Closing the Gender Pay Gap: Innovations in Boston, Massachusetts

Nationwide, the gender pay gap in the United States has not changed much in decades. Katie Johnston of the Boston Globe writes that because of widespread discussion of this problem over the past three years, state and local governments have been passing gender pay equity laws and pay equity lawsuits are on the rise. The city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts are among those localities taking bold steps to close the gap. Anna Louie Sussman of the New York Times reports that in 2013, the city of Boston began to work with the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, a public-private partnership. Sussman explains that the Boston Women’s Workforce Council teams up with area companies and institutions to help them figure out ways to advance women. The council, along with the mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, started offering free salary negotiation workshops to women in 2016 and plans to train eighty-five thousand women by 2021. The council has also developed guidelines to help companies conduct pay audits to identify gender pay gaps and adjust salaries. Johnston reports that the Boston Women’s Workforce Council also started compiling anonymous data, collected from 114 companies in Greater Boston, to establish a baseline. Their analysis of 2016 wage data for Boston shows the disparity of wages for women:

  • White women earn 75 cents for every dollar white men make.
  • African American women earn 52 cents.
  • Latina women make 49 cents.
According to research conducted by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, at the current rate of improvement in the United States, women will not reach wage parity until 2059. Sussman notes that as a result of the efforts to close the wage gap begun by the city of Boston in 2013, the state of Massachusetts passed the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, which went into effect on July 1, 2018. The law states, “No employer shall discriminate in any way on the basis of gender in the payment of wages, or pay any person in its employ a salary or wage rate less than the rates paid to its employees of a different gender for comparable work.” In addition, this law prohibits employers from asking job applicants for their salary history. Johnston explains that the new law encourages companies to conduct pay audits and adjust salaries when gaps are identified. The law provides an incentive to conduct regular gender pay audits by giving the employers a defense against wage discrimination claims. She explains, “If a company can show that it conducted a pay survey within the last three years—and took steps to close any illegal pay gaps—it has an affirmative defense in court. If not, it could be in trouble.” The Massachusetts law outlines six instances in which pay differences are allowed between comparable positions, specifically if someone
  • Has more seniority
  • Has more education or experience related to the job
  • Has better performance reviews
  • Has higher sales or other quantifiable contributions
  • Lives in a more expensive city
  • Travels more
Johnston describes a recent discussion panel about pay equity where Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office is tasked with enforcing the new state law, noted that adjusting payrolls and eliminating salary history questions is not enough. Closing the gender pay gap will also require companies to look into providing childcare, paid parental leave, and pregnant worker protections. She also recommends that companies hold unconscious bias training. I agree with Healey. No single change will fix the gender pay gap. We must address the problem with a number of strategies, like those described above. I feel encourage reading about innovative efforts like those in Boston and Massachusetts to close the gender pay gap. Let us know of innovations taking place in your city or state.   Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash]]>

How to Close the Gender Pay Gap: Massachusetts Leads the Way

The Massachusetts legislature just unanimously passed the strongest equal pay law in the country. In spite of a legal prohibition against gender-based pay discrimination passed by the state in 1945, the gender wage gap has persisted. Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe reports that currently

  • Women in Massachusetts, in general, make eighty-two cents for every dollar a man earns
  • Black women fare worse at sixty-one cents for every dollar a man earns
  • Latinas fare even worse at fifty cents per dollar
Clearly, having state and federal laws prohibiting pay discrimination on the books for decades has not worked to close the pay gap. The Massachusetts law, which takes effect in July 2018, addresses the wage gap in the following ways:
  • The new law takes steps to promote salary transparency. While companies are not required to publish salaries, employees in Massachusetts can now openly discuss their salaries and join together to compel employers to monitor and fix wage gaps. Employees are still responsible for demanding that wage monitoring occur, but a group of fifty companies in Boston have volunteered to do wage-gap audits and publish their results, which could influence other organizations to act before their employees pressure them to do so. The state treasurer has also set up a website,, to help women understand how underpaid they might be.
  • The law sets new standards for determining comparable work. These standards did not previously exist, so winning a lawsuit claiming unequal pay for comparable work was almost impossible.
  • The law provides companies with new incentives to monitor and correct wage discrepancies—if they do so, they get legal protection if workers sue for gender-based discrimination. They will be given three years to demonstrate they have corrected the problem if employees sue.
  • The new law also prohibits employers from asking the wage history of applicants until after the employer makes an offer with a salary figure attached. This can help prevent women and minorities from being locked into lower salaries.
This new legislation arose from Boston mayor Tom Menino’s establishment of the Women’s Workforce Council in 2013. This council included representatives of many stakeholder groups and drew upon extensive research reported by Iris Bohnet in her new book, What Works: Gender Equity by Design. Transparency and accountability, two of the most important findings reported by Bohnet, are at the core of the new Massachusetts laws. Focusing only on the gender-wage gap is not enough—we must also address the race-wage gap. New state and federal laws must be passed to provide transparency and accountability for pay equity across race and gender. As Shirley Leung notes, wage gaps are often not intentional. In fact, they are often the result of unconscious bias. But as noted by Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, “as long as organizations do not analyze and publish salary data, they have ‘plausible deniability.’” While I believe the Massachusetts law could have gone further, it is a great start, and I hope other states will follow with their own innovations until we finally close the gender- and race-wage gaps.     The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Thomas Breher.]]>