The UK would cut its gender pay gap by more than a fifth if the lowest-paid jobs were evenly distributed among men and women, according to new analysis. 

A slew of large firms have published their gender pay gap figures in the run-up to the 4 April deadline for reporting, but much of the focus has been on the gulf between the highest-paid men and women.

The Resolution Foundation described these gaps as “indefensible”, but said the fact that women are far more likely to work in low-paid sectors and jobs is a key driver of the gender pay gap, and should be given more attention.

More than 20 per cent of all female workers are low paid compared to just 14 per cent of men, the think tank said. Low paid is defined as earning less than two-thirds of the typical hourly wage, or approximately £8.55 per hour in April 2018.

If, instead of this sharp gender divide, those low-paid jobs were evenly distributed between men and women so that 18 per cent of both men and women were low paid, 21 per cent of the overall gender pay gap across British workers would be closed, according to the analysis.

Low-paying sectors often have smaller gender pay gaps than higher-paying sectors, the foundation’s research found. In accommodation and food services, for instance, the average mean gender pay gap is just under 8 per cent, compared to more than 26 per cent for firms in financial and insurance activities.

For employers, action should include providing clear routes for progression for women in low-paid roles, including designing more senior jobs that can be done with flexible working as standard. The government could also do more to ensure public spending on childcare helps lower-paid workers, not just existing higher income users, and spread the entitlement to (and take-up of) paternity leave.

“It’s brilliant that the gender pay gap is receiving more scrutiny,” said Conor D’Arcy, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation. 

“The coverage so far has mainly focused on gaps that result from a lack of women in senior positions in a firm, or the pay of women at prominent organisations such as the BBC. These stories need telling, but so too do the stories of the ‘silent majority’ of low-paid women.”