforce: Statistics and Facts

UK women in the workforce rising

Let’s look at some stats about UK women in the workforce today with guest writer Polly Jones. What do the numbers mean? 

On UK Women in the Workforce

Some big corporations recently came under fire for not enough commitment to women’s rights in the workplace. More emphasis is being placed on the gender pay gap and the perks that men often receive over women, prompting businesses to change their practices. However, many female rights campaigners are arguing that the progress is too slow and still too little. Here’s a look at the world of work in the UK today.

The UK’s Ageing Population

At present, the number of people aged 65 or over in the UK is more than it has ever been. However, this ageing population are not just enjoying a life of retirement. Many are still working way past retirement age, meaning that job roles are becoming more competitive than before.

In 2017, just over 18% of the UK’s population was age 65 or older. It’s predicted that once we reach 2046, that will rise to nearly 25%. This will undoubtedly increase the number of applicants applying for one job role, as the older generation hang onto theirs.

Education for Young Girls

It’s long been said that girls graduate tertiary education in higher percentages than boys. Why then, do they often find themselves in lower paying positions? Reports show that women earn just 77% of what men will earn in the exact same job role and field. This is mind-blowing considering the women are just as qualified for the role as men.

While it is encouraging to learn that girls are continuing to opt to enter higher education, it also means that the conversation of gender pay gap is still relevant.

Making Their Way into the Working World

In today’s society, there are 70% of UK women aged 16-64 in employment, a drastic change from just 53% in 1971. So, what happened? Perhaps it’s because there is more pressure to work. Plus, new mothers often feel the expectation to return back to work as soon as their maternity leave ends.

There’s not the same desire to be a ‘domestic housewife’ or ‘homemaker’ as there may have been in the 70’s. In 2014, 74.1% of UK women with children were in employment, comparing to 75% with no children.

Rights of UK Women in the Workforce

Considering women are returning to work immediately after maternity leave, it’s not out of the question to assume this must be a significantly long period of time. However, in the UK, Statutory Maternity Leave is just a year long. Interestingly, paternity leave is a mere 1-2 weeks of paid leave. This emphasises the slightly archaic views society may have about maternity and paternity leave.

Furthermore, of the women who do return to work, almost two thirds of them opt for flexible working arrangements to suit caring to their baby. In the same way that women can be discriminated against because they may have a baby in the future, any new parent who believes they’re not being treated fairly in the workplace can consult dispute resolution lawyers.

They will be able to advise whether they’ve got a case. All UK employees have the right to ask for flexible working hours after 26 weeks of employment, no matter whether they have children or not.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling and Becoming a Leader

In order to break the glass ceiling, you must first acknowledge that it’s there. The main tell-tale signs that typically exist in the workforce are:

  • Little diversity among the top-level managers
  • Sexist, racist or other prejudice language being common across the organisation
  • Resistance to change and innovation
  • Pay gaps between male and female employees

Research over the past three decades supports the relationship between women’s representation in leadership positions and positive outcomes in organizations. Having female representation on boards of directors is positively related to a firms financial performance. Female CEOs have a direct association with ethical decision making, as per this interesting read from Forbes.

What About Leadership Roles?

We’re used to seeing a boardroom full of men in many of the world’s biggest companies, but this is improving. In the FTSE 250, there are only 8 all-made boards as women’s board representation has risen to 11% to 28% in the past decade. Although this is a cause for celebration, there is still a low percentage of women in leadership roles, at just 22% in 2018.

Such figures are set to rise, though, as more women fight back into positions of power within male-dominated companies. The government, businesses and society all have important roles to play in ensuring gender inequality is a thing of the past.

About Today’s Writer

Poppy Jones is a freelance writer for many different business and tech publications. With a range of knowledge in the business and tech sector, she is an avid researcher and writer in the field. When she’s not writing, you can find her taking long walks with her two dogs and watching Game of Thrones.

Your Thoughts on UK Women in the Workforce

Are any of these stats on UK women in the workforce different than what you expected? Why or why not?

17 thoughts on “UK Women in the Workforce: Statistics and Facts”

  1. Hi, this is such an important topic thanks for bringing it up!

    As someone who’s trying to return to work after a career break in the UK, I just wanted to say that mothers have so much to contribute to the workplace! So many transferable skills, so much experience in juggling life’s demands. Most importantly, before our career breaks we used to be hard working professionals, thus there is no reason we can’t be as valuable again after having a family. Better even! I’m trying to get back to the corporate world after a long career break. Best wishes!

  2. Thanks for posting. As a women in management in the US, I appreciate the attention to the matter. One thing with the data though, in the US, they often compare women vs men salary and don’t take into consideration the specific job. Women tend to go into lower paying jobs, like teaching. A lot of studies have started to compare the same job title with men vs women, but they haven’t accounted for seniority. Someone should be making more money if they have been in the position longer. When the US compares seniority and same title, it’s actually about the same for men for women. And some companies actually were paying women more once you factored seniority. I think when we’re fighting for equal pay, we need to keep this mind or we’ll end up swinging the other way, which will just be an inequality in reverse.

    1. Thank you for this comprehensive response. More interesting food for thought, especially your comment about inequality in reverse which has a horrible way of creeping in when interference with hiring choices occurs in the work place.

  3. This is an interesting article, Christy. To me, equality means that both genders must be prepared to do exactly the same jobs. It mentions in this article that many women prefer flexible work arrangements so that they can care for their children. There are some jobs, honestly, that cannot be done on a flexible work arrangement. They are all encompassing sorts of jobs. To my mind these jobs include top jobs in corporates. So, I think the reason that there is perceived inequality in the board room is than many (not all) women prefer for their careers to take a bit of a back seat when they have children. Those that don’t and play by the same rules as the men, do often achieve senior positions. This seems fair.

    1. Hi Robbie,

      Thanks for your feedback on my article, I’m pleased you found it interesting – as did I whilst I was writing it!

  4. It is interesting that in the UK, maternity leave is one year in length. It is much shorter in the U.S. The disparity between male and female salaries seems to be similar although I do not know the exact current statistics in the U.S. Hopefully, changes in the future will eliminate that pay gap. Flexible working hours would help many families cope with the other items of importance in daily living such as child care, elder care, and other budgetary concerns.

    1. Hi Peggy,
      Thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it! These changes take time, but we’re headed in the right direction.

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely feedback! I’m glad it made for a good read for you.

    1. Thank you for your feedback on the article! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!

  5. Thanks, Poppy and Christy, for an interesting article. I think the situation is probably fairly similar here in Australia, though I don’t know the exact figures. While it seems we are not progressing, things are changing. Few women worked after marriage in the fifties and sixties (and therefore probably earlier). The expectation was that the male was the breadwinner and the female the homemaker. Women employed in government jobs, such as teachers, often had to resign when they fell pregnant, or even when they got married. It had begun to change not long before I became a mother in the 70s. At that time, most mothers, with young or school age children stayed at home. Now I think the pendulum has swung and most go to work and leave the care of their children to others. I’m pleased that I was able to make the choice to be at home with my children. It takes time to change the attitudes and conditions that have been established for generations, but it’s great to see the increase of options that are now available.

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