How Women Are Closing the Wage Gap

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research projects that it will take until 2059 — 44 years —for women to close the wage gap. And according to brand-new data from the City of Boston’s Women’s Workforce Council, the wage gap in Massachusetts is 23 cents, meaning women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy, co-chair of the City of Boston’s Council — and the first woman in Massachusetts to hold a constitutional office, plans to change that. The Council works with businesses in Greater Boston, from large corporations like Putnam Investments to smaller companies like Charlestown Nursery School, to eliminate the gender wage gap and to remove barriers to women’s advancement.

Murphy says that this is the most rigorous data yet collected on the issue.

“What we have right now is the most accurate measure of the wage gap, because it’s employer-provided, instead of being provided by the Census Bureau, which gets data from employees and can be imprecise. This data is breathtaking and bigger than anybody thought,” says Murphy, who authored Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men — And What to Do About It, which analyzes gender bias in the workplace.

In Massachusetts, the struggle is ongoing. According to research from The Boston Club, a community of female executives that promotes the advancement of women to leadership roles, just 12 percent of executive officers in the largest 100 Massachusetts public companies are women, and 45 of those companies have no women in executive positions.

This disparity has many root causes, but executives say that women’s reluctance or inability to negotiate is a key hurdle.

“It’s so real. Many times a week, I’ll turn to a very talented, highly educated woman, a CFA and an MBA, and she’ll be nervous about having a contrary view in a meeting. Women don’t want to come across as bitchy or controlling. We need to have those difficult conversations with confidence,” says Michele Equale MBA ’13, an executive at MassMutual in Springfield, Massachusetts.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a young woman or [further along in your career] — people don’t know the mechanics of [negotiating.]  Many women are very uneasy with it, regardless of where they are, because it’s never been taught,” says Murphy.

Tezlyn Reardon
Tezlyn Reardon

Ideally, this knowledge starts when girls are young. Tezlyn Reardon ’99, a lead consultant at Alliance Data Card Services in Columbus, Ohio, works with Women for Economic and Leadership Development and the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio in her spare time. Both organizations focus on advancing women’s careers, but she says the effort needs to begin much earlier.

“Girls coming up in elementary and middle schools, kids looking at their moms, we want to tell them: You can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company! You can be in business! When you’re a younger girl, maybe you don’t think you can be an engineer or an accountant. You might not be taught those things from a young age. We need to reach younger girls to show them what’s out there,” she says.

Many women are held back by impostor syndrome, says Karyn Schoenbart (School of Education), keynote speaker at the 2017 Women of Isenberg Conference at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst and president and  chief operating officer of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services. Often, women doubt their own success and assume that they got ahead by accident or mistake. Maybe, one day, someone will discover that they don’t belong in the corner office after all.

“It’s basically where accomplished people feel like they’re frauds,” she explains. “I used to always think that somebody [was] going to figure out that I was an elementary education major at UMass and never took a business course in my life, and that I like to read People magazine, and that I would be found out. And when I heard that this was a thing, and I talked to other women, and so many other people felt that way, it was the most liberating moment of my life.”

There’s more progress on the horizon. In Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh has committed to leading salary workshops for women over the next five years in collaboration with the American Association of University Women and the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement.  The workshops will focus on issues such as objective market research, how to create strategic salary pitches, and how to quantify the market value of education.

Meanwhile, Schoenbart tries to help her daughter avoid the same pitfalls on a personal scale.

“Give it your A-game all the time. Track your accomplishments. I told my daughter to keep a list of the things that you do and look at it. First of all, it makes you feel good. And then, when it’s time for a promotion, you can look at that list and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’ve accomplished these things! I’m ready for a promotion.'”

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