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The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in the United Kingdom

By Vivian Hunt, Richard Dobbs, Emma Gibbs, Anu Madgavkar, Jonathan Woetzel, Smriti Arora, Wan Hong, Mekala Krishnan, Rishi Arora, Claire Barnett, and Cameron Brookhouse
The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in the United Kingdom

Bridging the gender gap in the United Kingdom could increase GDP by billions of pounds over the next decade and add 840,000 female employees to the workforce.

Moving toward gender equality is not only a moral and social issue; it is also important to future economic growth in the United Kingdom. A new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in the United Kingdom, explores the economic potential of narrowing gender gaps at the national level as well as across UK regions; it also examines the opportunity to address gender disparities within various occupations and sectors of the economy. Gender equality in work necessitates gender equality in society, so this research adopts a holistic view, assessing how gender inequality impacts a woman through her life and identifying a comprehensive set of interventions to help UK stakeholders take action on gender inequality in the short and longer terms. Here’s a look at some of the main findings of our research:

Tackling gender equality in the United Kingdom
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Tackling gender equality in the United Kingdom
Women fall behind in terms of gender parity as they enter adulthood, the workforce, or become parents, but change can come by focusing on several priority areas.

  • Bridging the UK gender gap in work has the potential to create an extra £150 billion on top of business-as-usual GDP forecasts in 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees.1 In this scenario, every one of the United Kingdom’s 12 regions has the potential to gain 5–8 percent in GDP, with the largest opportunities in London, the North West, and South East.
  • Some 38 percent of this extra GDP could come from increased female participation in the labor force—with the rate rising from 76 percent for business-as-usual forecast in 2025 to 79 percent in 2025; 35 percent from more women working in the more productive sectors; and 27 percent from a rise in women’s working hours by an average of 25 to 30 minutes a day.
  • Today, women work in less productive sectors and are concentrated in lower-paid occupations, which affects their financial stability. They are least represented in high-productivity sectors—including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)—and higher-salaried occupations, including skilled trades and managerial and leadership positions, which report the highest densities of skill shortages. Paving the way for women to occupy such roles could support productivity gains and act as one of the levers for the United Kingdom to narrow the productivity gap to its peers.
  • Data from the past decade indicate there has been little improvement in work indicators on a national level; at current rates, the United Kingdom will not achieve parity within the next three decades. MGI’s global Power of parity report also showed that, worldwide, enhancing women’s economic potential has gone hand in hand with achieving greater gender equality in society.
  • Analysis of UK indicators of gender parity in work and society shows that inequality most affects women as they enter the workforce or take on a parenting role (exhibit). Areas of extreme inequality include STEM careers,2 single parenthood, and political representation. There is high disparity in relation to leadership and managerial positions, unpaid care work, entrepreneurship, breadwinning ratio, teenage pregnancy, and access to credit. This picture varies only slightly between UK regions.

In the UK, women confront greater inequality as they progress through life.

To capture the economic opportunity, government, private-sector organizations, and other groups should undertake a package of actions to remove direct barriers to women working; create better opportunities to enable them to work in the most productive sectors, occupations, and roles; and reshape the underlying social norms and attitudes that define the choices women make and the way society receives and supports those choices. These actions are grouped into seven “impact zones”: women in leadership, women in STEM, childcare and unpaid care work, women in entrepreneurship, women in politics, violence against women, and social attitudes and mind-sets. They are focused on understanding why inequality in outcomes persists, addressing inequality by prioritizing proven remedial actions, and tracking and publishing progress.

About the author(s)

Vivian Hunt and Richard Dobbs are senior partners in McKinsey’s London office, where Emma Gibbs is a partner, Smriti Arora is an associate partner, and Wan Hong, Claire Barnett, and Cameron Brookhouse are consultants. Jonathan Woetzel is a director of the McKinsey Global Institute, where Anu Madgavkar is a partner, and Mekala Krishnan is a fellow; and Rishi Arora is a specialist in the Gurgaon office.
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