Griselda Togobo, the managing director of the networking organisation Forward Ladies, made the comments as new figures revealed that the gender pay gap stands at 18.5 per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber, which is higher than the national average.
Across the UK, the gender pay gap stands at a record low of 18.1 per cent, according to the Government, and it estimates that eliminating work-related gender pay gaps could add £150bn to annual GDP (gross domestic product) by 2025.
Ms Togobo said: “Today has been labelled equal pay day, and for the first time employers will be required to publish their gender pay gap.
And it’s about time. There’s a risk of going backwards and losing some of the rights that women have fought for over many years.”
She added: “Britain’s gender pay gap has been consistent over the years and any progress is laughably slow. Women still earn significantly less than men on average and the gulf shows no sign of closing; with campaigners claiming it will take over 60 years to close at the current rate of progress.
“The root of this problem is down to the work and commitment of women, and how in our modern society, women are significantly undervalued – even when both men and women are required to have the same education and skills, and they are performing the same job within the same organisation.”
Ms Togobo said the Government is committed to ensuring the gap is eliminated within a generation, but she was not convinced this was translating into action in corporate Britain.
She added: “Gender pay reporting puts large employers, including the public sector, in the spotlight as they publish their gender pay gap and gender bonus gap for the first time.
“But this quite simply is not enough. It’s vital that the Government puts more weight behind measures needed to ensure employers tackle pay discrimination, improved flexible working, mentoring and paternity leave head on, and help get more women into senior posts and their rightful position.”
Rachel Hannan, a Yorkshire-based business investor, said that reporting gender pay gaps was helpful in focusing employers’ attention on the importance and benefits of fair and transparent pay arrangements, where job role and contribution, rather than gender, is the key driver of pay.
She added: “However, we need to be careful that we are interpreting the data correctly, and it is used to illustrate instances of clearly unfair practice, rather than ‘naming and shaming’ companies who are more progressive in terms of gender pay... but given their industries, and the fairly broad brush metrics being collated, their raw data might give a less favourable impression.”
Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening, said: “We have more women in work, more women-led businesses than ever before and the highest proportion of women on the boards of our biggest companies.
“This has helped us to narrow the gender pay gap to a record 18.1 per cent – but we want to eliminate it completely.
“Helping women to reach their full potential isn’t only the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense and is good for business. I am proud that the UK is championing gender equality and now those employers that are leading the way will clearly stand out with these requirements.”
The UK is one of the first countries to require companies to report gender pay gaps. Voluntary, private and public sector employers with 250 or more employees will be required to publish their figures by April 2018.
Andy Tuscher, the regional head of the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said the transparency the data would drive is important, but he added: “Just a handful of engineering apprentices and graduates are female and far too few young girls are studying those all-important STEM subjects.
“Until we are able to move the dial on female recruitment we are unlikely to see much movement on closing the gender pay gap.”