08 March 2022

Women in Dorset's Labour Market: A story of resilience

Women at work at The Arts University Bournemouth Print room

To celebrate the International Women’s Day 2022 on 8 March, we're launching our We Mean Business campaign #WMBDorset. 

In this article we focus on highlighting women's achievements and importance for the local economy, employment and business, while also raising awareness of barriers preventing women in Dorset to reach their full potential.

Growing proportions of women in employment in Dorset: A critical part of the workforce

The 393,400 women living in Dorset make up 51% of our local population and form a critical part of the labour force in the county. In 2021, almost half (48%) of those in employment in Dorset were women.

The proportion of women in employment was on an upward trajectory over the years.  The majority (73%) of working age women in Dorset were in employment in 2021 - 8% more than back in 2004, the gap between men and women in employment narrowing down to 6.5 percentage points - the lowest since 1971 when it stood at 41 pp nationally (Figure 1).

Women in Dorset were however disproportionately affected by the pandemic, bearing the bulk of workforce displacement, unpaid childcare and housework

The past two years however reversed some of the women’s employment progress in Dorset. Compared to pre-pandemic figures from 2019, there were 8,400 fewer women in employment in 2021 - a 5% decline and 4 times the number of men affected – accounting for 80% of the overall fall in employment throughout the pandemic.

This is partially explained by over-representation of women in the worst-hit sectors, such as accommodation, food services and retail – some of these jobs now lost for good. But during the pandemic, women also spent 99% more time in unpaid childcare, and 64% more time in unpaid housework than men. When nurseries and schools were closed, women with children also faced the additional burden of managing home learning - at the same time as many of them were coping with redundancy and unemployment. 46% of mothers made redundant during the pandemic cited lack of adequate childcare provision as the cause.

For women remaining at work, maintaining work performance through successive lockdowns and school closures has come at a high cost to their cognitive, emotional and financial resources, making them more vulnerable to stress and burnout.

Self-employment and enterprise growth - a showcase of women’s resilience

In these challenging times, the resilience of women in Dorset shined through. With their caring and household responsibilities amplified, women have traditionally higher propensity to work part-time (46% vs 14% of men) and recently they have made staggering strides towards self-employment.

Self-employed women reached 21,300 in the past year in Dorset, marking a 60% increase from 2004. Many of them freelancers and business owners, women represented 43% of all self-employed in Dorset– up from 30% in 2004. According to Companies House 1,410 female-led businesses have also been incorporated over the past 2 years in Dorset with 110 of those over the first two months of 2022.

Women also made progress towards occupying higher skilled, higher paid and more senior jobs, but key barriers remain:

  • More women in Dorset are in high skilled jobs, but occupational segregation means they are less represented in science, technology, and engineering, putting them in a disadvantage for the future of work

Almost half (45%) of women in Dorset work in high skilled occupations (management, professional and associate professional jobs) – a ten percentage points increase from 2004. Professional occupations are among the most highly paid and around a fifth (22%) of women in Dorset are employed in roles, such as engineers, doctors and nurses, teachers, accountants and lawyers, which compares to around a quarter (24%) of men (Figure 2).

However, women and men are still concentrated in different jobs and fields. Women are most likely to work in health or teaching professions with over two-thirds of these jobs being occupied by women in Dorset. In contrast, science, research, engineering, and technology continue to be male dominated with only a fifth (21%) of professional roles in these fields held by women. This is pointing to a significant underrepresentation of women in emerging ‘fast-growing jobs of tomorrow’, which are driven by science and technology and already show gender gaps globally, especially in the areas of data and AI (32% women) or cloud computing (14% women) that require disruptive technical skills.

  • Women still face glass ceiling and are less represented in leadership

A higher share of men are managers or directors in Dorset (15% of men compared to 9% of women) and only a third of management and directors’ roles are currently held by women, who are more likely to be occupied in administrative and caring service occupations instead (Figure 2).

Across the UK, women have made some progress in breaking the glass ceiling to reach top executive positions and boardrooms, yet just eight of the CEOs in the top 100 UK companies are women. The Institute of Leadership and Management also found 73% of females felt barriers in seeking senior management and board-level positions, compared with only 38% of men.

  • The gender pay gap is more pronounced in Dorset

Although women’s wages in Dorset have increased by 15% since 2015, women still earn on average 22% less per week than men. The gender pay gap is more pronounced in Dorset than nationally (17% in the UK) and increases for women as they get older. The gap peaks among the ages of 50 and 59 when women earn circa 30% less than men.

Reflections on these developments from some of Dorset's senior females

Cecilia Bufton, Dorset LEP Chair:

“These figures clearly illustrate the multifaceted, evolving role of women within our society and economy. As the recovery continues and employers increase their hiring activity, Dorset LEP is actively encouraging companies to consider creating flexible and part-time employment solutions to high quality jobs at all organisational levels in order to attract the best talent and allow both women and men to balance ambition with caring responsibilities. For women looking to develop their business, Dorset Gateway also offers targeted support for growth. Such solutions will be crucial to reconnect women to the labour market and restore their health and wellbeing after two very challenging years”.

Rebecca Davies, Head of Enterprise, Skills & Industry, Dorset LEP:

“It is fascinating to see the growing participation of women in the labour market. Yet the finding that only a fifth of higher skilled roles in science, technology, and engineering are occupied by women is concerning and could mean both women and employers in these fields are disadvantaged in a technology driven future. Dorset LEP and Dorset Careers Hub connect employers, educational institutions and policy makers in a concerted effort to inspire and support more women not just into employment, but into high skilled-high paid jobs that increase our county’s resilience for the future.”

Arabella Lewis-Smith, Founder and Managing Director of Salad Creative & Dorset LEP board member:

“The fact that so many women in Dorset have responded to the recent challenges by becoming freelancers or starting their own businesses is a testament to their resilience and ingenuity. Founding the Salad brand, design and digital consultancy – aged 26 and with a background in fashion – I am living proof that, starting with just passion and a creative spark, anything is possible. Whilst it is a bumpy journey, growing your own business can be the most rewarding experience and offers the flexibility and autonomy that women with conventional careers often crave. For aspiring entrepreneurs, looking for funding and support, Dorset Gateway is a great place to start.”

Sophie (Godfrey) Parsons, Co-Founder and Director of Aetha Design Studio, Innovate UK grant winner, Women + Innovation event series creator and ‘WE Mean Business’ keynote speaker: 

“The barriers women are still facing when progressing their careers into management and tech roles can be discouraging. From personal experience, entering male dominated fields can be intimidating for women and trigger self-doubt and imposter feelings. That is why, I am passionate about creating a community for us women to share, inspire and lift each other up. I launched the Women + Innovation event series where women interested in starting their own business or looking to apply for a senior role in male dominated sector can hear the empowering stories of those women who have succeeded on this path and have claimed their voice. Dorset also has a thriving start-up scene and offers a creative environment for aspiring entrepreneurs as well as access to mentoring and funding through local councils, Dorset LEP and Dorset Growth Hub”.

Figure 1. ONS, Labour Market Bulletin, Table A02 SA, February 2022.

Figure 2. Note: Occupations ranked based on median hourly pay (excluding overtime) for employees. Source: ONS, Employment by status and occupation, and Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings via NOMIS

For more information on local labour market and skills insights and strategies go to Dorset LEP Labour Market Insights and the 2022 Dorset Local Skills Report.

Celebrate International Women’s Day with Dorset LEP's We Mean Business campaign.

#WMBDorset #IWD2022 #InspiringWomen #BreakTheBias #DorsetSkills



  • ONS Population estimates, 2020
  • ONS annual population survey (Oct 2020-Sep 2021), 2022
  • ONS - Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the different effects on men and women in the UK, 2021
  • Women’s Budget Group, Women and employment during COVID-19, 2021
  • Work after Covid: lessons from lockdown for resilience and recovery. King’s College London 2021
  • Global gender gap report 2021. World Economic Forum. 
  • Only eight of UK’s top 100 companies headed by women, The Guardian, 2021
  • Women still face a glass ceiling, The Guardian, 2021
  • ONS Annual survey of hours and earnings - workplace analysis, 2021
  • ONS (User requested) Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) – Estimates of hourly earnings excluding overtime and the gender pay gap for local enterprise partnership area (LEP) by age-group, 2019


Notes to Editors:

Dorset LEP

Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership is a business led private and public sector partnership, promoting local economic growth and prosperity. Dorset LEP deliver projects that support and develop infrastructure, housing, skills, enterprise and business growth to achieve long-term economic benefit for all in Dorset.

For more information visit the Dorset LEP website www.dorsetlep.co.uk/



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