Women are the losers in pay game

They May be playing with the boys - but they aren't being paid like the boys. While women are beginning to break through the glass ceiling and make it to the top, they are still not paid as much as their male colleagues.

Last week it emerged that Sue MacGregor, presenter of BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme, is paid pounds 20,000 less than co-presenters John Humphrys and James Naughtie. Same hours, same responsibilities, yet she gets pounds 100,000 a year and they get pounds 120,000.

Twenty-two years after the Equal Pay Act, the case of Miss MacGregor, 55, is by no means exceptional. A recent surveyfound that while women journalists may start out on the same salaries as men, by the time they reach their thirties they earn nearly 20 per cent less.

Dr Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, concludes that the main explanation is that men are more likely to put in the long hours and continuous employment that lead to top jobs. "However," she says, "a subsidiary factor, accounting for maybe one-quarter to one-third of the gap, seems to be discrimination... that excludes women from top jobs and the highest earnings."

In other professions the pay picture is much the same. Last year actresses Caroline Quentin and Leslie Ash threatened to pull out of the TV comedy Men Behaving Badly after discovering they were each paid pounds 25,000 less than their male co-stars, Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey.

Among solicitors, the median salary of male equity partners is pounds 52,530, while that of female equity partners is pounds 33,000. A Law Society report concluded that "gender had a significant effect on remuneration". A survey of 393 female accountants revealed a similar picture.

James Reed, chief executive of Reed Personnel Services, says women must stand up for themselves: "Be direct, be honest, be assertive, and back it with tangible evidence of your contribution to the organisation."