The Scottish Government "clearly lags behind" England and Wales when it comes to the number of women who hold top jobs in the Civil Service, a new report has revealed.

In 2015 the proportion of senior Civil Service (SCS) posts in the Scottish Government that are held by women dropped to 35%, the same as in 2011, research by professional services firm EY found.

In England the rate rose from 35% in 2011 to 39% in 2015, while in the Welsh Government 47% of leading Civil Service posts are held by females, up from 38% in 2011.

The EY report said in 2013 women made up 40% of senior civil servants in the Scottish Government and stated: "In comparison to Wales and England Scotland clearly lags behind."

Overall the UK ranks fourth in the G20 and first among European G20 nations on the proportion of women who are senior government officials, with a rate of 38.7% - putting it 1.1 percentage points behind South Africa, 1.4 points behind Australia and a more substantial 7.4 points behind the leader, Canada.

However Scotland did have one of the smallest pay gaps in the Civil Service at 0.6%, compared with the UK average of 6.3% difference between male and female senior civil servants in core departments.

The research found that the UK Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) was the only one with a pay differential which favoured women, who on average earn 1.5% more than their male counterparts.

Neil MacLean, head of government and public sector at EY in Scotland, said: "Scotland's public sector is a leading example in terms of equal pay. These figures prove Scotland is edging closer to eliminating the gender pay inequality and sets a fine example.

"However, disparity still exists in Scotland and the wider UK despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act proving legislation alone isn't enough.

"There needs to be a concerted effort across the Civil Service to tackle the hidden economic and social barriers that stand in the way of equal pay for women."

He added: "In the future we can expect the representation of women in senior government positions in Scotland to expand. Nicola Sturgeon set the agenda following her appointment as the first female First Minister of Scotland in 2014 when she selected a 50/50 gender balanced Cabinet, only the third in the developed world at the time.

"Further measures are being taken to improve on female representation in Civil Service which, when coupled with the small gender pay gap, demonstrates the commitment of Scotland's public sector to gender parity."

The Scottish Government's Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, told the report: "The Scottish Government has been working hard to address the gender pay gap in our organisation and it's encouraging to see these results."

The Scottish Government also encourages public, private and third sector bodies to commit to having a 50/50 gender balance on their boards by 2020.

Ms Evans added: "This is part of a broader commitment to improving women's equality and tackling gender segregation across Scottish society.

"Proposed new regulations will extend the requirement on public bodies in Scotland to publish information on their gender pay gap and equal pay statements. This will mean greater transparency with all bodies of more than 20 employees required to disclose this information.

"So we can't rest on our laurels but will continue to lead by example by making this a priority at every level of the Scottish Government."