The issue of pay equity and the so-called “wage gap” continues to be a core issue for progressive feminists and the Democratic Party. This past Friday President Obama set out new rules to require large companies to report salaries based on race, gender and ethnicity, allowing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to more aggressively target companies they perceive as discriminating – a gross overreach of federal power. (See more here on what Carrie wrote on this for National Review.) And we can be sure that this issue will persist through the 2016 presidential election.
Of course the “gender wage gap” – the idea that women are only paid 79 cents for every dollar a man is paid – is terribly overstated. If you control for any number of factors that go into determining an individual’s salary (from education to experience to time spent at the workplace) this gap shrinks to about 4-6 cents. (You can get caught up on all of this here.)
Still it's true that a small gap persists — some of which might be explained by discrimination. Although there are other theories about what else might be behind this small difference in pay – from the fact that women choose to take more time out of the workforce to have families and that women are less likely than men to negotiate.
That’s why a new initiative in Boston caught my attention. NPR’s Morning Edition reported today on a municipal project to provide negotiation workshops for 85,000 women over the next five years.
While much of this is driven by politics and will sit well with the city’s progressive base. Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh also sees a new revenue stream. As he told NPR, “By increasing the amount of money that women have that will be spent on their families and spent on living and not having to cut back on certain areas – that will have a big impact.”
Many liberal feminists are wary of suggesting there’s anything women might be doing “wrong,” and are more focused on legislation as a solution. But Boston’s Executive Director of Women’s Advancement Megan Costello has a more optimistic (and realistic) perspective. She told NPR that “part of the problem is that women don’t ask” and giving them the tools to do so is “a start.” I couldn’t agree more.
Certainly there are some serious problems with Boston's project — namely the city is working under the assumption that there is, in fact, a gender wage gap of 21-cents, which is widely accepted as inaccurate. (And don’t just take my word on it.) And Boston is perhaps ignoring the multi-million dollar industry that already exists to help women earn more and get the corner office. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is just the tip of a massive iceberg that includes books, videos, conferences, training seminars and more. (In fact, Boston has perhaps unknowingly already picked up on some of the language from this industry, using Mika Brezinski’s line (and book title) “Know Your Value.”)
Still I applaud the city for thinking more creatively, and more importantly for giving women more agency. In the end, some women will choose to maximize their pay while other women will be happy to tradeoff higher salaries for more flexibility (and perhaps let their spouse be the breadwinner) – and that’s OK. (See what IWF learned Women REALLY Want in the Workplace here.)
What's most important is that women (and men) have both the skills and freedom to make the choices that serve them best. And Boston may just get that.