Scotland has maintained its place as the top performing part of the UK when it comes to gender diversity in the workplace, a new report has found.
The latest Women in Work Index report by professional services firm PwC said that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales outperformed most English regions in this regard.
This was “likely due to the higher share of public sector employment in these regions that tend to have smaller pay gaps and better female representation at senior levels”.
In 2000, Scotland had one of the highest female unemployment rates in the UK - but since then this has gone from 6 per cent to 4 per cent in 2017, putting the country fifth in the UK rankings for female joblessness.
The annual study looked at the representation and welfare of women in the world of work across 33 OECD countries in 2017.
Overall, the UK improved its performance slightly, moving from 14th to 13th position in the ranking.
But the report said: “Its progress is held back by a stubbornly persistent gender pay gap, which will require concerted government policy and business action to address.”
Iceland and Sweden continued to occupy the top two positions on the index, with New Zealand rising from fourth to third.
But the report said that the UK “performs well” in comparison to the other G7 nations, coming in second only to Canada in this group.
Within the UK, PwC found that the top three performing regions are Scotland, the South West and Wales - with the report noting that “these regions have large hospitality sectors and a high concentration of public sector jobs, both of which tend to have more balanced gender representation at all levels and hence smaller pay gaps”.
In comparison Yorkshire and the Humber, the East Midlands and the West Midlands were the three worst performing regions.
Increasing female employment in the UK to the 69% achieved in Sweden could boost Britain’s economy by £178 billion, the report estimated.
Lindsey Paterson, head of diversity and inclusion for PwC in Scotland, said: “Scotland’s strong performance across all metrics shows our country is making significant progress in addressing gender imbalance. The issue is clearly moving up the political agenda and is something all businesses must address with a sense of urgency.
“The one area where Scotland is below average is in relation to the number of women in full-time employment, albeit this is offset by the higher level (72%) of female labour force participation.
“Scotland benefits from better female representation at senior levels but to improve overall we must create a culture where ambition and progression is encouraged at all levels, even for those on reduced hours contracts.
“We would also encourage businesses to ensure flexible working policies benefit both male and female workers and allow them to achieve their full potential no matter their family responsibilities.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Equality for women is at the heart of our vision for a fairer Scotland and we’re delighted to see this report’s recognition of the progress being made.
“The gender pay gap for full-time workers in Scotland is at a record low and is markedly lower than the rest of the UK as a whole.
“We’re working hard to reduce it further and are continuing to invest in and promote family-friendly employment practices to employers across Scotland.”