The Biggest Industries for Women

The Biggest Industries for Women

Read Time: 6 Minutes


26 Feb 2019

Updated: 7 Jun 2022

Women in the UK Workforce

We’ve analysed twenty years of UK labour market data to gain insight into the current shape of the workforce for female employees. Our research has revealed the biggest and fastest growing industries for women in the UK, as well as highlighting which sectors are seeing the most success when it comes to closing the gender diversity gap.

The results show where opportunities are opening up for women setting out on a new career path or thinking of setting up a business. For businesses themselves, our findings should prompt managers to assess their own gender diversity gap and think of ways they can encourage more female workers in their sector, if there is an imbalance.


The Biggest Industries for Women

Our first port of call when establishing where opportunities for women exist was to assess which industries are currently employing the most women, numerically. Across the UK, the top biggest industries for employment of women (as of September 2018) are:

Currently, there is only one STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industry in the top ten biggest industries for women, compared to three in the same list for men. There has been some change in this top ten in the last 20 years, with residential care entering the list, and retail dropping from the number one spot to number three as the number of women in education and healthcare continues to grow.

To reveal where new opportunities are opening up for women, we also analysed which UK industries are currently the fastest growing for women, comparing job numbers across the last twenty years.

Growth within these industries is dependent on both overall industry growth and an increase in the percentage of women making up the workforce. Five of the industries on this list also feature on a ranking of the top ten industries for closing the diversity gap (see below). 

The fastest growing industries do indicate that higher numbers of women are entering sectors traditionally dominated by men, notably computer programming appearing at number two, as well as security and investigation, and sale and repair of motor vehicles. 

Despite this, like the biggest industries for women, the fastest growing industries only include two STEM representatives. In contrast, the same list for men includes five STEM industries, indicating more work is needed to get women working in these sectors.


Closing the Gender Diversity Gap

When investigating where opportunities for women in the workforce are improving it’s important to analyse not just numbers, but how much of each industry’s workforce is made up of women. Currently, almost three quarters (72%) of UK industries still employ more men than women, based on statistics from September 2018. 

This indicates a substantial gender diversity gap in the UK that industries need to invest time into solving. 
Currently, the industries employing the highest percentage of women are:

As with the lists above, there is a lack of STEM industries on this ranking, with veterinary sciences and healthcare making up the only representatives. Even within these two industries, women are under-represented in higher-level jobs. Just 7% of women who work in the healthcare sector are registered doctors, compared to almost one-third (31%) of men. Veterinary services demonstrate a similar issue. Only one-quarter of women (25%) who work in the veterinary services are registered veterinary surgeons, compared to over two-thirds (69%) of men.

Meanwhile, many industries traditionally linked with women, such as retail, care and textiles, continue to be in the minority of industries made up of a high percentage of women.

There has been some progress in UK industries towards closing the gender diversity gap. The industries that have made the most progress in this area, since 1998 are:

Three STEM industries, manufacture of fuel, scientific research and development, and manufacture of basic metals, feature on this top ten, indicating that there is some movement towards gender equality in this area. 

There has also been work done toward equalling the gender diversity gap towards men, in industries previously dominated by women. The percentage of men making up the retail industry workforce has increased by 17 percentage points since 1998.


Assessing your Business

The data above shows where new opportunities are opening up for women in the UK workforce. But in addition to this, the data also indicates where progress still needs to be made. This should highlight to businesses in sectors that are lagging behind that they should be reviewing their recruitment process to see how they can get more women on the payroll.

This could be down to interview pools and panels, job adverts, and other aspects of recruitment and company culture, or it may stretch further back to the recruitment of students into relevant subject areas. 

A great starting point for your business is conducting a gender analysis. There are a number of ways to conduct a gender analysis, but one of the best for entire organisations is the ‘Three R’ method, developed in Sweden. The ‘Three R’ method involves analysing the following:

  1. Representation – The numbers in your business. What are the proportions of men and women in your workforce? What do these look like across different departments and leadership levels?
  2. Resources – How are resources distributed between men and women? Is pay equal? Do they get access to the same training?
  3. Reality – Are the interests of men and women taken into account in your business? Are men and women getting equal use from benefits packages?

A gender analysis like this should get you well on your way to understanding any underlying issues or imbalance within your company. From here you can implement a proactive policy to improve a possible gender imbalance in your company and help achieve equality, not only in staff numbers, but in pay and company culture too.



All findings in this study have been established through careful analysis of labour market data, sourced from the Office of National Statistics. Data from September 1998 to September 2018 has been analysed to return comparative data.



About the Author

Hi! I’m Laura and I’m the Head of instantprint. I’m dedicated to using my experience to help small businesses make the most out of their marketing.