Talk vs action on the gender pay gap – Boston’s salary negotiation classes - Women's Agenda

Talk vs action on the gender pay gap – Boston’s salary negotiation classes

Earlier this week we reported on the Gender Diversity council’s debate on whether talk about gender and diversity issues is happening at the expense of action. While there were interesting points on both side, we here at Women’s Agenda would argue that there’s no reason we can’t do both.

And here’s an example of a simple but effective way of combining talk and action: Boston’s Office for Women’s Advancement is offering a series of classes for women on salary negotiation: An article about the classes in the Boston Globe talked about the ongoing significant disparity between male and female salary (nationwide in the US, women get 79% of what men are paid) and highlighted the greater disparity for women of colour – Hispanic women in customer service are paid 50% less than men.

The article acknowledged the many cultural complexities that contribute to the gender pay gap – talking as a means of increasing understanding and acceptance of the issue – and discussed the reasons for the practical action Boston is taking to address one contributing factor.

Quoting from a study by the American Association for Women, the Globe addressed the gender disparity in people’s ability to negotiate salary and that men are more confident and assertive when they ask for higher wages or pay rises.

A study by the nonprofit 
American Association of University Women found,

to almost no one’s surprise, that men are more assertive than women when it comes to hashing out the particulars of a job during the hiring process. “In part, this difference may reflect women’s awareness that employers are likely to view negotiations by men more favorably than negotiations by women,” the report noted.

Too often when we talk about gender disparity in the workplace, we concentrate on the upper echelons, CEOs and women on boards. These things are important because the insidious message of male dominated seniority tells both men and women that women do not belong in positions of power, this perception needs to be challenged constantly. Not only does it impact on subconscious perception bias in hiring and salary decisions, it can also discourage women’s ambition and expectations for their future.

However, the majority of workers – male and female – are not CEOs. Gendered wage disparity happens among nurses, teachers, waiters, payroll staff, administrators and accountants. In Australia the gender pay gap much higher where packages are individually negotiated than where workers are on award wages.

Thus, in Boston, the negotiation classes are not just for corporate women, as The Boston Globe reports:

The gender wage gap is a problem “whether you’re an executive on the 22nd floor of a fancy office building or you’re a minimum-wage worker just trying to pay your bills,” said Megan Costello, executive director of the Office of Women’s Advancement.

Costello acknowledged that the issue is more complex than just knowing how to ask for more money or paid time off — and that some workers have little leverage to do so — but Work Smart in Boston’s practical approach and its large scale may be enough to make a difference.

The solution to the gender pay gap is not going to be a single piece of legislation or one heroic action by an outstanding individual. It’s a series of interconnecting steps by a wide variety of people and organisations.

Talk is still necessary, the idea that the gender pay gap doesn’t really exist, or that women are paid less because they somehow want it (!?) still has some traction. There is still work to be done in debunking those myths, but we can walk and chew equality gum at the same time.

The Boston program is aiming to reach 90,000 women over the next five years. Women’s Agenda would argue that an aligned program to reach the same number of management staff and address perception bias they may not even know they have in salary negotiation would exponentially increase the impact of such classes, but it’s certainly a good start.

Perhaps it’s something one or more of the city councils in Australia could initiate? If enough people pushed for it…

Sydney City Council: Contact Us page

Melbourne City Council: Contact Us page

Adelaide City Council: Contact Us page

Brisbane City Council: Contact Us page

Hobart City Council: Contact Us page

Perth City Council: Contact Us page

Alice Springs City Council: Contact Us page

Canberra City Council: Contact Us page

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