Referring to differences of up to pounds 20,000 a year at some universities, Julie Mellor, who chairs the commission, said there was an urgent need for employers in all parts of industry to conduct the kind of analysis produced by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education to discover the full extent of the wage divide.
Ms Mellor pointed out that the financial sector generally came out the worst with many women earning little more than half of the salaries commanded by their male colleagues. However, pay discrimination was "still hidden", she said. "Until an organisation takes responsibility and decides to do an analysis they won't know. The trouble is, it's a British taboo. We don't talk about earnings.
"Senior managers often ask me if the pay gap between men and women really is 20 per cent. They invariably say it doesn't happen in their own organisation. But they don't know if they don't conduct an audit. Whenever research is done, people are shocked."
The question was not only one of men being paid more for the same or similar jobs, Ms Mellor said, it was the fact that women were not promoted through the grades.
Analysis of official data by Nicola Allison of the research group Incomes Data Services showed that female doctors on an average pounds 821.10 a week, pharmacists on pounds 483.40, and university lecturers on pounds 546 were paid up to one-fifth less than their male counterparts.
The median pay of male civil servants stands at pounds 19,000 compared with pounds 14,000 for women, according to official figures. And out of the top 3,000 jobs in the Civil Service - where pay ranges from pounds 41,550 to pounds 168,910 - just 18 per cent are filled by women. Among the most senior 600, the proportion drops to 13 per cent.
Alan Churchard, deputy general secretary of the PCS Civil Service union, said the Government had agreed to increase the proportions respectively to 35 per cent and 25 per cent. "These are ambitious targets. They are going to have to make a hell of a lot more progress than they have over the last few years."
Female teachers encounter a similar problem. In secondary schools, 53 per cent of staff are women on salaries of up to pounds 23,193 in basic grades. But only 27 per cent of head teachers - most of whom earn between pounds 41,868 and pounds 52,194 - are women.
Throughout the economy the average weekly wage of women in full-time work is pounds 309.60 - 72 per cent of the male median of pounds 427.10.
Women in the banking, finance and insurance sector earn just 55.6 per cent of the wage paid to their male counterparts who receive an average of pounds 678.10. In education, women earn 84.9 per cent of the average male earnings of pounds 440.80. Female craft workers earn 63.9 per cent of the male average of pounds 367 a week.
THE SALARY DIVIDE
Male Female Female/
average average Male
pounds /week pounds /week %
Medical practitioners 1003.3 821.1 81.8
Pharmacists 589.0 483.4 82.1
University professionals 658.4 546.0 82.9
Secondary school teachers 529.1 467.5 88.4
Primary school teachers 503.0 450.2 89.5
Solicitors 787.9 661.2 83.9
Chartered accountants 624.1 531.9 85.2
Social workers 413.2 391.2 94.7
Nurses 414.7 380.0 91.6
All 442.4 326.5 73.8
Information from the 1999 New Earnings SurveyReuse content