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Boston trains women to negotiate in an effort to close the wage gap

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Equal wage laws have been on the books in the U.S. since the 1960s, but women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar that men earn, with black and Hispanic women earning even less. While federal efforts to close the gap have stalled, states and cities are looking for ways to address it, with Boston, Massachusetts, providing one model for change. This is part of an ongoing series of reports called “Chasing the Dream,” which reports on poverty and opportunity in America. NewsHour Weekend’s Megan Thompson reports.

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  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    About a dozen years ago, Stephanie Goodell of Somerville, Massachusetts, was an assistant dean at a public university. She says she felt underpaid, and tried twice to negotiate her salary, but was only given about $2,000 more. And then after she left, she looked up the school's published payroll data.

  • STEPHANIE GOODELL:

    I was replaced by my operations person. I'd had 12 years of experience in the field. He had had none, and he was given a salary that was $15,000 more than mine.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    What were you thinking when you found that out?

  • STEPHANIE GOODELL:

    Was my work not valued? Did he have negotiating skills that I didn't have? Did he feel like he could go in and ask for more, for whatever reason, because that's what men do?

  • EVELYN MURPHY:

    The overall data keeps showing that there's still this enormous bias

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Evelyn Murphy is the former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. She's also an economist and an expert on the wage gap. Murphy says while women are sometimes paid less than men for the exact same job – they also just earn less overall.

    According to the US Census, women working full-time in the United States earn about 80 cents for every dollar that men earn. When compared to white men, African American women earn 63 cents. Hispanic women earn just 54.

    Women tend to work in lower-paying industries, and hold fewer higher-paid management roles. Time off after having a baby can affect a woman's earnings. And, Evelyn Murphy says, bias can also play a role.

  • EVELYN MURPHY:

    The other way to look at the wage gap is that it is a proxy for power. The power of men in workplace over women. And so as long as this wage gap exists, it is the signal and the measure of how unequal the power is within the workplace in America.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    In 2013, the city of Boston decided to tackle this inequity with programs for both employers and employees.

  • MARTIN WALSH:

    By Boston having equal pay for equal work, puts us on a competitive advantage.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Martin Walsh is the mayor of Boston. In 2015, his office launched an effort to train women to be better salary negotiators.

  • JULIA GEISMAN:

    We're actually challenging the status quo.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    The city teamed up with the American Association of University Women, a national advocacy group, to offer these free salary negotiation workshops.

  • JULIA GEISMAN:

    You know what you want. You know you're going to go for a higher number.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    They've trained more than 6000 women so far. The goal is to train 85,000 by 2021- half the working women in Boston.

  • MARTIN WALSH:

    The biggest reason- it's fairness. The biggest reason is that men and women who do the same jobs should be paid the same salary.

  • JULIA GEISMAN:

    …and it really helps when it comes to promoting yourself.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    These women are learning about salary research, setting goals, and the importance of being confident.

  • JULIA GEISMAN:

    Now you have an inventory or a listing of all the things you've accomplished.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    One survey showed that half the women who attended a workshop used the skills they learned to negotiate higher pay.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Before this workshop had– did you negotiate when you were offered a new job?

  • SABRINA ANTOINE:

    No. It took w– you take what you were offered.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Sabrina Antoine attended a workshop a couple years ago.

  • SABRINA ANTOINE:

    I think that was one of the biggest things that I've learned from this workshop is just owning my story and being strong in who I am, and what I'm out to seek.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    After the workshop, Antoine applied for a promotion she'd previously thought was out of reach. And when she got it, she negotiated a 30 percent increase in her salary.

  • EVELYN MURPHY:

    Women have to act to get employers to react and employers have to also see the value of paying women fairly.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    And that's why the Boston Women's Workforce Council, which Murphy chairs, is setting its sights on employers, too. Getting them to sign something called the "100% Talent Compact." So far 227 employers representing roughly a quarter of metro Boston's workers are on board.

  • STEPHEN DENNY:

    We reviewed internally all of our employees….

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Stephen Denny oversees diversity and inclusion for Putnam Investments, a $170 billion asset management firm. It was one of the first companies to sign on. Like most financial firms, Putnam is majority male, especially in senior management. Exactly the kind of place equal pay advocates see as ripe for change. Compact signers like Putnam volunteer to identify pay disparities between men and women doing the same jobs.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    You literally just created an Excel spreadsheet with every single employee?

  • STEPHEN DENNY:

    All of our U.S. employees.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    After taking a look at its payroll, Putnam adjusted pay for about 3% of its workers – in some cases raising pay for men as well as women – and now reviews compensation every year.

  • STEPHEN DENNY:

    We look at it the same way, position by position to make sure there are no inequities.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    But equalizing pay for the same jobs is only part of it. Employers must also think about women's overall earnings. Putnam, which now recruits more women into the company, is offering leadership training for women and put in place a system to promote them into higher-paid senior positions.

  • STEPHEN DENNY:

    We've seen an improvement of about 33% of women moving into senior roles– which is remarkable for us– here. But we know we can get better.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Robert Reynolds is Putnam's CEO.

  • ROBERT REYNOLDS:

    I think it's a right way to run a business but it's also fair.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Only about a quarter of your investment team are women. The senior management is still majority male. So there is still a wage gap here–

  • ROBERT REYNOLDS:

    Oh, absolutely. To me, it's a process. But I think we're making great progress. And I'm excited about what the future holds for it.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Another innovative part of Boston's work- employers like Putnam – data collection. Employers like Putnam anonymously submit their payroll data to the city. Boston officials say their new statistics are more accurate than federal statistics, which are collected from workers.

    The second report, due out this month, shows Boston's women earn 76 cents for every dollar men here earn.

    Evelyn Murphy says, while the program is voluntary, making the number public will help hold both the city and employers accountable.

  • EVELYN MURPHY:

    That is huge. It's powerful. There's no other place in the country that is making that kind of a bold step and saying, "I'm gonna report publicly every two years."

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    While all this work has gone on at the city level, the state of Massachusetts has also taken aim at the wage gap. In 2016, it passed some of the strongest equal pay legislation in the nation.

    The law – which goes into effect in July – will require equal pay for comparable work, bar employers from punishing employees who discuss salaries, and says maternity and family leave can't affect seniority. It was also the first law in the nation to ban employers from asking about salary history.

  • EVELYN MURPHY:

    Eliminating a salary history from a question in interviewing for a job applicant is huge. We know that a woman's salary history can keep her wages and the discrimination that existed initially, keep it rolling forward to every other job. Because an employer will ask, "What did you earn the last job?" And then hire at that lower or slightly increased level, but not really at the value of the job he's now asking her to take.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Boston is a liberal city. Massachusetts is a liberal state. I mean, some people might look at this and say, "Yes of course this kinda work can happen here. But we've gotta do it across the country."

  • EVELYN MURPHY:

    I'm very optimistic right now. Women are almost half the workforce, so our presence is now so powerful. What we have right now is a tight labor market and a need to compete internationally, so it's become good business to treat women fairly and equitably.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    But recently republican governors vetoed equal pay bills in New Jersey and Illinois. And the Trump administration reversed a federal rule requiring employers to report wage data. Opposition has come mostly from the business community which considers the regulations government overreach that could increase costs and red tape.

    James Rooney leads the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, which represents some of the largest employers in Massachusetts. He says some of his members bristled at the new regulations, too.

  • JAMES ROONEY:

    The issues that people raised– was fear of creating a litigious environment. That it would open the doors to lawsuit- people making claims about whether they were treated fairly or not.- a second one was the ability of the legislature to understand the reasons why people, man-woman, man-man, might make a different amount of money in a job category that is titled the same.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    To get the business community on board, the legislature recognized justifications for paying people differently, like seniority, education and experience, or where the job is located. And included provisions to protect employers from lawsuits if they can prove they are evaluating pay practices and have made progress eliminating differences. After the Boston Chamber of Commerce announced its support, the bill passed the state legislature unanimously and was signed by the state's Republican governor.

    It's all been welcome news to Stephanie Goodell, who left academia and now works in sales at a consulting firm that promotes diversity in the workplace. She negotiated for more health care benefits and for better commission pay after picking up skills at one of Boston's workshops.

  • STEPHANIE GOODELL:

    And that ultimately will net me up to six figures over the next two or three years depending on how good I am at selling.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    And this is exactly what Massachusetts is aiming for. Closing the wage gap, one employer and one woman at a time.

Editor’s Note: Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

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