Belgium sees slightly less female participation in the workplace, but continues to close the gender pay gap

PwC’s 10th OECD Women in Work Index

  • Belgium fell from the 10th place to the 12th place in the Women in Work Index among OECD countries
  • The gender wage gap in Belgium (5.0%) continues to decrease and is still the fourth smallest in the OECD and significantly smaller than the OECD average (13.7%)
  • 5.1 million more women were unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis and 5.2 million fewer women participated in the labour market across 33 OECD countries
  • The pandemic amplified gender inequalities across the OECD, forcing more women than men out of the workforce.

Monday 7 March 2022 – The year 2022 celebrates the 10th edition of PwC’s annual update of its Women in Work Index, calculated for 33 countries in the OECD. From the first year of the launch of the Index, slow but steady progress has been made in terms of female empowerment. However, for the first time in its history, the Index fell in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic on female representation in the labour market and on gender equality at work. On average, COVID-19 set back progress towards gender equality in work by at least two years, and the year 2020 marked a peak in global unemployment rates and had a particularly severe impact on women’s jobs.

While historically Belgium performs well in the Index, with an significant upward move from the 20th place in 2000 to the 10th in 2019, Belgium lost two places in the global ranking in 2020. Belgium is now ranked in 12th place. This is mainly due to a lower female labour force participation rate of 64.5% (compared to 64.9% in 2019) and an increase in the female unemployment rate (from 5.0% to 5.4%), indicators that were both impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the gender pay gap continued to decrease in Belgium from 5.8% to 5.0% and is still the fourth smallest of all OECD countries.

Unfortunately, we see Belgium dropping two places in the global ranking. While our country is still the third best in the OECD in terms of gender wage gap, we are losing ground on other important indicators”, states Griet Helsen, Partner at PwC Belgium. “This drop also factors in other countries such as the United Kingdom climbing the ranks, but we should continue to raise the bar and not be complacent about stagnation. And while it’s encouraging to see that our future workforce is gaining a more balanced access to university education, the problem of gender equality is still very salient in the workplace.”


The top five countries in 2020 remain the same as in 2019, but their rankings have changed. New Zealand has jumped into first place and outpaced Iceland and Sweden, which respectively held the two top positions for six years. Luxembourg also performed well, jumping from 5th to 2nd place. New Zealand’s strong performance is thanks to its small gender pay gap (4.6%), low female unemployment rate (5.2%) and relatively high female labour force participation rate of 76.1%. Luxembourg took second place thanks to having the lowest gender pay gap (1.3%) in the OECD. The United Kingdom (ranked 9th compared to 16th in 2019) shows one of the largest absolute increases in the Women in Work Index of all 33 countries, with a fall of almost 4 percentage points in its gender pay gap from 16.1% in 2019 to 12.3% in 2020.

Countries that prioritise action to accelerate progress towards gender equality can expect to reap huge rewards. Our analysis finds that increasing women’s employment rates across the OECD (to match those of Sweden, which is a consistent top performer) would boost OECD Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by US$ 6 trillion per annum. Meanwhile, closing the gender pay gap could boost women’s earnings across the OECD by US$ 2 trillion per annum.

Sustainable female empowerment within the green future

Aside from the impact that COVID-19 had on women's employment, the next decade of Women in Work will be shaped by the transition of economies to net zero emissions. This transition will result in new jobs and opportunities, however it’s worth noting that according to PwC’s analysis, those new jobs will be concentrated in sectors in which employment is male-dominated. The transition to net zero could thus cause an increase in the gender gap in employment by 1.7 percentage points by 2030. Hence, it’ll be necessary to equip the female workforce with the right skills to successfully navigate the shift to a greener labour market.

With this transition towards a more sustainable and green future, it will be crucial to bear in mind this future needs to be sustainable for female empowerment as well. Businesses in particular have the ability to lead the way by contributing to rebuilding our economies and societies with good policies and practices that put women’s needs at the centre, such as boosting female representation and focusing on gender sensitive recruitment, retention and promotion strategies. It’s also key to develop inclusive working environments through unconscious bias training and fostering cultural change. I’m hopeful that we’ll get there, but it will take time. That's why we need to make the most of the current momentum and build upon the progress we’ve made to ensure a fairer future”, concludes Griet Helsen, Partner at PwC Belgium.


About PwC’s OECD Women in Work Index

The PwC Women in Work Index combines five key indicators of female economic empowerment in 2020 across 33 OECD countries. The five indicators that make up the PwC Women in Work Index are: the gender wage gap, the female labour force participation rate, the gap between male and female labour force participation, the female unemployment rate and female full-time employment rate. The annual Women in Work Index uses OECD data (actuals) for calendar year 2020.

Read PwC’s OECD Women in Work Index for more insights.

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