There has been a small improvement in female economic empowerment over the last 12 months, with conditions for women in the workplace progressing throughout much of the developed world.

Nordic countries, particularly Norway, Iceland and Sweden, have performed the best, thanks largely to improving female employment rates and closing the gender pay gap.

Hungary and Poland have also significantly improved their overall performance, which, in Poland’s case, is due to a reduction in female unemployment.

Gender pay gaps may not close for another 200 years
Image: REUTERS/Chris Keane

That is according to the latest PwC Women in Work Index, which outlines how much progress has been made toward greater female economic empowerment and ranks each country based on how much they’ve improved since last year.

The index also looks at the potential long-term economic gains that could be made if OECD countries had the same female employment rate as Sweden, where over 75% of women are in some form of paid employment. The OECD average is around 60%.

Overall, GDP could increase by $6 trillion or 12%. Countries that have relatively low female employment, such as Greece (44.6%), Mexico (44.9%) and Italy (49.1%), have the most to gain.

GDP boost from increasing female employment rates is $6 trillion
Image: PwC

“Increasing the rate of female employment to those in Sweden could generate GDP increases of [approximately] 30% for these countries,” the report suggests.

And while not as pronounced, the economic benefit to the United Kingdom, where the level of female employment is 70%, could be in the order of 9% of GDP. Austria and Poland could also see gains of a similar magnitude.

More women in work would boost the GDP of OECD countries by 12%
Image: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Closing the gender pay gap

But the world has a long way to go to achieve gender parity. Closing the gender pay gap, which at current rates isn’t expected to happen for well over 200 years, could boost female earnings in OECD countries by $2 trillion, an increase of 23%.

In South Korea, where the average gender pay gap is 37%, the largest of any OECD country, female earnings could increase by around $280 billion.

In the United States, where the gender pay gap is around 17%, earnings could increase by a staggering $800 billion.

Closing pay gaps could significantly boost female earnings
Image: PwC

Meanwhile, in the UK, where closing the gender pay gap could increase female earnings by £120 billion ($166 billion), companies with more than 250 employees are now legally required to report their performance on pay equality.

Some companies have already published details, including PR and advertising giant WPP, which published its gender pay gap report in March.

The report shows a group median pay gap of 14.6% across its 14,000 staff, which is better than the UK average of 18.4%.

And France has gone a step further, with the country’s prime minister Édouard Philippe announcing in March plans to fine companies that fail to close their gender pay gaps within three years.

It has been widely reported that under the plans, companies with more than 50 employees will have to install software that links to payroll systems and directly monitors pay gaps.