MORE than 40 years on from the Equal Pay Act, women are still likely to earn less than men. Recent decades have seen major advances in equality legislation: equal marriage has been fought for and won, and landmark pieces of legislation such as the Race Relations Act and the Disability Equality Duty Act introduced. So why does this particular feature of 1970s inequality still persist?

The “gender pay gap” is more than “equal pay”. Paying men and women different rates for the same, or similar, work has been illegal for decades. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still examples of it – witness the deplorable situation at Glasgow City Council. Women who were victims of discriminatory pay policies waited years just to have their claims investigated. I’m confident the new SNP administration will take all the steps necessary to deliver justice to these women.

But the gender pay gap – the fact that, on average, women’s hourly pay rate across the economy is significantly less than men’s – is a more complex problem. Occupational segregation is a major factor: women and men are still employed, overall, in different kinds of jobs, often as a consequence of gender-based stereotypes which can influence career choices from an early age.

Women are expected to go into the “caring” professions, and men into technical work. Having more women go into STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – careers can go a long way towards redressing this imbalance, as can getting more men into traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as the care and early learning sectors.

Seeing more men in those roles will also help us to break the ideological link between women and care, the idea of the female as caregiver, another outdated gender stereotype that needs to be challenged. Eight per cent of women are economically inactive because they are looking after the house and/or family, compared to only one per cent of men.

Having primary childcare or family responsibilities often restricts people to part-time work, or means they miss out on chances for promotion and professional development. More flexibility in working arrangements and greater access to childcare, a key policy of the Scottish Government, are important steps.

Closing the pay gap isn’t just good for women, the benefits to the whole economy are significant. They include a potential £17 billion increase in Scottish GDP, according to a recent report, expanding Scotland’s economy in a sustainable and balanced way, driving inclusive growth, decreasing inequality of income, and creating jobs.

The Scottish Government is focused on this and making some progress. The gender wage gap in Scotland has been reducing and is consistently lower than the UK’s. Scotland also performs better than the UK in female employment and economic activity rates. But there is a long way to go and there’s no room for complacency. Inequality hurts everybody. There is no single solution to ending the gender pay gap but it must be done.