The job market is "bleak" for women and conditions for those seeking work have deteriorated in the cost of living crisis, a leading employment charity has claimed.

Smart Works has released its Unemployment Index, questioning women across the UK about their fortunes when applying for jobs with the majority saying finding work has been much harder in the past 12 months.

In Scotland, for 2023, figures show women applying for an average of 25 jobs without finding work with 32% remaining out of work for more than a year.

Looking for work was almost a part time job in itself as women reported spending 23 hours a week applying for jobs - but only attending three interviews and rarely receiving feedback on their performance.

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Lucy Hannay, Head of Fundraising and Partnerships, Smart Works Scotland said: "At Smart Works Scotland we have all witnessed the effect the cost-of-living crisis and an increasingly demanding job market is having on our clients.

"They’re finding it harder to secure work, despite applying for more jobs and attending more interviews, and taking jobs that they’re over-qualified for just to make ends meet."

Of the 3700 women interviewed across the UK, 529 were based in Scotland and were supported by Smart Works Scotland at its centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The report revealed that 2023 was a bleak year for women looking for work, with respondents citing challenges such as overly demanding application processes, unclear job descriptions, and a more competitive recruitment market, with the cost-of-living crisis leaving many desperate to find work.

In exploring the barriers women face when seeking employment, the report highlights the damaging effect these challenges have on their lives and those of their loved ones – both financially and psychologically.

Ms Hannay added: "Something needs to change, and we hope by sharing the experiences and aspirations of our clients, together we can support more women into the workforce and make employers realise that women are one of the greatest assets we have in our economy."

Smart Works created the Smart Works Unemployment Index with the desire to raise awareness of the challenges women face when looking for work and amplify the voices of the women it sees in its centres every day.

Founded in 2013, the charity exists to empower women who need help getting into work by dressing them in high quality clothing and providing one-to-one jobs coaching.

At 11 centres UK-wide, Smart Works last year supported women aged from 16 to 73 with 53% of an ethnic minority.

Some 15% of those interviewed in Scotland applied for lower paid and lower skilled work, with many reporting the increasing competitiveness of the job market, as economic difficulties leave many ‘desperate for work’ and applying for roles they feel overqualified for.

For 25% of women, their primary motivator to secure work was to gain a "sense of purpose and identity".

The second biggest motivator was financial security. All the women surveyed came to Smart Works ahead of an upcoming job interview and, after using the charity’s dressing and coaching service, 69% have since secured a job.

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Rabeya Islam, 34, Smart Works Scotland client, Rabeya began her career in her home country of Bangladesh before moving to Ukraine, but the outbreak of war meant she and her young baby relocated again to Scotland.

Despite facing an unfamiliar recruitment process in a new country, Rabeya was confident that she would easily find work in the UK, with eight years of professional experience under her belt.

However, after a couple of months of applying with no progress, she became increasingly frustrated and concerned for herself and her daughter, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis.

One job interview, in particular, made her feel that she had "made a fool of" herself.

She said: "In Ukraine I was working full time, so I was confident and looking forward to getting work in the UK.

"I was applying online for many jobs, but with no success.

"I never expected that I would have trouble looking for work or getting a job.

"When I was finally invited to an interview, I felt like I made a fool of myself.

"I felt really frustrated, because I didn’t even know what I was doing wrong or how I could prepare myself."

Ms Islam heard about the Smark Works service and felt "excited" to have another interview so she could be referred to be dressed and coached by the charity.

She added: "When chatting with the dressers, it was a relief to find out that they didn’t force me to wear anything that I didn’t like.

"They made me feel that it’s okay to wear clothes that are comfortable for me, and my coach reassured me that it’s natural to be nervous and how to manage the nerves.

"After my appointment, I felt more confident and not lost anymore."

After her appointment, Rabeya went on to successfully secure a role as a Support for Learning Worker in a school.

The report makes recommendations to employers to help make the job market more accessible to women, including clear job descriptions with salary, location and options for flexibility listed upfront; employers might offer to reimburse costs associated with applications; and, regardless of salary and the qualifications expected, all roles should be advertised where unemployed people will see them.