A Future of Under-Employment for Women?

 Laura Swiszczowski, Researcher Opportunity Now



The Fawcett Society has published a new report, ‘The changing labour market: delivering for women, delivering for growth’, which shows women’s unemployment has risen to a 26 year high whilst men’s is decreasing. The report also found that almost three times as many women as men have become ‘long term’ unemployed in the last two and a half years. Fawcett Society argue that if the current pattern of women making up the majority of those losing their jobs, but are in the minority of those benefitting from new employment opportunities, continues the worst case scenario would see some 1.48 million women unemployed by 2018. This is disturbing finding not only for the UK female population, but for UK business as well, given that women’s contribution to the economy could be worth £21 billion per year to the UK economy[i].

Overall, organisations that entered the Gender and Race 2012 Benchmark performed well on recruitment of women at entry level. This is unsurprising, considering that women make up 57% of graduates in the UK. 76% of organisations that took part take steps to remove bias in the recruitment process, and 86.2% of organisations make sure recruitment agencies, recruitment consultants and headhunters are aware of their policies and objectives on gender diversity.  Learn more at 2012 Benchmarking Trends Analysis

It is important to remember the diversity of women as a group, and how ethnicity can impact on women’s experience in employment. For example, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women experience particularly high rates of unemployment and specific barriers to work. The employment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women is currently 33.8% and 27.5%, respectively, and has seen little movement over the last decade[ii].

In fact, when highlighting the specific groups of people that are not benefitting from new employment opportunities, we have to consider low employment rates for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people within this discourse as well – not just women. 

Despite the fact that almost 1 in 5 (18.1%) of students are UK-domiciled BAME, there continues to be a disproportionate rates of unemployment for ethnic minorities than for white British people. 60.7% of BAME are employed compared to 73.1% of white British people, and this employment rate gap is widening – from 10.9 percentage points at Q2 2011 to 12.3 percentage points at Q3 2012.[iii]

This is all the more concerning when we look at youth unemployment. Just over a million (21.2% on average) of all 16-24 year olds are out of work, yet unemployment for BAME young people is even higher at 31.4%. Race for Opportunity investigated the BAME people’s experience of recruitment into the labour market and made recommendations for business, recruitment agencies and candidates. Learn more at Exposing the Barriers

The report from Fawcett Society indicates that failure to take more action risks creating a “female unfriendly” work market characterised by rising levels of women’s unemployment; diminishing pay levels for women, and a widening of the gender pay gap.

We know that the gender pay gap increases with age – at age 40, the full-time pay gap between men and women in the UK is 27%, compared with an overall hourly full-time gap of 15.5% for employees of all ages. Opportunity Now developed a factsheet on Women and Age with our recommendations for business:  View the Women and Age Fact Sheet

We also know that differences between men and women’s progression in the workplace become more prevalent with age. As male workers grow older they are more likely to make it into managerial positions, which is less true of older women workers. A study by the London School of Economics found that at age twenty, the same percentage of men and women were in management positions -5%. However, by age 45, this had risen to around 23% for men, but just 11% for women[iv].

What does all this mean for businesses? Success in business comes down to having the best people in the right positions. We need to ensure we improve women’s access to the labour market and, in particular, to the senior levels and high paid sectors such as finance and engineering, where women are traditionally under-represented. Our recent ‘Inspiring the Workforce of the Future’ Award Winner gives a fantastic example of how to effectively tackle this, as do the case studies from our Opportunity Now Award finalists and winners.

[ii] Labour Force Survey, ONS, Q3 2012

[iii] Labour Market Statistics, Office National Statistics (ONS), November 2012