ICELAND’S women stopped working and went home at 1438hrs last Tuesday to protest gender pay inequality; that’s the exact time Iceland’s women effectively stopped being paid, because men are paid more on average to work a full day.

I’m not sure what time women in Scotland would have to stop work but at the snail’s pace of change in this area young women starting work today will be retiring before gender parity becomes a reality.

There is a clear economic case for addressing the pay gap but Anna Ritchie Allan, manager at Close the Gap, says the pace of change is “glacial”.

“Initiatives to increase the number of women on boards and in senior positions are laudable but of little relevance to most working women,” she said. “We need substantive action to lift women on the bottom rung of the ladder out of poverty.

“The causes of the pay gap go far beyond pay discrimination. The stark segregation between the different types of work that men and women do finds women doing undervalued, low-paid jobs such as cleaning, caring and retail. Women still do the bulk of unpaid caring, and coupled with a lack of flexible working, it makes them less likely to be found in higher-paid, senior positions. A lack of quality part-time work means women are simply in the wrong jobs for their skill and qualification level. This economic inefficiency is a drag on growth, employers are failing to harness women’s skills and talents, and that’s worth £17bn to Scotland’s economy.”

Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) has highlighted women-led businesses contribute a minimum of £5bn gross value added (GVA) to the economy, and yet Scotland’s rates of female business ownership are low compared to similar countries. It’s estimated that closing this “enterprise gap” would increase Scotland’s GVA to nearly £13bn, equivalent to a 5.3 per cent growth in the size of Scotland’s economy.

Anna Meikle, policy manager at WES, says due to the size of business and the sectors in which many women’s businesses are located, few currently meet the thresholds that would identify them as “high growth”, effectively excluding them from accessing growth support. She says these type of policies need to be addressed.

Increasing women in the workforce by one per cent would add £100million to the Scottish economy, so encouraging women back to work is crucial.

Equate Scotland is funded for a year by the Scottish Government to support women returners to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Women in STEM is critical for Scotland’s economy – estimates suggest increasing the number of women in STEM jobs is worth £170 million.

Talat Yaqoob, director, says: “We must open the doors to business and entrepreneurship to women – that means challenging biases and misconceptions and having a business industry that values women’s leadership.

“More women in STEM would have a huge impact, particularly on the advancement of technology. STEM products are used by everyone, so if you have a diverse team behind product design you consequently have a product that is more likely to be representative of the needs of more people.”

Michelle Rodger is a communications consultant