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New city report on gender wage gap

Jule Pattison-Gordon
New city report on gender wage gap
Boston Women’s Workforce Council co-chair Evelyn Murphy speaks at the release of the Gender Wage Gap Report. (Photo: Photo: Mayor’s Office photo by Don Harney.)

The Boston Women’s Workforce Council last week released a report outlining the extent of the gender wage gap in Boston. In a city where they are the majority, women still earn roughly 23 fewer cents on the dollar than men. And for women of color, the rate continues to be even worse.

“Women make up the majority of Boston, but like most cities, companies and nations around the world, women— especially women of color — are underrepresented and underpaid in our workforce,” Mayor Martin Walsh said in a press release.

In a Banner phone interview, Megan Costello, BWWC member and the city’s director of the Office of Women’s Advancement, said while the data is important, what’s truly groundbreaking is how it was gathered. The report is the first in the nation to gather current wage data from the employers directly — rather than self-reports from individual employees or census data. Speaking separately to the Banner, Costello and City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said legislation alone cannot close the persistent gap.

“You cannot legislate behavior,” Pressley said.

What will make a difference: a shift in corporate culture toward recognizing the talent of women and the need for implementing tangible, result-driven steps to narrow the gap.

“Closing the wage gap can be supported through legislation, but it’s more about culture and actual changes that need to happen in workforces and with individual women, and when and how they ask for salary increase,” Costello said.

The willingness of companies to provide data on their practices could indicate such culture change is starting, Pressley said.

“A number of employers self-reported. Hopefully that shows a culture shift,” Pressley said.

The gender earning gap has extensive impact on women, including reduced ability to support oneself and one’s family; lessened autonomy; fewer resources; lower savings for college, retirement or emergencies; and lessened Social Security earnings.

Data and limitations

Report authors drew on information disclosed by 179 Greater Boston businesses, along with information on local employers from the U.S. Equal Economic Opportunity Commission. Their data reflects about 11 percent of the Greater Boston area’s working population, or about 112,000 workers. The source and depth of the data represent significant achievements, Costello said.

However, employer provided data came via voluntary disclosure and the sampling was not was not reflective of the workforce in the metropolitan region as a whole, authors said. For one, participating firms were more likely to employ women.

Furthermore, some employers did not include information by race when reporting salary information. Because the data was made anonymous before researchers received it, they were unable to identify which companies failed to supply the information or follow up with them. This problem affected 7 percent of the salary data. Because of that, the report authors said they could not with confidence include any findings on the racial breakdown of gender-based wage gaps.

Pressley said that while numbers are useful because they allow people to be held accountable, it was unlikely the racial wage gap data would reflect anything not already known. Even with data missing, the BWWC report represents an important step in maintaining attention on disparities and encouraging company participation in solutions, she said.

Racial wage gap

In Massachusetts as a whole, women overall earned 19 cents less for every dollar that men earned, according to information presented during an event convened in October 2015 by the state Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, in conjunction with the state Caucus of Women Legislators. For women of color, the disparity is even more egregious: black women in the state earned 39 cents fewer per every dollar, and Latinas received half of what men did, said presenters at the 2015 event. Various factors push Latinas — who often are the main, or sole, breadwinner for multigenerational families — into traditionally lower-wage jobs.

“It’s incredibly demoralizing not to receive equal pay for equal work,” Pressley said. She noted that on average, a black woman would have to work 66 years to earn the same amount that a white male counterpart made in 40 years.

That racial wage gap is a high priority in 2017 for both the Boston Women’s Workforce Council and Walsh, the report stated. Survey tools will be adjusted so that entering race wage data will be a required field in the next data gathering cycle, Costello said.

Racial job disparities

Also of significance: representation of women in different levels of the workforce and in high-paying careers. Report authors noted that fewer women, and even fewer women of color, are found at upper level positions.

Researchers categorized careers into four types: executive and mid-level; professional; technicians, administrative and sales; and operatives, craft workers, service workers and laborers, and helpers. According to both Greater Boston workforce data and findings from the sample study,

black women were more likely to hold jobs as laborers, service or crafts workers, or helpers or occupy positions in tech, admin or sales roles. They accounted for 6 to 13 percent of the latter group, and 10 to 16 percent of the former, according to the two data sets.

Meanwhile, Latinas were most represented in the category of operatives, crafts or service workers, helpers and laborers, comprising 7 to 8 percent of such workers. Latinas also comprised 5 to 8 percent of technicians, admins and sales workers. Asian women were most likely to hold professional careers, constituting about 6 to 7 percent of those employed in such positions.

Compared to men of the same race, black women were more likely to hold tech, admin and sales positions, as well as professional positions. Latinas were more likely than Latinos to occupy tech, admin and sales jobs. Asian women were slightly more likely than Asian men to had roles in the tech, admin and sales category.

While women on average earn less than men, the BWWC report found that for some careers — such as administrative support —women earned slightly more: an extra three cents on the dollar.

Steps to solution

Based on a September 2016 conference with approximately 200 business and nonprofit leaders, the BWWC outlined best practice proposals for reducing gender wage gaps. Among these: companies should ensure that initiatives produce tangible results by setting clear goals with internal consequences for failing to meet them.

Ensuring that more women are hired and that more women are promoted go hand-in-hand, the report stated. The former creates a greater pool of talented female candidates from which to choose when selecting for promotions, while the latter may help retain women by demonstrating that there are viable career futures at the company. To bolster this, conference attendees recommended CEOs implement a policy of considering a diverse group of applicants for every position and to continually work to identify barriers to greater diversity.

Also important: transparency on pay, as well as what the employers look for when awarding performance-based pay (men tend to take home higher bonuses), salary negotiation workshops for any gender, and presentation of flexible hours as a benefit valuable for more than just working parents. For instance, those caring for elderly family members might use it. A company must go beyond simply providing the option of flexible hours to ensure the corporate culture does not stigmatize actually using that benefit, Costello said.

Year ahead

Moving forward, the BWWC aims to recruit more companies that pledge to address the gap and to disclose wage data, Costello said. Her goal: gather data on 20 to 25 percent of the workforce. The report’s release already has prompted companies to query about joining, she said. Additionally, BWWC seeks to gather information about the level of representation of women in different industries.

Boston University’s Hariri Institute for Computing will partner with BWWC to lend greater analysis capabilities. Azer Bestavros, founding director of the Hariri Institute, said in a statement that he hopes that together, the partners will be able to collaborate on identifying the root causes of pay gaps and assess the impact of various mitigation practices.