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Boston Program Teaches Women To Negotiate For Better Salaries


Let's look now at one of the toughest issues in politics, how to erase inequality in pay between women and men. In today's workplace, women are just like men only cheaper, at least that's what the statistics say, with women earning 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. But in Boston, women do a little better. They make a few pennies more on the dollar. Ibby Caputo reports on how the city of Boston is taking a novel approach to closing the pay gap.

IBBY CAPUTO, BYLINE: On a weekday evening at the YWCA in Boston, volunteer Mariko Meier stands in front of a room full of women and tells them to...

MARIKO MEIER: Know your value. Identify a target salary and benefits package. Know your strategy and practice.

CAPUTO: Meier is facilitating a salary negotiation workshop offered for free by the city of Boston. It's targeted to women and is the city's latest attempt at closing the gender-wage gap. Workshop participant Leah Press says she's talked with her friends about pay equity before, but she's never had the conversation in a larger group.

LEAH PRESS: So far, I think my take-away tonight is really understanding what my value is, not being humble in a sense of devaluing myself, but realizing how much I add to my company and expecting that they take care of me for that.

CAPUTO: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says there's an economic advantage to teaching women to negotiate.

MARTY WALSH: 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, I mean, it makes a tremendous impact in the economy.

CAPUTO: The project is scaled to have a big impact. Boston aims to train 85,000 women how to negotiate their salaries over the next five years. That's nearly half of the city's female workforce.

MEGAN COSTELLO: We decided, you know, let's go big or go home on this one.

CAPUTO: Megan Costello is the executive director of Boston's Office of Women's Advancement. She says legislation alone is not going to fix the gender-wage gap.

COSTELLO: The question for us is, what's the cultural reason for why the wage gap is so persistent and so evident in every industry?

CAPUTO: To answer this question, the city is reviewing wage data with employers. It's also trying to empower women.

COSTELLO: Part of the problem right now is women don't ask, right?

CAPUTO: Right, sort of - research actually shows men don't ask either. Hannah Riley Bowles is a senior lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

HANNAH BOWLES: It is not the majority of men in most studies that are negotiating. It's a minority of men and then it's an even smaller minority of women.

CAPUTO: Boston's goal is to turn that minority into a majority. But will teaching women to negotiate make a difference?

BOWLES: Negotiation is probably one component of the gender-wage gap, but it's really important that we not send the message that the gender-wage gap has to do with some deficiency on women's part to negotiate.

CAPUTO: There are a lot of factors that determine the wage gap, such as the gender division of household and caregiving labor. Negotiating who's going to pick the kids up from school and make dinner can have a direct effect on who's going to advance in their career by staying late at work and taking on more job responsibilities. Bowles says giving women the space to have these conversations is a step in the right direction, especially if they form friendships and help each other problem solve at work and at home, but she's not so sure Boston's big experiment will narrow the gender-wage gap.

BOWLES: I think it could have a really material and important effect for a number of women, but I would not think that we would move the needle only doing this.

CAPUTO: That may be true, but Megan Costello says it's a start.

COSTELLO: All I know is that the wage gap has not closed, and we need to start thinking differently about our strategies.

CAPUTO: For now, Boston's strategy is to take a chance and invest in women. For NPR News, I'm Ibby Caputo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.