As soon as women break through the "glass ceiling" they tend to be judged on their merits to a greater extent, according to Tuvia Melamed of Anglia Polytechnic University.
In a study of 1,200 men and women in a wide range of jobs and industries, Dr Melamed discovered that men earned on average pounds 20,700 and women pounds 14,700. He found that overall 20 per cent of the difference in pay was attributable to simple prejudice. For middle managers, however, the proportion rose to 40 per cent. Among junior employees, only 2 per cent was the result of direct discrimination. For women who had broken through the "glass ceiling" and become senior managers and top executives, between 11 per cent and 15 per cent of the difference was caused by prejudice. "If you manage to progress through to this level you are judged more on your abilities," Dr Melamed said.
Women also, however, suffered from indirect discrimination where employers sought personal qualities which were normally associated to a greater extent with men.
Addressing the conference, Dr Melamed said that from the late 1970s the relative wages of men and women in full-time jobs were on a "slowly convergent path". This process seemed to have been set in motion by the Equal Pay Act which came into force in 1976, but the move to equality was not yet finished.
Recent figures suggested that women's salaries were about 72 per cent of men's. While in 1970 women earned only 62 per cent of men's wages, today there was still a 28 per cent differential.