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Women in the Economy


Women's participation in the labour market contributes significantly to the Scottish economy.

However, for many women a range of barriers exist, preventing them from achieving their full potential in all sectors and at all levels in the labour market. Occupational segregation features as a key characteristic of modern labour markets with an associated tendency for the market to undervalue the jobs that women do.

Tackling all forms of gender inequality and supporting women to access and participate in employment is vital for the economy, health, family life and the community.

Analysis by the Scottish Government has suggested the Covid-19 pandemic could exacerbate existing labour market inequalities for protected groups including women.

The Scottish Government will continue to tackle the gender pay gap and give full consideration to the gendered impact and implications of Covid-19 on the labour market.


1 The impact of Covid-19 on equality in Scotland

This Scottish Government paper reviews emerging evidence on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on equality across several key domains: health, economic, education, safety and security, social and wellbeing, housing, digital, and environmental. It also considers the projected impacts of Brexit on equality and how these interact with COVID-19 impacts.

2. Gender & Inclusive Growth – Making inclusive growth work for women in Scotland

This paper argues that through a focus on paid employment underpinned by a traditional economic macroeconomic framework, limited consideration of the undervaluation of female dominated work and occupational segregation, and the devaluation of the reproductive economy, Scotland’s inclusive growth agenda largely ignores the reality of women’s lives and will not deliver a marked improvement in gender equality.

3. Gender & Economic Recovery

This paper focuses on nine principles to develop Scotland’s existing commitment to inclusive growth.

4. Disproportionate impact: the impact of Covid-19 on women’s labour market equality

This briefing by Close the Gap uses evidence on women’s labour market participation, and analysis of the anticipated economic impacts of the current crisis to outline the impact of COVID-19 on women’s labour market equality.

5. Engender Briefing: Women and COVID-19

This briefing by Engender explores some of the ways in which the differences between men’s and women’s lives play in to COVID-19, and describes critical issues that Scottish Government and parliamentarians should include in their thinking about crisis response, and medium-run mitigation programmes and spend.

6. Women and Unpaid Work: the impact of Covid-19 on women’s caring roles

This report by Engender highlights the impact of Covid-19 on women's caring roles, and makes recommendation for how Scottish Government can measure, value, and reduce women's unpaid work.

7. What Works for Women: improving gender mainstreaming in Scotland

This paper by Engender reviews the history of legal mainstreaming duties in Scotland, implementation of its principal mainstreaming policy - the public sector equality duty (PSED) - and international best practice in gender mainstreaming. It subsequently draws conclusions regarding reform of PSED and recommends new action on mainstreaming by the Scottish Government.


Gender Pay Gap Action Plan

The Scottish Government’s Gender Pay Gap Action Plan published in March 2019. The aim of the plan is to deliver a cross-government approach, tackling the causes of the inequality women face in the labour market. The plan includes over 60 actions to help the Scottish Government meet its commitment of reducing the Gender Pay Gap by 2021.

We have achieved this headline goal and the gender pay gap for full-time employees in Scotland fell from 7.2 per cent in 2019 to 3.0 per cent in 2020.

We recently reviewed the Action Plan to ensure actions remained fit for purpose and supported women through Scotland’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The Gender Pay Gap Working Group provided input to this review and on International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2021 we published the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan Annual Report. The report details our progress to date, including new actions we will be taking forward.

The Gender Pay Gap Measurement Framework was published on 24 March 2021. This supplementary document to the Annual Report outlines the outcomes we seek to achieve, mapping these to the sources of data that can be used to measure progress.

Although we have achieved out headline goal to reduce the Gender Pay Gap by 2021, we know that the gender pay gap is persistent and that we have yet to feel the full impact that Brexit and COVID-19 has and will have on the Scottish economy. We will therefore continue our work to reduce the gender pay gap throughout the reporting year.

You can find the Gender Pay Gap Working Group Meeting Minutes below:


Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Working Group

The Scottish Government’s Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Working Group was established in response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) research published in 2016

The Working Group was chaired by the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills and 13 meetings were held between December 2016 and January 2021. The remit of the group included developing governance; reviewing and enhancing guidelines; ensuring that employers, in particularly small to medium sized businesses, have more access to advice; and strengthening the advice pregnant women receive through NHS channels.

The Working Group has completed its remit and its final report was issued in January 2021: Pregnancy & Maternity Discrimination Working Group Final Report January 2021. Issues relating to pregnancy and maternity discrimination will continue to be represented on the Gender Pay Gap Working Group.

Women Returners Programme 2021


The Women Returners Programme aims to support women returners across Scotland who have had a career break of 6 months or more due to childcare, other care or health commitments or have multiple barriers to employment, e.g. women over 50 years of age, disabled women, lone parents, minority ethnic women, women affected by domestic abuse, women from rural or SIMD areas, female veterans/spouses of veterans and also focus on sectors where women are significantly underrepresented in the workforce and at senior levels.

The Programme will support activities that enable the participants to address the barriers that are preventing them from moving along the strategic skills pipeline and allow them to progress to the next stage e.g. employment, education, or training.

Skills Development Scotland are managing delivery of the programme on behalf of the Scottish Government.  To register your interest in this notice and obtain any additional information please visit Public Contracts Scotland - Women Returners Notice.

You can also find out more by visiting Women Returners Programme | Skills Development Scotland


Please note that the application period for the Women Returner Programme 20/21 closed at midnight on Wednesday 2nd December. We will no longer be accepting any applications for funding.

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills has launched a call for applications to the Women Returners Programme. The funds will offer immediate support in the current Covid-19 environment and ensure that work to promote and embed workplace equality continues so that equality groups are not further disadvantaged in the labour market as a result of the effects of Covid-19.

Applications to the fund are encouraged that will deliver short and sharp interventions supporting employers to improve their diversity and inclusion strategies and support women back into the labour market. Application forms and information on criteria can be downloaded from this page, along with an FAQ document and webinar slides which provide further information on the fund.

The table below lists the projects being funded under the Women Returners Programme 2020/21

Projects Funded Under the Women Returners Programme 20/21


Name of Project

Geographical Location


Muckle Media


Returners to communications programme

Nationwide - focus on rural



HRC Recruitment

Return with Resilience




The Lennox Partnership

Building Aspirations for Women Returners

North Ayrshire



Bridges Programmes

Fresh Start





East Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce

On Track - Women Returner Programme East Renfrewshire

East Renfrewshire



Women in Scottish Aquaculture


Supporting Women to Join the Scottish Aquaculture Industry


Highlands and Islands, Argyll & Bute, Orkney, Shetland, Western Isles



RFEA - The Forces Employment Charity

Female veteran/spouse employment within Scotland




Women Returners Ltd


Women Returners Back to Work Accelerator


Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee/Aberdeen



Women Returners Ltd


Women Returners to Financial Services Scotland

Glasgow, Edinburgh, and/or Stirling



Fife Centre for Equalities

Women's Returners at Sky Dunfermline




Challenges Catalyst


Making work work - for women returners




Adopt an Intern Ltd


Back to Work 2 (for minority ethnic women returners)




Total  £311,120.11

The following table provides an overview of additional projects supporting Workplace Equality:


Name of Project

Geographical Location

Equality Group


Genanalytics Ltd

Building the foundations for women returners at Standard Life Aberdeen: A sustainable approach




Borders College

GROW - Gaining Rewards and Opportunities for Work

Scottish Borders

Older workers (those aged 50 and over); Workers experiencing social isolation and loneliness; Workers from a rural area; Workers from an SIMD area


Transport Scotland

Civ Tech Challenge 10 - how to support connections when working remotely


All workers


Clackmannanshire Council


Clackmannanshire Women's Voices





Ceteris (Scotland) Ltd

ClacksWISE 2021   Women into Self-Employment





Alloa Community Enterprises






Capital City Partnership

Women Returners' Listening and Coaching Service



Women; Workers experiencing social isolation and loneliness; Workers who have experienced or suffered domestic abuse



Support for Women in the Rural Economy

Nationwide (Focus on remote and rural areas)

Women; Workers from a rural area



If you would like further information on the Women Returners Programme please contact

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