The commission will look at:
* promotion and career progression - the 'glass ceiling'
* women's experiences in the job market before and after having
* the different experiences of women working full-time and part-time
The gender pay gap currently stands at 18% for full-time workers and
40% for part-time workers.
Trade and industry secretary and cabinet minister for women Patricia
'The gender pay gap has fallen from a high of 30% in the 1970s and
the employment prospects of women have rocketed in the past 30 years
- but persistent differences in men and women's experience of the
labour market remain.
'Making progress on the gender pay gap is a key priority because we
have to draw on the skills and talents of all potential workers - men
and women. Women have the right to expect a fair deal in the labour
The Women and Work Commission will be chaired by Margaret
Prosser and will begin its work in autumn 2004, reporting to the
prime minister within 12 months. It will make recommendations on
what the government can do to reduce the pay gap and give women fair
opportunities at work.
Full membership of the commission will be announced in autumn and
will encompass men and women from both sides of the social
partnership, education experts, and others from a range of
The government is already working to tackle the causes of the pay gap
in various ways:
* Leading by example - by encouraging large organisations to do equal
pay audits and funding the Equal Opportunities Commission to carry
out this work. The government has also led by example, requiring
every department to carry out its own equal pay review. Recent EOC
figures show that by the end of 2005, 45% of large organisations will
have carried out or begun equal pay reviews.
* Tackling low pay - Three quarters of a million women benefit each
year from the National Minimum Wage, which has contributed to a 2%
drop in the pay gap since 1997.
* Making it easier for women to get equal pay - the government is
simplifying existing procedures for tribunals for women who have
suffered discrimination. It has also introduced a questionnaire
procedure so that women can find out if they are being paid fairly in
line with male colleagues.
* New flexible working rights - so that mothers who want to work
after having children can. The right was introduced in April 2003,
and since then almost 4 in 10 eligible mothers have requested some
form of flexible working arrangement, with employers accepting 8 in
* Providing childcare - since 1997 the National Childcare Strategy
has created over 700,000 new childcare places benefiting over 1.2
million children. The government is on track to meet its target of
creating 1.6 million places in England to help two million children by
The DTI is also set to review maternity, paternity and flexible
working legislation in 2006, taking account of how parents and other
workers juggle work and caring responsibilities. Government
ministers from various departments have been holding round table
discussions with bosses, parents and other employees to talk about
how they are affected by the current flexible working rights.
1. The DTI's Women and Equality Unit has published an easy to
understand guide to equal pay and the causes of the pay gap. It is
available online at www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk/pay/pay.htm
2. The gender pay gap is defined as the percentage difference in
hourly earnings between the average (median) women's and men's
earnings. The most recent figures, published by the Office of
National Statistics, show that the gap for full-time workers is 18%,
and the gap between part-time women workers and full-time male
workers is 40%.
For more details and historical data on the pay gap, see
3. Margaret Prosser is currently chair of the Women's National
Commission, the official, independent, advisory body giving the views
of women to the government. For more information about the WNC see