Let’s Talk About the Gender Wage Gap: How Boston is Fighting to Achieve Equal Pay

Yes, it’s true. One of the major inequalities women are still facing today is the gender wage gap. Generally, in the United States, women make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. However, in Boston, women make only 77 cents for a man’s dollar. Nationally, if the wage gap continues to close at the rate it has for the past few decades, women won’t reach pay equity until the year 2059. To gather more information on this continuing issue, I talked to Brenna Callahan, the Policy and Communications Manager at the Office of Women’s Advancement in City Hall, who explained what the gender wage gap is like in Boston and what people can do to help.

Unfortunately, the wage gap is something women have been dealing with ever since they entered the workforce. Over time, the gap has slowly started to close; however, it generally varies depending on other factors, such as race.

“On average, black women make 63 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic or Latina women make 54 cents. Asian women make about 87 cents and white women about 79 cents,” Brenna said. Although all women still experience the wage gap, it isn’t the same for everyone.

However, the wage gap hasn’t been completely ignored for the past couple of decades. The U.S. has tried to make progress. Notably, in 1963, President John F. Kennedy attempted to eliminate the wage gap with his Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay men more than women for doing the same job. However, over fifty years later women are still facing the negative effects of the wage gap. Though the EPA prohibits sex-based wage discrimination, it does not account for discrimination on other factors such as seniority, merit, and productivity. Since the language of the EPA is vague, it is hard for women to prove that they are paid less than their male co-workers solely based on gender.

Photo Credit: NPR

If national legislation didn’t work, what are we doing instead? Brenna explained to me how we have to apply a multi-pronged system, which addresses employers, individual women, and legislation. These three parts each have their own role and have been put in place in Boston.

“The City of Boston’s pay equity model is a first-in-the-nation approach and no other cities have implemented anything as holistic,” Brenna said. “Our model, by way of three components, addresses both policy & culture. No other municipalities have analyzed employer-reported wage data to measure progress against, though plenty of cities and states have municipal initiatives and non-profits that are designed to address best practices.”

For employers, Mayor Marty Walsh created the Boston Women’s Workforce Council in partnership with the City of Boston and BU. Brenna explained that the BWWC “is tasked with working with businesses in the Greater Boston area to eliminate the gender-based wage gap, remove the visible and invisible barriers to women’s advancement, and ensure that 100% of the talent pool is used to make Boston the best area in the country for working women.”

“The bulk of the Council’s work focuses on 100% Talent: The Boston Women’s Compact. The Compact is a first-in-the-nation, public-private partnership in which businesses pledge to take concrete, measurable steps to eliminate the wage gap in their company and to report their progress and employee demographics and salary data anonymously every two years. 223 businesses have signed on, including multiple Fortune 500 companies, with new signatories being added regularly. The first report was published in January of 2017 and is the first report of its kind.”

For individual women, the Office of Women’s Advancement has provided free salary negotiation workshops to the working women in Boston. Their goal is to train 85,000 women by 2021, at least half of Boston’s working women.

“It’s important to note that closing the gender wage gap is not just up to women, but women have been socialized differently than men, and data tells us they don’t ask for what they are worth. The free workshops address four topics to provide women with the key tools and skills to use when they are at the negotiation table. So far the city has trained over 5,000 women and just released a case study report detailing the impact of the program in its first year,” Brenna said.

Under the state legislation, Brenna explained Mayor Walsh’s support of an act to establish pay equity, which passed in the State Legislature in 2016. “The law, to be implemented in July 2018, calls for salary transparency and eliminates the salary history question for job applicants, which can be contributing barriers to wage equity.”

Boston is doing their part in closing the gender wage gap through their pay equity model, so what can women experiencing the gap do to help?

First, employers can sign on to the 100% Talent Compact and commit to taking action to close the wage gap. Employers may learn best systems and share with the other Talent Compact signing companies. Additionally, women can take the free salary negotiation workshops as previously mentioned.

“Both employers and employees should take every opportunity possible to discuss the elements of the wage gap they’re seeing either within their workplaces or on a larger scale,” Brenna said. “This contributes to a ripple effect that not only produces thought-provoking and solution-oriented dialogue but also holds each and every one of us accountable for working together to close this gap.”

Though the wage gap is still very much prominent in both Boston and the United States, there are fortunately various ways women can help themselves and others. By taking advantage of what Brenna Callahan and the Office of Women’s Advancement has helped to put in place and by informing others, we can do our part in closing the wage gap for good.

Cover Photo Credits: Penn State