Improving female participation in the work force can generate economic gains


Shirley Machaba | Diversity & Inclusion Leader | PwC Africamail me |

Improving female participation in work across the OECD could boost total GDP by US$6 trillion, according to a new report released by PwC.

DOWNLOAD | Women in Work Index 2019

Analysing the representation and welfare of women in the world of work across 33 OECD countries, PwC’s latest Women in Work Index also finds that the OECD could gain US$2 trillion by closing the gender pay gap.

The five indicators that make up the Women in Work Index are:

  • the gender pay gap
  • female labour force participation
  • the gap between male and female labour force participation
  • female unemployment
  • female full-time employment

Iceland and Sweden remain the top two performing OECD countries, while New Zealand joins the top three for the first time since the Index was first published in 2013. Norway slips to 5th place, having been overtaken by Slovenia.

The UK is making gradual progress, performing above the OECD average in 13th place and ranking second out of the G7 countries behind Canada.

Meanwhile, Ireland (#17) and the Netherlands (#19) improved their rankings since last year owing to positive improvements across most of the indicators in the Index, and in particular, reducing the female unemployment rate in the Netherlands.

While the focus of the Index is on the OECD countries, we should not underestimate the contribution that South Africa has made in economically empowering women. Despite considerable progress being made, there is still room for further improvement in female employment prospects.

An urgent reminder

International Women’s Day serves as a reminder of the urgency for closing global and local economic gender imbalances. The economic reasons alone support the case for expediting our progress towards female gender equality. Efforts by corporates and government to promote gender equality and female participation in the workforce can generate significant economic gains for the country.

Through developing an environment that allows women to thrive in the labour market, we can eliminate many of the economic inequalities that still exist between men and women. Notably, by enabling women to succeed in the workplace, society can reap the benefits of women’s talents and skills. A recent PwC Strategy& analysis of economic data from Statistics South Africa and the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that closing the gender gap in both pay and representation by just 10% could deliver an additional 3.2% in GDP growth and a 6.5% reduction in the number of unemployed jobseekers.

These findings mirror the gains of workforce gender equality estimated in the PwC Women in Work Index.

Despite the increased focus from institutional investors and boards, the female representation at senior management and executive levels in South Africa is still on average only at 20% as reported in PwC’s REMchannel® July 2018 publication. The survey consists of remuneration data for more than 550 participating organisations and just over 4,000 senior managers and executives. The data also indicates that 61% of the females are remunerated below the median of the sample in comparison to 39% of males. In contrast, 63% of males are remunerated above the median in comparison to 37% of females in the sample. PwC’s latest Non-Executive Directors Report, 2019 also finds that female representation among non-executive directors is only 20%. Women therefore remain underrepresented in leadership positions.

From this data, it is clear that corporate South Africa still needs to focus on ensuring that female numbers are increased at these levels, in addition to addressing gender pay inequalities.

The benefits of levelling the playing field are clear. Companies with a large representation of women in executive committees have been shown to perform better, in terms of the premium received on average returns on equity, than those with no women representation at the top.

The future is female STEM graduates

With the 4th Industrial Revolution looming, the upskilling of our children in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects is increasingly important. Specifically, increasing the number of women graduating in STEM fields is critical to enhancing the talent pool available.

In South Africa, the ratio of females to males graduating with STEM-related degrees is out of balance: women are underrepresented in maths and statistics (3:4), information and communication technology (2:5), as well as engineering and construction (1:4).

Local initiatives have emerged to stimulate STEM skills, specifically for girls. For example, South Africa’s GirlHype is a non-profit programme that provides programming and app development training for women and girls, in order to build up their self-efficacy and confidence to work in technology industries and beyond.

Celebrating successes made by women in the STEM fields raises the profile of women in the field and changes the face of what an engineer or scientist looks like. A key factor influencing young girls in their field of study is the presence of role models: seeing females in a position of leadership or as an engineer changes perceptions, making young women more confident that they could serve in these positions. As public perception of STEM changes, it opens doors for women seeking promotions or careers in these fields.

Inclusive diversity cannot be ignored. It creates a win-win situation: companies benefit from increased productivity fostered through a coming together of diverse ideas. Levelling the playing field to include more women in skilled jobs, and specifically in the emerging tech environment, is of paramount financial importance for businesses and has broad socio-economic implications for countries looking to prosper.



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