A new study shows that progress for women in work could be back at 2017 levels by the end of 2021 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The analysis was conducted for PwC's annual Women in Work index, which measures female economic empowerment across 33 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.  

PwC said the evidence emerging globally is that the damage from Covid-19 and government response and recovery policies is disproportionately being felt by women.

The Women in Work Index looks at female participation in the labour market and equality in the workplace.

It also examines the gender pay gap, female labour force participation, the gap between male and female labour force participation, female unemployment and female full-time employment rate.

Today's index shows that Ireland continues to move up the rankings but the rise in unemployment rate for women is larger than it is for men during Covid-19. 

Ireland rose to 14th place on the index ranking from 18th place - the largest improvement in the ranking on the index. 

PwC said that progress was mainly driven by the narrowing of the gender pay gap and a fall in the female unemployment rate here. Female boardroom representation for Ireland is 27%, it added.

Emma Scott, People Leader at PwC Ireland, said the setbacks we are experiencing with Covid-19 in terms of the workforce tell a worrisome story. 

Ms Scott said that while the impacts are being felt by everyone across the globe, women are exiting the workforce at a faster rate than men.

"Women carry a heavier burden than men of unpaid care and domestic work. This has increased during the pandemic, and it is limiting women's time and options to contribute to the economy," she said. 

"In the labour market, more women work in hard-hit human contact-intensive service sectors  - such as accommodation and food services, and retail trade. With social distancing and lockdowns, these sectors have seen unprecedented job losses," she added.

Overall, Iceland continues to hold the top spot on the Women in Work Index out of OECD countries. 

It is a consistent strong performer in female labour force participation (84%), has a small participation rate gap (5%), and even smaller female unemployment rate (3%).  

Greece saw the largest increase in terms of Index score between 2018 and 2019, driven by improvement in all labour market indicators except for the share of full-time female employees. 

But Portugal experienced the largest decline in scores between 2018 and 2019 due to a widening of its gender pay gap by 5 percentage points.

The top ten countries in PwC's latest Women’s in Work Index

1.Iceland

2.Sweden

3.New Zealand

4.Slovenia

5.Luxemboourg

6.Norway

7.Denmark

8.Finland

9.Portugal

10.Belgium

14. Ireland