Encouraging girls to study science and maths so they can take up careers in higher paid jobs will do more to close the gender pay gap than compulsory equal pay audits, say business leaders.
The call by the Confederation of British Industry has come in response to recommendations by MPs examining the continuing gender pay gap in British workplaces.
The report by the Trade & Industry Select Committee on occupational segregation and the gender pay gap criticised employers for not doing enough to close the gap.
“We were surprised that employers in general seem unaware of the desirability of, or at least are slow to take action on, attracting non-traditional recruits and retaining existing staff,” it said.
It called for greater co-ordination between public bodies on the issue, better education and training and urged the Government to consider a review of its equal pay legislation to make it more effective.
The persistent undervaluing of women in the workplace was a “major obstacle” to equality between men and women, it added.
Significant number of schools considered finding work placements for their students an “onerous” task, often leaving it to individual pupils to sort out, the MPs complained.
Employers and trade unions needed to do more to tackle the “overtly sexist” culture in many workplaces.
But CBI deputy director-general John Cridland warned that compulsory equal pay audits were not the answer.
The pay gap between men and women had narrowed from 37 per cent in 1970 to 14 per cent today, he added.
“The causes of the pay gap are much more complex than just unfair discrimination. We need to give more choices to women who are trying to balance work with family responsibilities, for example through better childcare or more flexible working. We also need to improve careers advice to encourage more women into higher paying jobs,” he said.
“Equal pay audits have a role to play but they are not a magic bullet and could well divert attention away from more effective ways of closing the pay gap,” he added.
Instead, the CBI said it wanted more girls to be encouraged to study subjects such as science and maths and more business-focused work experience to be offered to girls.
Girls needed to be encouraged to consider apprentice programmes in areas such as engineering, while there should also be a drive to promote life-long learning among women who return to the labour market after time out.
Other recommendations included developing mentoring and networking schemes still further, helping female entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses (and raising the profile of these success stories) and encouraging innovative ways of recruiting in sectors with few women.
“Many employers already undertake equal pay audits but as part of their wider work on gender equality,” said Cridland.
“Making pay audits compulsory would have little impact on the gender pay gap but would put a real burden on companies. Gathering and analysing the data would be a big task. Many small firms would not have the resources or expertise,” he added.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the report needed to be “spur to action” for both the Government and employers.