Massachusetts is a Standout (in the Pay Gap)

The Bay State ranks a depressing 37th in the nation in the pay gap between men and women.

On Monday, the Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts ranks a depressing 37th in the nation in the pay gap between men and women, with women earning just 77 percent of what men earn in take-home pay. The article lays out all the reasons this shouldn’t happen here: Women in Massachusetts delay motherhood until later in life than in other states, thereby delaying potential interruptions in employment; and more women here earn higher degrees, which usually translates to higher paid jobs.

But that may be the rub. Salaries in professional fields such as medicine, law, and business, aren’t as clearly defined as they are by unions in lower-wage jobs. Once you enter these more other realms, your manager can decide what to pay you, letting human bias, intentional or not, enter into the equation.

The study is from the American Association for University Women and controlled for factors such as occupation, college major, and hours worked, still coming up with an unexplained difference between men’s and women’s pay of 5 percent.

That may sound like small potatoes, but tell that to Ann-Marie Duchon, who worked at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for eight years before learning that she was earning less than a male co-worker who was her equal. When she asked for equal pay, her manager told her she had “to take one for the team.” The pay differential, over time, added up to $12,000, a figure she said was “not a pittance,” adding that it could pay for a year of daycare.

Duchon, who was able to see what her co-worker was making and eventually demand and receive the pay differential she deserved, benefited from the university’s policy of transparency. But many employees don’t have that option. So, what can women do, other than support candidates and bills like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that hold employers accountable for treating employees fairly, whatever their gender?

According to the Freakonomics blog: Learn to negotiate. In one economic study, researchers found that, when job seekers weren’t told a salary was negotiable, more men than women ended up negoitating anyway. When the job seekers were told a salary was negotiable, women joined in as well, decreasing the pay gap between the genders by 45 percent.

It’s time to stop waiting for an invitation, ladies. And, while you’re at it, teach your daughters how to ask for what they deserve as well. First stop: The Girl Scouts, of course, where members can now earn a Win-Win badge for carrying out a series of ten negotiations. Here’s hoping this novel idea leads to a more equal future for our daughters—and no increase in the cost of a box of Thin Mints. Now, that would be a win-win.