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Boston Says Its Salary Negotiation Workshops Are Helping Women Ask For More Pay

Women in Boston make less than men. The city is trying to change that by offering free salary negotiation workshops as part of a partnership with the American Association of University Women. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Women in Boston make less than men. The city is trying to change that by offering free salary negotiation workshops as part of a partnership with the American Association of University Women. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Women in Boston are utilizing the city's free salary negotiation workshops to get better pay, according to a new city-issued report.

But there's still work to be done to close the gender wage gap.

The study, out Tuesday, was conducted by the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. It found nearly half of the women in the study — 48 percent -- said they used the skills they learned in the workshops to negotiate higher pay or a competitive starting salary at a new job.

The city started the salary negotiation workshops in the fall of 2015 to help close the gender wage gap. In Greater Boston, women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Nationally, women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Megan Costello, who runs the mayor's Office of Women's Advancement, said the workshops are meant to help women take control of their careers and identify what value they bring to an organization.

"These workshops are not perfect. They’re not going to make everybody get the raise or the promotion that they want," Costello said. "But this is about changing culture and making sure that women ask for what they’re worth."

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The report evaluating the initiative is small in scale. It's a case study of 52 women who participated in the first year of the workshop program, which trained 1,782 women overall. The case study includes interviews with the women.

Here are some highlights:

- Lack of confidence: 37 percent of the women said they had never negotiated pay before attending a workshop. Of those women, 58 percent cited a lack of confidence, being in an unsupportive environment, or not having the opportunity to negotiate.

- Unfair pay: More than a third of the women believed their compensation was unfair, but for different reasons. Some said is was due to their gender, while others said it was due to their industry. A quarter of the women said their pay was fair.

- Women took immediate action: After the workshop, 87 percent researched and identified their appropriate target salary.

- Starting conversations about equal pay: 40 percent talked to their supervisors about their work and value.

Sixty-two percent of the women in the case study were white and 38 percent were minorities, which mirrors the demographics of all workshop participants. With the wage gap much wider for women of color, the report calls for more outreach to minority communities for the workshop program.

That's something the city says it's working on.

"I’m not satisfied with the number of women of color we’ve trained so far," Costello said, adding that her office is working to expand its outreach about the salary negotiation workshops to more diverse neighborhoods and organizations.

The city has trained nearly 5,000 women in the two years it has offered the free workshops. The city's goal is to train 85,000 women by 2021. That's half of Boston's working women. The workshops take women through a series of exercises to learn how to negotiate, assess their value, research salaries, and make a pitch.

As some economists have pointed out, however, these workshops can likely only do a little to help close the gender wage gap, because there are aspects of the labor market and policies around things like child care that have a far bigger impact on earnings.

Costello acknowledges the workshops aren't enough to close the wage gap in the city, but she sees them are part of a larger solution.

"We know that the gender wage gap happens for a variety of reasons and it’s not solely up to women to negotiate their salaries to close the gender wage gap," Costello said.

The city believes government and businesses have to play a role in closing the gender wage gap. It's also working with companies to collect wage data, assess policies, and tackle unconscious bias in the workplace.

"When we combine this [workshop program] with our efforts to address pay equity with businesses and the legislation we passed last session, we create a coordinated top-down, bottom-up effort to close the wage gap," Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

The city says it will continue to assess its salary negotiation workshops and study the city's gender wage gap.

Earlier:

Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter, covering a range of news. She also covers tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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