Women in the UK may have to wait another generation before finally seeing the gender pay gap close, boosting female earnings by around £85bn a year or an average £6,100 per working woman.
Published on 21 February, the annual PwC's Women in Work Index finds that despite progress made in increasing female participation in the workforce and a narrowing of the pay gap, at the current rate of progress equality with take another 24 years to achieve, in 2041.
If that may not look like rapid progress, women in the UK still have it better than women in other countries, such as Germany and Spain, where the gender pay gaps may not close for over 200 years if underlying structural factors aren't addressed.
The research points to job segregation between men and women across industries and job roles as one of the biggest factors contributing to the gap in earnings.
For instance, women are more likely to work in sectors and jobs relatively lower paid given the skills they require, such as health and social work and education roles – industries in which more than 60% of the workforce is female.
The highest-earning sectors such as financial services, mining and quarrying and electricity and gas have a much smaller proportion of female workforce. Financial services emerge as the industry with the largest gender pay gap at 34%, while public administration and support services have the lowest, at 15% and 13% respectively.
To this list, the Fawcett Society, an organisation aiming at fighting inequality, adds factors such as workplace discrimination – particularly as a result of pregnancy, unequal caring responsibility, and unequal representation at the more senior levels.
"It's not just about getting more women working, but also about getting more of them into high quality jobs that offer career progression and flexibility," said Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC.
The PwC research also takes into account geographical differences. The West Midlands has the largest gender pay gap at 21% and over half (52%) of women in the region are employed in lower-paying sectors such as wholesale and retail trade, and health services. Northern Ireland records the smallest pay gap, falling from 22% in 2000 to 6% now, partly thanks to a higher than average share of women working in public administration, a sector with a smaller pay gap.
According to a cross-party committee of MPs, the government will fail to meet its goal of eliminating the gender pay gap in a generation. The Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Conservative MP Maria Miller, issued the warning after ministers responded to the group's 2016 report into tackling the gender pay gap, which sees women earn 80p for every £1m a man makes.
The government policies in this regard include introducing a shared parental leave and supporting women over 40 in the workplace, as well as requiring employers from April to publish their gender pay and gender bonus gaps.
Laura Hinton, executive board member and head of people at PwC, said: "While it's encouraging that the UK is making progress on closing the gender pay gap, it is depressing that it will still take around a generation to close it completely. Pay reporting requirements should help speed up change as businesses will face greater accountability. But merely reporting numbers without any concrete action, won't change anything.
"We know that women are ambitious – we now need to create workplaces that support their ambition, and enough skilled and senior roles that have the flexibility to accommodate work and caring responsibilities."