Gaining Ground on Equal Pay

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Breaking BarriersDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Women are traditionally uncomfortable with negotiating, and/or haven’t been given the skills to negotiate. There are a variety of reasons for this, including women being conditioned at an early age to focus on the needs of others ahead of their own, and the fact that there can be a penalty for women when they actually do ask. These are two significant reasons why the pay gap exists. Other reasons are being addressed by the State of Massachusetts with the new pay equity law that takes effect next July, banning companies asking potential employees from asking about salary history and not allowing companies to penalize employees for asking their co-workers about salary. Additionally, there is the Boston Women’s Workforce Council a first-in-the-nation public-private partnership working with hundreds of businesses in the Boston area, asking them to take concrete, measurable steps to eliminate the wage gap and report on their progress, employee demographic and salary data anonymously every two years.

Two years ago, the City of Boston partnered with UMass Boston, AAUW, and The Boston Foundation to offer salary negotiation workshops for women, called AAUW Work Smart in Boston. Their ambitious goal is to train 85,000 participants. That number represents half of Boston’s working women, from every neighborhood in the city. Last week the program released their report on the outcomes from the first year of the program, which reached close to 1,800 women. They also held an event celebrating their achievements, and sharing some of their key findings after speaking with 52 participants and conducting focus groups.

The event itself was powerful, but in some surprising ways. First, Mayor Walsh arrived late because he was giving a press conference responding to Trump’s announcement earlier that day that Trump was ending DACA. To say Mayor Walsh was fired up is an understatement. One thing he shared really stuck with us. He said, two years ago when this program was first launched, he didn’t think that today it would be even more important to address gender inequality in the workplace…but sadly it is. This pointed statement underlies two important truths– first, we do not have a federal government that is currently interested in supporting the rights of women. Second, we must focus on local government to succeed where federal government is failing. We also heard from passionate members of the community who care deeply about pay equity. Some were facilitators, others were creators of and contributors to the program, representing various ages and ethnicities. There’s clearly a desire in the community to do more– to find ways to get more groups involved and advance the curriculum for others who have moved beyond the basics. The program is working to address this, and we’re excited to see what’s next.

Here are some hopeful statistics from the report:

  • 87% of workshop attendees identified target salaries, using objective market research to develop an appropriate compensation level
  • 73% benchmarked their salaries, using market research to compare their pay level to similar positions
  • 48% either negotiated increased compensation for their existing job or achieved a competitive starting salary for a new job or position
  • 40% started conversations with their supervisors about their work and their value to their employer
  • 29% asked for a raise in their current job
  • 71% referred co-workers, colleagues and/or friends to AAUW Work Smart in Boston

It’s clear that these salary negotiation workshops are effective, but are just one piece to solving the issue of gender fairness in the workplace. We’re thankful that the City of Boston and the State of Massachusetts are doing their part to address this important need. As Mayor Walsh has said, “Closing the gender wage gap is the right thing to do, but it’s also important to the economic vitality of the City of Boston. When women succeed, we all succeed.”

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Photo credit: Gaining Ground on Equal Pay Report