The gender wage gap is a global problem, but in the spirit of acting locally, a group of professionals in Boston is taking a deep look at how to tackle the issue of equal compensation there. The city-led initiative builds on other efforts to tackle inequality overall by Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration.
The city launched a program of free salary negotiation workshops for women of all income levels in 2015. At that time, a city official explained, “The idea is to really give women a set of tools so that they can understand their own situation and their circumstances to understand how to go from minimum wage to maybe a manager at their current employer or how to negotiate for that promotion or that salary bump or that end-of-the-year bonus.”
Women in Boston earn roughly 77 cents for every dollar taken home by men, according to a report released this week by the group looking at the pay gap, the Boston Women’s Workforce Council. The BWWC started under former Mayor Thomas Menino and is a partnership of area business leaders and Mayor Walsh. The latter created the Office of Women’s Advancement and aimed to strengthen the BWWC with the 100% Talent Compact, a pledge to close the pay gap that over 180 companies in Boston have signed so far.
“We had two options: ignore the gender wage gap and hope it goes away over time (data tells us that we will reach equity by the year 2152) or do something about it,” the mayor writes in a letter at the start of the new report.
Wage data was collected from 69 companies (for more than 100,000 employees, representing about 10 percent of the greater Boston workforce) in 2016. Researchers also asked for info about cash bonuses and employee seniority for context. It’s not a perfect sample, the report is quick to note — more women were counted than men, for example — but it is “a baseline from which to move forward.”
Last year, women in Boston earned $5.5 billion, and their job fields were broken into three simplified categories: “professionals” took home an average of $82,000 each, those in support and admin positions earned about $44,000, and service workers brought in roughly $36,000 a person.
The report found that more men were employed as executives and service workers while women made up a greater share of the region’s administrative and support workers. Women of color, in particular, were not well represented at the executive level. Carol Fulp, president and CEO of The Partnership, Inc., a Boston nonprofit focused on workplace diversity, acknowledges that fact in a testimonial in the report. She writes, “it is especially critical to our mission that we lift up multicultural women and help businesses build work environments where diverse women can thrive.”
Overall, your average male employee took home $103,155 for their female counterpart’s $78,954, though certain professions have smaller gaps. For example, in the administrative support pool, women earn a 3-cent premium on every dollar earned by men.
But one particularly unequal area is cash bonuses. The report found that men received more of their pay (12 percent, or $11,000) in bonuses than women (5 percent, or $4,000).
The report is only a first step and mentions a few somewhat obvious methods to closing the gender pay gap — setting goals, offering workplace flexibility — but the effort is a move in an important direction. Cities worldwide are increasingly examining issues of gender equality, from land tenure rights to economic opportunity. And, as the mayor pointed out, doing nothing would put the city on a long, hundred-year trajectory toward a very basic goal.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.