Dr Theresa Simpkin is Head of the Leadership and Management Department at the Lord Ashcroft International Business School and she warns that unless action is taken, the situation is going to get worse.

“Women make up 46 per cent of the workplace but only 27 per cent of the higher taxpayers,” she says. “There is a 10 per cent pay difference at entry level and a 30 per cent difference higher levels in sectors such as medicine. Across the board, women earn around 20 per cent less than men. In essence that means women stop getting paid for their work on November 4th and from November 5th to December 31st they are working for free in comparison to male annual wages.”

The problem is more acute in some areas that have traditionally been seen as male. “Women make up only around 9% of the STEM workforce and of those studying subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths at university, only around half make it into a STEM occupation.  That’s a lot of skills wastage and it needs to change” she says.

This has been traditionally looked at as a women’s issue but it is actually far more than that. “Equalising women’s participation in the workforce could add 35% to the nation’s GDP,” she says. “As it is there is a skills gap qualified women could fill, especially in science and engineering, which would make economic sense for everyone. Currently employers pay up to 30 per cent more to bring graduates in from abroad to fill skills gaps.”

The problem is buried deep, however, and needs to be tackled from a very early age. “There is still a stereotype that men are good at perceived hard science like engineering and maths whereas women are better at so called soft stuff such as the arts,” she says. “We have to make a concerted effort to get rid of outdated stereotypes that are embedded in the home, schools and the workforce. But this is not about getting men to hire more women: it is about understanding that if we don’t open up opportunities for talented people regardless of gender, we will be left behind in economic and social terms.”