Commission officials however were at pains to point out that most of the 47,860 cases processed in 1995 - up 11 per cent on the previous year - still involved women. Yet the figures that dominated the publication of the commission's annual report yesterday were those referring to complaints from men over growing bias by employers and of overtly discriminatory job advertisements.
While some sources within the commission believe the raw data does not entirely support the contention, official EOC figures showed that there were 820 complaints about job recruitment from men in 1995, compared with 805 from women.
The commission believes the decline of male-dominated heavy industry has forced men to look for "women's work", a trend which has accelerated over the last two years. Many complainants are in their fifties and have been recently made redundant.
Officials believe the difficulties faced by men could increase in future because of the under-achievement of boys at school and while men are increasingly the victims of discrimination, the figures may also be the result of male assertiveness and their readiness to seek redress.
The report also reveals that more than one in ten inquiries about equal pay and three in ten concerning employment issues come from men. The latter involve promotion, dismissal, conditions of work and a small number of sexual harassment cases. Some 43 per cent of inquiries concerning "consumer affairs" also come from male applicants. These complaints involve women- only clubs and training courses. A number concerned the growing practice of clubs offering free drinks to women. However, the bread and butter issues still involve women who "faced considerable discrimination at work", the report points out.
Patrick Butler, 50, has become one of the new male victims of sexual discrimination. Last year the recession put paid to his painting and decorating business and he began to look for work. He applied for a job as resident manager at an old people's home.
The first and second interviews went well and the area manager of Goldsborough Retirement Property Services said the job was as good as his. There was the formality of a chat with the residential committee at the home concerned.
A week later he received a call from the manager saying the committee wanted a woman to replace the incumbent, also a woman.
"There was no doubt about it. I was the victim of sexual discrimination," said Mr Butler. His wife attended the final interview because the job involved accommodation for both of them. The committee asked her if she wanted the job instead. Acas, the conciliation service, got involved in the case and Mr Butler was awarded pounds 8,000 in an out-of-court settlement. The company has since been helped by the EOC to train recruitment staff to avoid bias in future.
Kamlesh Bahl, the EOC's chairwoman, said much progress had been made towards equality between the sexes.
"The key message from our 20 years of experience is that it is only by building equality into everyday life that the progress made so far will continue into the future."