Boston has a new take on how to address the gender pay gap: free salary negotiation workshops for all female residents. These workshops involve negotiation strategy and style tips, role-playing, salary self-assessments, and information about the gender pay gap. Research shows that women are more reticent about negotiating salaries than men: one study of graduating MBA students found that half of the men had negotiated their job offers, compared to only one-eighth of the women.
Results & Impact
In its second year, the scheme has already trained over 5,000 women. The aim is to train 85,000 women - half of Boston's working women - by 2021. Analysis of the first year of the initiative found that nine out of 10 participants identified a new target salary through market research training. Close to half the participants either negotiated higher compensation for their existing job or achieved a competitive starting salary for a new job. Three in 10 asked directly for a raise. On average, women working full-time in Boston make $0.77 to a man’s $1.00.
Mayor's Office of Women's Advancement, American Association of University Women (AAUW), the Boston Foundation, YW Boston, other local organisations
Any woman living in Boston area can attend a two-hour training session for free. The sessions are hosted throughout the city, in locations such as the State House and Public Library, often by local partner organisations and community groups, which are also very important for recruiting participants. The workshops are all run by the AAUW - which also provided the curriculum - and include negotiation strategy training, practical role-plays, information about the pay gap, and salary self-assessments. The scheme is running for a five-year period, and is part of a broader, city-wide effort to close the gender pay gap. This also includes a new pay-transparency initiative and a law preventing employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history.
Women and girls, ethnic minorities
Cost & Value
The scheme is funded by the AAUW, but the costs are not publicly available.
Running since 2016
One challenge has been that, while the wage gap for women of colour is larger, most attendees have been white women, so the focus is now on outreach to organisations with women of colour as members. Hispanic women made up 13% of first-year participants while black women made up 12%. A broader limitation is that the gender pay gap is very complex and will not be closed by individual women getting better at negotiating salaries. But these workshops do have a role to play in combatting gender socialisation, changing work cultures, and building confidence.
Boston is in talks with 25 other cities that wish to implement the program.
The City of Boston is offering free salary negotiation workshops to all female residents in an effort to close the city’s wage gap. On average, women working full-time in Boston make $0.77 to a man’s $1.00.
Research shows that women are not as confident about negotiating their salary as men. One study of graduating MBA students found that half of the men had negotiated their job offers, compared to only one-eighth of the women.
In its second year, Boston’s scheme had already trained over 5,000 women. They aim to train half of Boston’s working women by the end of the five-year scheme. “The goal is to train 85,000 women by 2021,” said Megan Costello, former Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement.
Each two-hour session includes negotiation strategy and style training, practical role-plays, information about the pay gap, and salary self-assessments. Aside from the core curriculum, the character of the workshops – hosted in every neighbourhood of the city – depends on locality and participants.
“They really vary; we partner a lot with local organisations, like the YW Boston, or Young Black Women’s Society to host them, and to invite their membership bases. But we also host them at our libraries and community centres – we have them all over,” said Costello.
“It’s very interesting because where they are and who’s the host organisation really affects who comes. We really do rely on membership organisations to blast it out to their networks. Sometimes there are 10 people in the room; sometimes there are 75.”
The workshops are run and facilitated by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which also provided the curriculum and is funding the scheme. In the past, the AAUW has offered similar training programs to university students across the US.
Analysis of the first year of the initiative found that nine out of 10 participants identified a new target salary through market research training. Close to half the participants either negotiated increased compensation for their existing job or achieved a competitive starting salary for a new job. Three in 10 directly asked for a raise.
And word is now starting to get out. “We’ve spoken to probably over 25 other cities, including two in Canada, about this work,” said Costello.
But while these results are positive, challenges remain. One important hurdle is that while women of colour face a larger wage gap, most attendees have been white women. Hispanic women made up 13% of the first year group while black women made up 12%. There is now a renewed focus on targeting organisations with women of colour as members to partner with.
“We know that the wage gap for women of colour is much larger. We know that the opportunity gaps are larger. So we know we have to be intentional about really making sure we are including and reaching out to women of colour, and addressing the cultural differences that might exist,” said Costello.
There is also a realisation within the administration that, while these workshops do play a role to play in closing the wage gap by combatting gender socialisation, changing work cultures, and building confidence, their impact on such a large structural issue can only extend so far.
“The gender pay gap is very complex. It exists in actual dollars and cents, in how companies retain women for less time than men, in unconscious bias, and in flexible work schedules. It’s not just up to individual women to negotiate their salaries – though that is a factor, because women are socialised differently, so we have to ask for our worth and learn our worth,” said Costello.
One of the other parts of the puzzle involves groundbreaking work with employers on pay transparency. “In 2014, we began work so that employers for the first time in our nation’s history are reporting wage data anonymously, through what’s called the ‘100% Talent Compact’. We have 219 companies that are working with us on that,” said Costello.
Massachusetts also just passed new pay equity legislation that puts in place more safeguards for women in the workplace, such as preventing employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history.
While the salary negotiation workshops are just one innovative element of a broader scheme, they represent a unique effort to engage individual women in the struggle at the grassroots level. It is clear that the mayor and the city administration, with its new Office of Women’s Advancement, aim to really bring about change. The real challenge may in fact lie in generating just as much enthusiasm among the city’s residents and businesses.
“It’s really exciting to see what’s happening in Boston – I think with this work with employers, individual women, and legislation, in five to 10 years we’re really going to see a change,” said Costello.
(Picture credit: AAUW Start Smart and Work Smart)