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How Boston Is Trying To Eliminate The Gender Wage Gap

BOSTON — It doesn’t matter if you’re a surgeon, a banker or a fisherman. If you’re a woman in the United States, you’re probably paid less than a man doing the same job. This gender wage gap hasn’t changed with federal laws or the feminist movement.

But now Boston thinks it has a solution.

The Gender Difference In Boston

The U.S. Census Bureau says, on average, a woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. In Boston, that discrepancy is not as extreme.

A new report (PDF) from the city’s Women’s Workforce Council finds that a woman here makes 85 cents for every dollar a man makes. Some say that number needs to be adjusted for factors like career choice and motherhood — and then it rises to 91 cents.

But even then, for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, 9 cents is still 9 cents too little.

“Women workers are hard, they’re smart,” he said. “Just because they’re a woman they get discriminated against? We’re going to end that discrimination in Boston.”

It’s Menino who launched this initiative to make Boston the most attractive city for working women. Mayor-elect Marty Walsh promises to continue the work.

Boston's income ratio and female representation by occupation (City of Boston report)

Boston’s income ratio and female representation by occupation (City of Boston report)

A Compact, And 3 Custom Strategies

Simmons College touts itself as the school with the top MBA program for women.

But even the type of women who attend Simmons are not immune from the stings of unequal pay in the past.

“I have actually experienced a situation where my compensation wasn’t comparable to a male counterpart,” said Estelle Archibold. “It was at least $20,000 worth of a gap, which is a significant quality of life issue.”

Archibold was working for a consulting company. She says she asked for more money, and got it, but it wasn’t easy.

Women like Archibold are a driving force in the local economy, which is why city leaders say Boston is uniquely capable of fixing the gender wage gap. It’s a matter of sheer demographics: Boston is home to more young educated women per capita than any other major city in the country.

“If you’re a business in the Boston area you are increasingly dependent upon educated women in your workforce because those are the people who are in our workforce,” said Cathy Minehan, the dean of the Simmons School of Management and a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. She’s also the woman chosen by Menino to lead the city’s pay equity efforts.

“When we started to think about closing the wage gap we thought about it from the beginning as a business initiative,” she said.

Minehan says companies need to utilize 100 percent of the talent available. She suggests that pay equity is easier to sell as a business strategy than a moral imperative.

Minehan is leading the citywide council that has so far persuaded 44 businesses to sign a pledge to close the wage gap. Some are small, but others are powerhouses in the Boston business community: Raytheon, Boston Children’s Hospital, Partners HealthCare.

Companies that sign the compact agree to take three concrete steps.

Minehan says the most crucial step is for companies to statistically assess their own wage data. “Sometimes, people reject the idea that we have an issue until they actually see their data,” she said. “And then they say to themselves, ‘Huh?’ ”

Then they’ll pick three strategies to improve pay equity.

There’s a whole laundry list of suggestions recommended by the council. Companies choose what they like. The ideas include things like increasing wage transparency, actively recruiting women to executive-level positions, and offering subsidized child care.

“You can’t say that one size fits all, or one solution fits all,” Minehan said. “You know what’s going to work in terms of a Suffolk Construction is probably not the same thing that works for State Street bank.” Both of those companies have signed the pledge.

Finally, businesses agree to share their wage data anonymously every two years so that the city can measure progress.

The catch is that the entire scheme is voluntary.

Will The Initiative Work?

Katie Donovan, who runs a company that helps women negotiate equal pay, spoke with WBUR at a recent breakfast seminar about putting more women on corporate boards.

Donovan says there are systemic hiring practices that discriminate against women.

“We have to get rid of salary history; it’s on every application,” she said. “All it does is set us up for failure because if you’re a woman, you’re going to have a lower salary history than, excuse me, but the white men, they get the premium.”

A lot of women also say they need to learn to advocate for themselves; the onus to fix this problem can’t be solely on the employer.

Meredith Leffler works in event planning. While eating lunch in a park near Boston’s Financial District, she described the few times she’s ever negotiated for pay at work as the “most stressful, nerve-racking thing ever.” She says culture is partly to blame.

“Just the way that we’re raised, we’re told to, you know, keep quiet more often,” she said, “whereas men are told to be more aggressive and go for what they want, and it’s kind of looked down upon for women.”

Whether or not the idea of eliminating the wage gap gains traction, it’s already got the ears of many young educated women — the demographic the city wants companies to tap into.

And, for one of those young women, MBA student Megan Williams, just the fact that Boston is making pay equity a priority is enough of a selling point.

“As a young person, as a young woman, it makes me want to stay here and work here,” she said, “because I want to live in a city that values me as much as it values its men.”

The city is hoping a lot of Boston businesses feel the same way.

By the end of the year, it expects to have 50 companies on board.

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  • MaleMatters

    Re: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a surgeon, a banker or a fisherman. If you’re a woman in the United States, you’re probably paid less than a man doing the same job.”

    This might explain it:

    “In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/03/26/bil10326.htm (See also http://www.openmarket.org/2013/06/19/president-repeats-false-equal-pay-statistic-claiming-women-earn-77-percent-of-what-men-do/)

    These are some of the most sophisticated women in the country choosing to earn less while getting paid at the same rate as their male counterparts:

    A thousand laws won’t close that gap.

    In fact, no law yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap – tinyurl.com/74cooen), not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not the 1991 Glass Ceiling Commission created by the Civil Rights Act, not the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the thousands of company mentors for women, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is another feel-good bill that turned into another do-nothing law (good intentions do not necessarily make things better; sometimes, the path to a worse condition is paved with good intentions)…. Nor will a “paycheck fairness” law work.

    That’s because women’s pay-equity advocates, who always insist one more law is needed, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women’s equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Women,” stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. “In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier….” at tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed a higher percentage of women is staying at home, perhaps it’s because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they’re going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Answer: Because they’re supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home. (Far more wives are supported by a spouse than are husbands.)

    The implication of this is probably obvious to most 12-year-olds but seems incomprehensible to, or is wrongly dismissed as irrelevant by, feminists and the liberal media: If millions of wives are able to accept NO wages, millions of other wives, whose husbands’ incomes vary, are more often able than husbands to:

    -accept low wages

    -refuse overtime and promotions

    -choose jobs based on interest first, wages second — the reverse of what men tend to do (The most popular job for American women as of 2010 is still secretary/administrative assistant, which has been a top ten job for women for the last 50 years. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/11/gender-wage-gap_n_3424084.html)

    -take more unpaid days off

    -avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (tinyurl.com/3a5nlay)

    -work fewer hours than their male counterparts, or work less than full-time instead of full-time (as in the above example regarding physicians)

    Any one of these job choices lowers women’s median pay relative to men’s. And when a wife makes one of the choices, her husband often must take up the slack, thereby increasing HIS pay.

    Women who make these choices are generally able to do so because they are supported — or, if unmarried, anticipate being supported — by a husband who feels pressured to earn more than if he’d chosen never to marry. (Married men earn more than single men, but even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap: as a group they tend more than women to pass up jobs that interest them for ones that pay well.

    More in “Will the Ledbetter Act Help Women?” at http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/will-the-ledbetter-fair-pay-act-help-women/

    • keltcrusader

      This doesn’t explain why a woman makes $0.85 for every $1.00 a man earns in terms of actual pay, NOT lifetime earnings.
      Pay rates should be decided by the job, not by the gender!

      • MaleMatters

        You apparently didn’t understand a word I wrote.

        Tell me how you got from my comment this: “Pay rates should be decided by the job, not by the gender!” Where did I say pay rates should be decided by the gender of the worker?

        • keltcrusader

          Perhaps you should look beyond your testosterone-driven drivel and take a look at reality. I could ask any number of my female friends if they have ever been PAID less than their male counterparts and they will all say YES!
          WOMAN ARE ROUTINELY PAID LESS THAN MEN FOR THE SAME WORK. I wrote that in capitals so you wouldn’t miss my point. NOT lifetime earnings, actual pay rates. I worked for a company and co-managed a branch location with a male coworker. Even though I had a degree and had more experience, he was paid $5/hr more than I was. When I brought this fact up, they equalled our pay (even though I was doing 80% of the work), but at the next round of raises, guess what?!? Can you guess??? They increased him pay proportionally larger so he was back to making $5/hr more than me again. When I complained (again) I was told he had a family to support. Really? I guess I was just working for the joy of it. Get off your “Men are the real workers” spiel and get with the reality that woman are in the work force, work just as hard as men, are just as dedicated, and deserve to be paid the same pay rate as men for the same work.

    • Monika Wahi

      I object to you talking about “wives”. I’m not a “wife”. I deserve equal pay and I do not get it. I have no husband, no children, and have worked more than full-time most of my life. I work side by side with men who make $20,000 or more than me and are less qualified. I interview at places that clearly only have male managers, though women are qualified. I finally started my own business in my attempt to get pay equity. I agree laws don’t work, but at least Menino and Walsh are on my side.

  • fun bobby

    hmmmm, will they raise the pay of women or just pay men less? how much weight does the average woman lift a day. these anecdotes are useless

    • CComry

      I agree. Be careful what one wishes for.

  • commenty_mcgee

    “All it does is set us up for failure because if you’re a woman, you’re
    going to have a lower salary history than, excuse me, but the white men,
    they get the premium.”

    Yeah, every white man has an extensive salary history of them making tons of money. Even the working class ones. And we naturally are so good at asking our bosses for raises! And they always give us one too, just because we’re men! Give me a break.

  • CComry

    The gender wage gap… We should be worrying about the wage gap between workers and the rich, gender be damned. But no, it’s “me, me, me”. Get over yourselves and think about the bigger picture.

  • fun bobby

    a less important factor in economic power is how much you earn more important is how much you spend. women spend 75% of all money in the US.

  • Mary

    I am a young woman who works at one I these pledged companies. I work in the Technology department and I’m really curious to see how they plan to end the wage gap between my male coworkers and the five women in the department. I am well aware that even though I do the same job (even better than and sacrifice more than most) as my male counterparts, I am waaay underpaid. This is about a $10-$20/year gap, which as the article mentions is a significant quality of life difference. It could mean that I could afford to buy a car, paying off student loans, living closer to work, getting my MBA while working and last but not least, it could mean more peace of mind when one feels more financially stable. (Not to mention appreciated)

    So far I haven’t heard a peep about this…not holding my breath though.

    • amkhalid

      Thanks, Mary. I’m the reporter who did this story. And, I agree, I, too, am curious to see how the companies who have pledged these commitments will change …

      Please feel free to drop me a line if you ever want to talk more. I’m at amkhalid-at-wbur-dot-org

    • fun bobby

      don’t worry they will be lowering any overpaid males wages promptly to make sure they eliminate the gap. won’t that be great?

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