Earning More Than a Place at the Table: Women, Wages and the Workforce

If you went by some of the articles in the press lately, you could be forgiven for thinking it was still 1983. The stories of the stay-at-home husbands and high-powered women executives to whom they are married recently appeared in the pages of The New York Times -- 30 years after Michael Keaton starred with Teri Garr in Mr. Mom. And, as if that weren't enough, we've seen some serious news stories recently about who does the housework when the man and woman both work.

In Boston, where I live and work, this past April, under the direction of Mayor Thomas Menino, a number of Boston companies and organizations formed The Women's Workforce Council to focus on a workplace issue that makes a difference for every family -- wage equality for women.

What the Women's Workforce Council found in Boston probably has corollaries in your city or state. For instance:

  • Women help fuel the economy. Women comprise 52 percent of Boston's population and 51 percent of the working population. What makes Boston unique is that it has more young women per capita than any other major city.

  • Women are underpaid relative to their male peers. In 2011, women in Boston who worked full-time earned 83 cents for every dollar earned by male residents. Nationwide, that figure is worse: Women working full time earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to the latest wage survey from the Economic Policy Institute.
  • Women continue to be underrepresented in senior executive and tenured positions. The shortage of women at senior levels definitely contributes to the wage gap.
  • The Women's Workforce Council has done more than just identify the wage gap; it has forged partnerships with a number of employers who've pledged to understand root causes of the wage gap and help create change throughout Boston (and hopefully serve as an inspiration beyond). To do this, the Council is focusing on a number of workplace issues that will help close the gender wage gap and build a better Boston. Through its white paper, "Boston Closing the Wage Gap Becoming the Best City in America for Working Women," the Council focused on interventions such as:

    • Initiatives that expose young girls to the science, technology, engineering, math (STEM), finance and law fields
    • Mentorship programs that expose young women to female role models in fields where they are underrepresented
    • Expanded STEM introductory college courses
    • On-site or subsidized child care
    • Child care referral and back-up child care services:
    • Paid family leave
    • Management training on managing flexible workplaces
    • Gender-blind applicant screening systems

    While the Council and its member companies and organizations are working on these programs to help women in our community, the observant reader will have already realized the real wonder of these initiatives -- they don't help just women, they help all families and make for a stronger workforce no matter the gender of the employee.

    The news may be stuck in a time warp, but that doesn't mean our idea of women's wages has to be. Helping women earn, not just a place at the table, but an equal wage for equal work isn't an idea that's time has come because of gender equality. It's an idea that's time has come because of being an incredible driver of economic growth. We're talking about half of the workforce. An equal wage doesn't just benefit women -- it benefits their families, their communities, their businesses, their local economies and our nation as a whole. We need to stop focusing on who goes to work and start focusing on making sure those who work are fairly rewarded.