Page last updated at 13:29 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 14:29 UK

Gender pay gap 'not being closed'

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More women should be pushed towards non-traditional roles, the study says

A lack of government action to tackle gender stereotypes in schools has contributed to women's pay failing to catch up with men's, a report has said.

The Women and Work Commission, which was established to consider how to close the gender pay gap, said it had widened to 22.6% from 21.9% in 2007.

Three years after its first report, the commission said women were still being pushed into "traditional" jobs.

It called for a strategy to tackle stereotyping in careers advice.

"The government is committed to tackling inequalities in the workplace and progress has been made across the public sector and in helping women get the skills and training they need," said Baroness Margaret Prosser, chair of the commission.

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"But ministers must match commitment with fundamental change that will make a real difference - starting in our schools," she added.

Harriet Harman, minister for women and equality, said the government was "acting across the board" to tackle the gender divide.

She also vowed to work towards making pay discrimination a thing of the past saying: "We will ban secrecy clauses in employment contracts so that women can challenge unfair pay.

"And we will encourage business to report on gender pay, but let us make no mistake: if voluntary measures do not work we will take stronger measures to ensure equal pay for women."

The latest report was compiled by the commission three years after it published its Shaping a Fairer Future report - which set out 40 recommendations for tackling the gender divide at work.

Persistent problems

While good progress had been made in key areas like childcare and the right to request flexible working, the commission remained "disappointed" in the lack of overall progress.

It added that the gender pay gap still "stubbornly persists despite monumental changes in women's position in the workplace" with more needing to be done to promote quality flexible and part time work.

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Breaking down stereotypes at school should now be the government's priority to ensure girls are not funnelled into the "five c" careers - caring, cashiering, clerical, cleaning and catering - where pay levels tend to be lower.

"We need to make our schools the nurturing ground for ambition so that everyone has the opportunity to use their talents to the full," Baroness Prosser added.

Among the 43 recommendations put forward in the review were:

• Work experience placements for girls in occupations where women are traditionally not well represented

• Buddy programme to team girls together on placements in non-traditional sectors to help with their confidence

• Similar buddy system for apprenticeships and diplomas to allow participants to speak to successful women in similar jobs

• A careers adviser trained in challenging gender and socio-economic stereotyping for every school

• In childcare, the government should consider what could be done to boost wages and professionalise the sector, which still attracts mainly women workers

'Wake-up call'

Anna Mann, senior partner at headhunters MWM Consulting and leader of the Women for Boards initiative that aims to increase the number of women directors at leading companies, said: "Most companies are crying out for qualified female candidates, but the fact is that there are still too few women with the experience to take on these roles.

"What women need is support to develop the experience and networks they will need to step into senior roles later down the line," she added.

However, Kat Banyard, campaigns officer of the Fawcett Society - which campaigns for equality between men and women - said she was disappointed by the focus of the report.

I routinely characterise the credit crunch as 'men behaving badly' - because it's almost impossible to find a woman to blame
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"The largest single cause of the pay gap is discrimination, the solution is not less segregation of roles, but paying women what they are worth," she added.

"Women are also being paid less by employers than their male counterparts, yet employers are under no obligation to check that women are not paid less."

The government has "a once-in-a-generation opportunity" with the Equality Bill to tackle the problem by carrying out audits to check when and where there is a pay gap, Ms Banyard added.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber added that the report was a "stern wake-up call" to anyone who thought the pay gap was near an end.

Andrea Murray the Acting Group Director of Strategy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission added that the report highlighted the "urgent changes" needed to reflect the make-up of the British population and attract and retain the best employees.



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