Final Blog Post: Reflections

Final Blog Post: Reflections

As I approach the last week of my internship, I’ve shared some reflections what I’ve learned throughout the summer, and why I remain optimistic for the future.

Key lessons learned:

  • We need to provide real incentives to businesses to take steps to close the wage gap that go beyond moral arguments–it will not happen on its own.
  • When looking at the wage gap, we must focus not only on the difference between men and women, but the worse gap for minorities.
  • Policy changes provide an important first step, but workplace interventions need to follow to ensure that the changes are being followed.
  • Workplace interventions do not have to be drastic or disruptive–through small behavioral changes, we can solve big issues.

Why I’m optimistic

  • At both the Republican and Democratic Conventions this Summer, politicians and advocates brought up the gender wage gap. Obama set the stage for equal pay for equal work in the federal government, and the momentum is in our favor. Let’s hope Hillary can make this a reality in all industries across the country!
  • The White House is following the BWWC in its current approach to close the gender wage gap in the private sector by aggregating their data. This data driven approach is going a long way with businesses, and is helping incentivize businesses to take action.
  • We already have 158 signers of the 100% Talent Compact on board in Boston–and growing daily.

As we know from the long history of the battle for equal pay, it’s not something that happens overnight. But working with the BWWC this summer has given me hope for women currently in the workforce, and for future generations of women–and I’m proud to be part of it.

Finding inspiration in the public sector

Finding inspiration in the public sector

This week, on behalf of the BWWC, I attended a launch event of the new, revitalized Boston government website.  Going in, I expected to hear the panelists speak about the features of the website, the ideas behind it, and the ease of use (compared to the old site). What I didn’t expect to hear from the discussion was the level of passion and care involved in the process of building the site.

The product team spoke about how their website customers were the Boston public–a large, diverse population, which meant they had to take into account things like the size of files to be downloaded (as to not overcharge lower income residents on their phone data plans). They also focused on going beyond simply providing a link to pay your parking ticket or requesting to fill a pothole, but rather telling and showing the stories behind the people who fill the potholes, in order to humanize these mundane tasks. Their goal, through this new website, is to build an expansive definition of government, that goes beyond the common notion of inefficiency. Check out our new BWWC page here!

While my background is more in the private and nonprofit sectors, the launching of the website makes me proud be be working in part with the public sector this summer.

 

Exciting news update: MA House of Representative passes pay equity legislation

Exciting news update: MA House of Representative passes pay equity legislation

Yesterday, we had an exciting update in the fight for pay equity. The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed an Act to Establish Pay Equity by a unanimous vote.

This is, arguably, the most comprehensive pay equity legislation in the country to date.

The pay equity bill will help address the gender wage gap by providing a more comprehensive definition of comparable work. The bill also allows employees to discuss their salaries without the threat of retaliation from their employer and bans the practice of requiring salary history on job applications before a job offer is made. This is important because women have been payed historically less than men, and thus start out at a disadvantage. The bill also encourages employers to evaluate their own pay practices and implement changes to end pay disparities voluntarily.

The bill is a strong push towards making gender pay equality a reality, and doing so in a way that is comfortable for businesses. It just goes to show pay equality is not a zero-sum game. We can make strides for women in the workplace while also advancing businesses’ bottom line.

Way to go, Massachusetts!

 

Going Beyond the Legal System

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This week, I attended a meeting with the Boston Women’s Workforce Council Co-Chairs and Council members. The group was composed of men and women dedicated to closing the wage gap in their own industries and poised to recruit other companies in an effort to help make Boston the premier city for working women.

One interesting topic that came up at the meeting was the importance of taking a multi-pronged approach to fighting pay inequality. Specifically, this means going beyond the legal approach. Numerous laws have been passed since the Equal Pay Act in 1963 that have attempted to make the lives of working women better, and there’s currently a bill being considered here in Massachusetts that would push for pay equity in the state and seek broader protection for victims of discrimination.

What the BWWC is doing, though, is fighting at the societal-level for pay equality. It’s an effort that recognizes that employers can’t simply give their employees benefits at work and call it a day, but rather they need to get to the root of what the work experience is like for individual female employees. One tactic used to get employers to do this is by explaining that ‘everyone has this problem—but we can do something about it now, or not. You don’t want to be left behind.’ And that gives them a reason to sign onto the 100% Talent Compact, and learn more about interventions they can take to alleviate the problems in their company.

While the legal system provides an important foundation for gender equality, the BWWC’s unique public-private partnership—matching public goals with private values—will make it hard for employers to bypass the law and continue to pay women less.

 

The role of biases and discrimination in perpetuating the gender pay gap

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There are multiple reasons as to why, in 2016, the gender pay gap still exists in the United States and around the world. Some have to do with underrepresentation in leadership; some have to do with different college major and career choices; but one of the most powerful and persistent reasons has to do with implicit biases and explicit discrimination on the part of employers towards women.

Women encounter deeply rooted implicit bias and explicit discrimination in the workplace. They are less likely than their male candidates to get interviews, especially in male-dominated fields. When they are granted interviews, negotiating a salary, or pitching an entrepreneurial idea, they’re more likely to experience a negative bias. As Harvard Kennedy School Professor and Behavioral Economist Iris Bohnet puts it, “What is celebrated as entrepreneurship, self-confidence, and vision in a man is perceived as arrogance and self-promotion in a woman.” Researchers find that the same goes for personal attributes such as anger, in which “women are expected to be kinder and more modest than men, and they evoke negative responses from other people if they fail to conform to this prescriptive stereotype. Female professionals who express anger violate this feminine norm and therefore may not experience the boost in status enjoyed by angry men.”  

Moreover, employers expect women to be the primary caregivers at home, but face a “motherhood penalty” in the workplace. Mothers are less likely to be hired, considered less competent, and paid less than non mothers. As researchers Benard and Correll note, “employers discriminate against mothers because employers believe, perhaps unconsciously, that success in the paid labor market (particularly in jobs traditionally considered masculine) signals stereotypically masculine qualities such as assertiveness or dominance. These qualities are inconsistent with those culturally expected of mothers, such as being warm and nurturing…As a result, employers may be more likely to deny salary and other rewards to successful mothers than to other successful employees.” Furthermore, many employers do not offer flexible options to help them manage family and work.

One example of this bias and discrimination playing out in the workforce is in the case of stockbrokers. Researchers have found that in these jobs, women are often assigned smaller accounts by their bosses. This has exacerbated the pay gap in this field, so that women are making 66 cents on the dollar to male stockbrokers.

These deeply rooted biases and discriminatory attitudes are some of the hardest to change. They require acknowledging that they exist, first, and then actually doing something about it. In the coming weeks, I will talk about the behavioral insights and other interventions that I’ve learned employers can take to put an end to this.

 

State of Women Summit and the Equal Pay Pledge

State of Women Summit and the Equal Pay Pledge

This week, the United State of Women Summit highlighted the importance of women’s issues in Washington, DC. BWWC Co-Chairs, Cathy Minehan and Evelyn Murphy, presented the work of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council and the Boston’s 100% Talent Compact. At the Summit, the White House introduced a similar initiative—the Equal Pay Pledge. This builds on the administration’s numerous actions to close the national pay gap (including passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 and passing two executive orders on this issue in 2014–see my last blog post for more details).

Just as the BWWC is encouraging companies in Boston to sign the 100% Talent Compact, the White House is challenging businesses to take the Equal Pay Pledge.

The Equal Pay Pledge has companies commit to conducting an annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations; reviewing hiring and promotion processes and procedures to reduce unconscious bias and structural barriers; and embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives.

Several private sector companies have come together to support advancing equal pay, including Airbnb, Amazon, Care.com, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson, Pinterest, Spotify, Staples, Salesforce, and Slack, to name a few.

It’s exciting to see the White House take the initiative to close the gender pay gap on a nation-wide level through data collection and analysis, and exciting as well that Boston is on the forefront of these issues!

A brief History of the Gender Wage Gap

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This week, I spent my time beginning a report that will be published to the signers of the 100% Talent Compact—businesses dedicated to closing the gender wage gap. Throughout the summer, I’ll post updates on segments of the report that are of particular interest.

Today, I’ll start at the beginning—the long history of gender pay inequality in the U.S. Many people know that today we have a problem—that the gender gap still exists, that men are paid more than women for doing even the same exact work, but when did this begin? What’s the background of this issue?

The issue of pay equity first became an issue around the time of World War II when an influx of women entered the workforce. Yet up until the early 1960s, newspapers published ads soliciting for “men only” or “women only,” with higher level jobs being almost exclusively for men. When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 (and became effective in 1964), it became illegal for employers to pay women less than men for doing the same work, based solely on sex.

By 2009, the gender wage gap had narrowed, but still persisted. Women on average earned 77 cents for every dollar a man made. In this year, President Barack Obama passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allowed victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck.

In 2014, Obama signed two executive orders to further close the gender wage gap. At this point, women were making 79 cents on the dollar that men made in median annual earnings. The first of these executive orders aimed to prevent workplace discrimination and empower workers to take control over negotiations regarding their pay. It ensured that workers could talk openly about their compensation without fear of punishment. The second executive order directed the Secretary of Labor to require federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation by race and gender, helping employers take proactive efforts to ensure fair pay for their employees.

Currently, in Massachusetts, lawmakers are considering a bill that would push further for pay equity in the state and seek broader protection for victims of discrimination. Specifically, it forbids employers from asking job applicants about salary history, establishes bona fide reasons employers can pay different wages for the same job and protects employees from retaliation if they share salary information with each other.

Let’s hope that this bill will be passed in the House, and can replicated by other state governments. It’s clearly been an issue that’s been going on too long, and it’s time we put an end to it.