While women's wages have risen over time, in many sectors men's have risen faster.

While women's wages have risen over time, in many sectors men's have risen faster. Photo: Gabriele Charotte

THE mining boom may be pouring billions into the Australian economy, but it appears to be leaving women behind.

New data reveals a growing pay divide between men and women in several industries.

A Fairfax analysis of wage data from the past 17 years shows Canberra as the best place in Australia for women seeking equal pay.

But more than a decade of affirmative action nationally has failed to make a significant dent in the pay gap, with women across the board on average 17.4 per cent - or $13,026 a year - worse off than men in the same jobs, virtually unchanged from 1996.

In New South Wales women were being paid 13.7 per cent less than men in 2012, and in Victoria it was 16.2 per cent, according the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While women's wages have risen over time, in many sectors men's have risen faster. Of the industries with the largest pay gap, mining topped the list as of February.

Women in mining earn about $35,000 a year less than men. In the big mineral states of Western Australia and Queensland, women were least likely to get equal pay.

According to Miriam Stanborough, of the Women in Mining Network - a branch of the Minerals Institute AusIMM - the gap gets worse the higher women climb up the corporate ladder.

A survey of institute members found that women in the top pay bracket were earning about 24 per cent less than men, but that could be changing, she said.

''What we've found is that women tend to step back from more senior or demanding roles when they reach child-bearing age, and re-entering the workforce later can be challenging. And it is true that women can sideline their careers if they're not careful.''

A 2006 Minerals Council of Australia survey found women were much more likely to leave the industry when they reached 34, and programs aimed at women needed to focus on keeping them. Women working in finance and insurance, health care and social assistance, and professional, scientific and technical services, were also the most likely to be paid significantly less than men in the same job. By contrast, the lowest-paid sector of accommodation and food services had the smallest pay gap of $4305.

Federal Parliament is considering a law that would make companies with more than 100 employees report on gender pay issues and flexible work to the Women in the Workforce Agency.

Last year's census also showed an increase in women earning more than their male partners.

The University of Sydney's business school professor of employment relations, Marian Baird, said women's contributions were traditionally undervalued, and some discrimination remained.

''The motherhood factor does contribute to the gap as well, but could be rectified over the longer term,'' she said.

''It can be reduced, and the new Gender Equality in the Workplace legislation will help this, making employers more responsible for recognising their company gaps and responding to industry benchmarks. Information about pay is essential to understand where the gaps are.''

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