Boston to Investigate Gender Wage Gap

On Tuesday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh jumped head first into the bickering swirling around the issue of the gender wage gap. He did so by announcing that the city is getting set  to study the wages of male and female employees at dozens of  local companies. This is the first attempt by any major U.S. city to quantify the gender wage gap by scrutinizing actual salary data.

Addressing an audience at the inaugural Boston Women’s Venture Capital Summit in the Seaport on Tuesday morning, Walsh said, “We know that the wage gap continues to be an issue all across this nation, and it’s time to stop talking about it and start taking action.”

Many of the state’s largest employers, including Putnam Investments and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, have agreed to anonymously provide wage information, broken down by gender, race, job category, and length of employment.

Evelyn Murphy, former lieutenant governor and member of Boston’s Women’s Workforce Council, said, “This is the game changer. Prior to now, this has been all so secretive. Some companies just don’t want people to know [salaries]. And you can understand why. But on the other hand it means there’s been no collaboration to get at the inequities that are really there.”

“We’re not trying to punish companies, we’re trying to have people understand where they’re at,” said Megan Costello, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement.

So, how do you convince a major corporation to peel back the lid on sensitive salary information when competitors would so clearly benefit from having access to that data?

By keeping it anonymous, that’s how. Even when the aggregate salary information is made public, the companies attached to specific data will not be revealed.

Tuesday morning, Walsh also made it clear that he is determined to lead by example.

The mayor says he observed a wage gap among top City Hall staffers as noted in a draft report from his new Office of Diversity. According to an analysis of payroll data, men in Walsh’s cabinet are paid, on average, nearly $156,000, while women in the cabinet earn $123,000.

To help close the gap, Walsh gave a 12 percent raise to his chief of policy, Joyce Linehan, increasing her annual salary from $125,000 to $140,000 and Laura Oggeri, the mayor’s spokeswoman, received a 15 percent pay hike, increasing her annual salary to $116,000 from $101,000. Despite these pay increases, women in Walsh’s cabinet are still being paid, on average, almost $27,000 less than men.

Previous attempts to address the wage gap have largely been limited to legislative proposals, including the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase pay transparency and require businesses to justify pay grade differences. Bills filed in Massachusetts earlier this year would prohibit employers from seeking job candidates’ salary histories and require that minimum pay be disclosed for advertised positions.

Analyzing the gender wage gap is a complex undertaking, said Kathy Horgan, chief operating officer for global human resources at State Street Corp., one of the companies taking part in the survey. She noted that one of the sources of salary disparities at the Boston financial services company appears to be a lack of women in senior positions.

“That’s where we don’t have the kind of representation of women that we want to see, and we do believe that’s a driver of our wage gap,” she said.

The city pledges to make the salary information public early this summer.


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