I am sure many young women were as surprised as I was to hear recently that they apparently earn more in their 20s than young men. I am sad to say, however, that rumours of the gender pay gap's demise are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, it first appears before young women have even landed their first proper job.
While the figures compiled by the Press Association did show that young women aged 20-30 earn, on average, a very small amount more than young men this isn't down to their pay packets getting bigger, it is down to a decrease in the average mount young men are taking home.
Make no mistake, the gender pay gap is real and, as Young Women's Trust will highlight this week, it first appears with a vengeance in apprenticeships. A poll by ComRes, commissioned by Young Women's Trust to launch its new apprenticeships campaign, shows that on average young men are earning 21% more than young women while doing an apprenticeship. According to the poll, female apprentices earn just £4.82 an hour compared with £5.85 an hour for male apprentices. That means a young woman working 35 hours a week will be £2,000 worse off over the course of a year.
One reason is that the sectors that provide the best pay are the ones that mainly provide apprenticeships to young men, such as construction and engineering. According to official figures less than 2% of construction apprentices are female and less than 4% of engineering apprentices. Even in IT & Telecoms the figure only rises to 12%.
So, how do we go about changing things so that more women want to work in male-dominated sectors? I have heard first-hand how tough it can be if you are the only woman in a workplace. And how do we change the seemingly perpetual problem of female-dominated sectors also generally being those that are low-paid?
Maybe young women know that they are likely to get less pay in administration, health care and retail than they would in construction or engineering but what they won't know, and what the poll we commissioned unfortunately shows, is that female apprentices are less likely to receive training.
A fundamental aspect of apprenticeships is the combination of training at work, training outside of work and practical work experience - take those away and an apprenticeship is really just a way of employers obtaining (very) cheap labour. Don't forget, many apprentices will be paid less than the amounts mentioned above; the National Minimum Wage for apprentices is just £2.73 an hour (increasing to £3.30 an hour from October) for apprentices under the age of 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship.
Young women will also be disappointed to discover that they are less likely than young men to end up with a job when their apprenticeship ends. So working for little has little or no payback in the long run. After a year or two, young women are likely to be back on low or no pay - reliant on benefits either way.
I don't want to see any young person exploited like this but I am concerned that young women are subject to discrimination we would no longer accept if it concerned race, religion or disability.
Surely it is time to change things, time to offer a future to those young women who tell me they simply want a job, whose talents are being wasted by society and who are forced to rely on benefits when they could be contributing so much more to the economy?