Boston Mayor Thomas Menino recently announced that he plans to make his the first city to eliminate the gender wage gap. It’s a commendable goal, but as of yet it sounds like Boston’s plan consists primarily of getting companies to voluntarily pledge to provide wage data to the city and commit to ending internal wage inequities. Getting local businesses on board is a vital first step, but the wage gap has multiple causes and ending it will require a more diverse approach. Here are some suggestions to Mayor Menino and any other lawmakers who may want to make similar pledges.
Step 1: Intervene in education
Boston already has the most highly educated women of any major city in the United States, and nationwide women’s increasing levels of education have helped to shrink the wage gap by 7 percent. Yet women still have to earn an additional degree to make as much money as a man with less education. For example, the average woman has to complete a PhD to earn as much as a man with a Bachelor’s degree. Women are outpacing men in college completion rates, but there is still a gender wage gap among recent graduates with the same degrees from the same types of universities taking the same kinds of jobs. Recent graduates need access to accurate information on what kind of salary they should expect based on their major and occupation, and should be given the tools to help them negotiate for a fair offer.
Step 2: Raise the minimum wage
Women make up two-thirds of all minimum wage workers in the United States and nearly two-thirds of all tipped workers. Because women are more likely to work for the minimum wage than men, raising their base pay to $10.10 would help to close the wage gap, in addition to increasing GDP by $32.6 billion and creating 140,000 net new jobs.
Step 3: Desegregate industries and occupations
Nearly half of the wage gap between men and women is due to differences in industries and occupations. While many claim this is because of different preferences and choices, it is also often because of roadblocks and barriers that serve to implicitly keep women out of certain jobs. For example, 40 percent of women in STEM fields say they put off having a child because of their career, and women in STEM fields are far more likely to leave their jobs after marriage or having children than women in other careers. Policies that promote greater work-life balance can help to level the playing field in these industries for women while also providing real benefits to men.
Step 4: Implement family and medical leave insurance
A little more than 10 percent of the gender wage gap is due to women spending less time in the labor force than men. Much of this is because women are far more likely to temporarily exit the labor force after giving birth and to provide care to family members, which has negative impacts on their lifelong earnings. A national family and medical leave insurance program would facilitate women reentering the workforce when they are ready while simultaneously encouraging more men to take leave to provide care for the families – both of which would help to shrink the wage gap.
Step 5: End pay secrecy
As Lilly Ledbetter’s case showed, when workers aren’t able to talk with their colleagues about their salaries it can be impossible to know if someone is being discriminated against. Today almost half of all workers are either explicitly prohibited or strongly discouraged from talking about their salary with coworkers. Legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act would put an end to pay secrecy policies.
Sarah Jane Glynn is the Associate Director of Women's Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.