UK rises in gender parity rankings as more women take up Government office
A higher number of women in Government has helped the UK emerge as one of the "most improved" countries on a leading gender gap index that otherwise showed the global gap widening for the first time since 2006.
The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report showed the UK climbing five spots in 2017 to rank 15th out of 144 countries, up from 20th a year earlier.
The index - which measures gender disparity across health, education, the workplace and political representation - saw the UK make its biggest gains in government representation, helping increase its standing in that specific measure by seven places to rank 24th.
The proportion of women in Parliament came in at 32% compared with 29% a year earlier, while the number of women in ministerial roles stood at 30.8% versus 23% in 2016.
That was measured alongside the years that the UK has had a female head of state over the last 50.
Adding to Margaret Thatcher's long stint in office, Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership brought that total to 12.5 years.
Together, it helped the UK stand out as one of the most improved countries in the index rankings overall, alongside the likes of Canada, Spain, Barbados, France, Denmark and Bulgaria.
But the UK is still lagging behind its 2006 standing, when it came ninth out of 115 countries, and has only closed 3% of its overall gender gap, which now stands at 77%, according to the WEF.
It added that one of the main challenges for the UK is making meaningful improvements to the prospects for women in economic participation and opportunity, where progress has stalled, placing it 53rd for two years running.
Britain is also 95th when it comes to estimated earnings income, though it noted small increases in the number of women in professional, technical and senior roles.
However, the mean monthly earnings for women are 66% of that of men, which it noted was "low" compared with many of its country peers.
The report also found that 57% of the work UK women do is unpaid, compared with 32% for men.
Globally, the WEF said the overall gender gap widened for the first time since records began in 2006, with the biggest driver being the decline in gender equality in the workplace and political representation - both of which had previously been making progress.
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, warned that countries which fail to integrate women risk falling behind economically.
"We are moving from the era of capitalism into the era of talentism.
"Competitiveness on a national and on a business level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or a company.
"Those will succeed best who understand to integrate women as an important force into their talent pool," he said.
A separate report by leading executive advisory firm Green Park said this week that the number of industries in the UK where gender diversity was regressing was outweighing those that were making progress.
But there has been a "small" increase of 2.3% in the number of women in the top 20 positions across the FTSE 100, and a 1.1% rise in the number of those in the next 100 most senior roles, the report said.
Only one woman has joined the ranks of female chief executives and chairmen in the FTSE 100 during the period covered by the report, counting Croda chairman Anita Frew.
Emma Walmsley also became head of pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline earlier this year but fell outside of the reporting period, Green Park confirmed.
A Government spokesman said the UK's higher ranking in the WEF index was welcome news.
"We are proud of our achievements but recognise there is still more to do.
"That is why we are taking action to improve workplace equality by removing the barriers that can hold women back in their careers and are one of the first countries in the world to require all large employers to publish their gender pay and bonus data."