Although the pay gap between men and women has been narrowing slowly over the last 15 years, it is still a problem in the workplace:

from the boardroom to the shopfloor, across the private sector and the public, in full-time jobs and part-time, women are consistently paid less than men.

Almost everyone agrees this has to change and that the gap must be narrowed, but tackling the issue has not been easy, partly due to the fact the British do not like to talk about their pay. This reluctance is understandable - talking about how much you earn is still seen as boastful or rude - but the consequence of the silence is that the pay gap persists in the workplace: invisible and unspoken.

Jo Swinson, the Equalities Minister, has been a strong campaigner in this area and in her most recent contribution to the debate, raises an interesting question: should women ask their male colleagues what they are paid, and should men tell them?

Ms Swinson's argument is that this needs to happen if pay equality is to be achieved; men and women should be more open, she says, because it is only then that women will realise they are being paid less than male colleagues.

In some ways the logic of the argument is inescapable - if we knew what everyone was paid, it would be easier to fix the differences - but it does not necessarily lead to anywhere useful. It is unlikely, for example, that the cultural change needed to make men and women more frank about money will come any time soon and legislating to force men to reveal their pay to their female colleagues would be a step too far.

However, there are other important measures which should be taken to address the issue and some of them are already beginning to happen. For instance, the Coalition Government (legislation on equal pay is reserved to Westminster) plans to change the law to require employment tribunals to order an employer to carry out an equal pay audit where the employer is found to have broken equal pay law.

This measure will help, although Ms Swinson has also been warning that the Government might impose equal pay audits on companies if the pay gap does not improve. There would be dangers in such a move - not least the expense and administration required from companies - but if progress is not made, it may be that the Government will have to look at making audits more a way of life for businesses; one idea might be to require companies to reveal pay differentials as part of their annual audits.

However, there are two other factors which have a much greater influence. The first is the lack of affordable childcare, which is still a significant barrier to women finding full-time, well-paid work and means women remain clustered into lower-paid, public sector jobs.

The second factor is the gender disparity at the top of British businesses - where the decisions about pay are made but where women are still in a small minority. Until that changes - and it may require enforced targets to achieve it - absolute equality for women at work will remain a fine ambition that is still a long way from being achieved.