Today, 8th of March is International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrating the political, economic and social achievements of women around the world. This year’s theme for IWD is Be Bold for Change, pushing for ground-breaking actions to drive gender equality. Since it first began in 1911 in Central Europe, it has been recognised in 27 countries as an official holiday and many other international organisations and groups have taken measures to address gender equality issues. The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing paper, dedicated to IWD 2017, Women around the world: International Women’s Day 2017, laying out key statistics on gender equality, internationally and in the UK.
The briefing papers Women in Parliament and Government, Women in Public life, the Professions and the Boardroom and Women in the economy explore in detail women’s participation in politics and the public life, and the labour market.
In the spirit of this year’s theme, Be Bold for Change, let’s look at how women’s place in politics, employment and leadership positions has changed over the years.
Women in politics
Since 1918, when women were first allowed to vote and to stand at General Elections, the proportion of female MPs has increased significantly.
As the chart below shows, there was little change in the number of women elected between 1918 and 1983 and this did not increase markedly until 1997, when 120 were elected. Historically, the majority of women elected have been Labour MPs.
191 female MPs were elected at the 2015 General Election, 29% of the total. Following by-elections since then, there are currently 196 women MPs, 30% of the 650 seats.
Women MPs elected at General Elections by party, 1918-2015
Source: Rallings and Thrasher, British Electoral Facts 1832-2006
House of Commons Library, CBP 718 General Election 2015, SN01250 Women in Parliament and Government
Until recently the number of male MPs elected to the current Parliament was higher than the number of women ever elected. However, in March 2017, after 5 by-elections where women were elected, the number of female MPs ever increased to 456, surpassing the number of men currently elected, for the first time. This is still only 9% of all MPs ever elected.
There are higher proportions of women members in the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament, where they comprise 42% and 35% of elected members, respectively. Following the Northern Ireland Assembly election on 2 March 2017, there are now 27 female MLAs, 30% of the total. This is a record high proportion for the Assembly, which historically has registered the lowest proportion of female representatives.
Women in public life
The chart below compares the proportion of women working in public bodies in 2000/01 and 2015/16. The percentage of women employed in the public sector has increased among all public bodies. Women’s representation improved the most among General Practitioners (GPs) and judges, where women increased by 21 and 14 percentage points, respectively.
Proportion of women working in the public sector
Source: House of Commons Library, SN5170 Women in Public life, the Professions and the Boardroom
An overwhelming majority of teachers both in primary (86%) and secondary schools (64%) are female. However, the proportion of women university academic staff is 40%.
Women are less well represented in the Armed Forces, where they account for 10.2% of the total.
These averages obscure gender differences both at grade levels and mode of employment. The proportion of women is considerably lower in senior positions in each one of the sectors. For example even though 64% of teachers in secondary schools are female, only 39% of head teachers are women.
Women in leadership positions
The proportion of women in all managerial and senior positions has increased from 31% in 2001 to 35% in 2016. This falls to 23.6% for chief executives and senior officials.
Women in managerial and senior positions, UK, 2016
As % of all in employment
Source: ONS, UK Labour Market, Employment by occupation, Q2 2016
There are some considerable differences between occupations as the table above shows. Note that deeper shading of a figure denotes a values closer to 50% – so the least equal sectors are those in the lightest colour. In 2016, women represented the majority of directors in health and social services (67%) and human resources (65%). An equal number of men and women were directors in advertising and public relations.
Gender Pay Gap
Gender Pay Gap, UK, 2000-2016
Source: ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings
Notes: Figures are as of April each year. There are breaks in the series in 2004, 2006 and 2011
The gender pay gap measures the difference between the median hourly earnings of men and women (excluding overtime). In 2000, women working full-time were earning on average 16.3% less than their male counterparts. This decreased to 9.4% in 2016. Conversely, women working part-time earn more than men and the gap has widened in more recent years.
The pay gap varies considerably by age. It disappears for people in their 20s and 30s and gets much wider for women aged 40 or above. The House of Commons Library briefing paper on the Gender Pay Gap provides further analysis of variations in the pay gap.