By Max Clarke

Data recently released by Office for National Statistics show a record closing of the difference in median hourly wages for men, currently at £13.01, and women (£11.68) since 1997.

But, with numbers of jobless women recently topping 1m for the first time in two decades, and the TUC predicting that the large scale public sector job losses will disproportionately affect women; such statistics can be misleading.

Charles Cotton, Adviser on Performance and Reward at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), commented:

“We should treat the findings with an element of caution. The smaller gap is a reflection of the state of the economy between April 2008 and April 2009, when many men were impacted by pay freezes and cuts. Between these dates, by contrast, women saw their pay rise relatively faster, as they are more likely to be covered by public sector deals or increases linked to the national minimum wage. The fear is that this gap could widen as the private sector starts to power ahead in 2011.

“That is not to say that employers are absolved from trying to reduce the pay gap. When significant amounts of investor or tax payer money is being spent on salary and wages it’s important to ensure that pay reflects employee performance, behaviours and skills, rather than prejudice and bias.”