The project aims to close, or at least shrink, the city’s wage gap over the course of the next five years by encouraging women to ask for that raise or promotion.

The city of Boston isn’t taking their gender wage gap lying down like the majority of U.S. cities.

Instead, they’re offering a free salary negotiation workshop to roughly 85,000 women – almost half of Boston’s female workforce. The $1.5 million project aims to close, or at least shrink, the city’s persistent 17-cent wage gap over the course of the next five years by encouraging women to ask for that raise or promotion.

“Legislation alone won’t fix things,” said Megan Costello, executive director of Boston’s Office of Women’s Advancement, in an interview with the Washington Post. “We need to change the culture to move the needle.”

Costello and company have made it their personal mission to close the wage gap in Boston, hoping that their efforts will one day serve as a model for other U.S. cities trying to do the same.

Ask and You Shall Receive

While women “not asking” is far from the only catalyst behind the gender wage gap, the city is taking a unique approach to eradicating the unconscious bias present when hiring, paying and promoting women in the workplace.

In addition to the salary negotiation workshops, they are reviewing wage data with employers and generally “trying to empower women,” according to a recent NPR podcast.

The workshop offers advice such as “know your value,” “identify a target salary and benefits package” and “know your strategy and practice” when it comes to negotiating a higher salary or asking for a raise.

They also provide a much-needed space for working women to ask questions, seek answers and generally discuss these complex issues. The problem isn’t a lack of negotiation tactics, but a lack of women asking for higher pay in the first place.

“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,” said workshop participant Leah Press in the podcast.

A Much-Needed Economic Boost

As I’ve said before, there’s also a stark economic advantage to offering equal wages for equal work regardless of gender. In 2012, for example, our economy missed out on approximately $447.9 billion due to inequitable pay for men and women, according to a paper from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Theoretically, we’ve lost out on well over $1 trillion in GDP from 2013 to 2015.

"While the workshops may get the city one step closer to a nonexistent gender wage gap, city officials are aware that the war against inequitable pay is far from over."

“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,” said Boston mayor Marty Walsh.

Walsh is correct in his assumption. According to Evelyn Murphy, a scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, women are more likely to spend the additional income they receive.

“Women who are paid fairly and paid what they’re worth will likely spend that money to support themselves and their families, because so many women live in poverty and need every penny they get in their paychecks,” said Murphy in an interview with the Huffington Post. “The turnover effect could be extremely important in terms of products purchased and jobs created.”

It’s Not a Solution, But It’s a Start

While the workshops may get the city one step closer to a nonexistent gender wage gap, city officials are aware that the war against inequitable pay is far from over. Truth be told, women “not asking” is just one small piece of the puzzle.

“There are a lot of factors that determine the wage gap, such as the gender division of household and caregiving labor,” explains NPR’s Ibby Caputo. “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.”

The wage gap is also exacerbated by certain unconscious social constructs. According to a 2005 study by Carnegie Mellon economist Linda Babcock in which men and women asked for a raise using the exact same wording, men are often perceived as “authoritative” when negotiating salaries while women are “too demanding.”

While these biases are most likely unintentional, closing the wage gap means making hiring managers aware of these existing predispositions. This can be supplemented by decimating the secrecy surrounding salary information and reporting wage data across all industries, as the city of Boston is already doing.

Despite the various road blocks on the way to closing the pay gap, the city of Boston is steadfast in their commitment to equal pay for all genders.

“We know that the wage gap continues to be an issue all across this nation,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at the inaugural Boston Women’s Venture Capital Summit last April. “It’s time to stop talking about it and start taking action.”

Our Take

The urgency surrounding Boston’s wage equality program points to an enduring truth: The wage gap isn’t just a social issue; it’s an economic issue that affects us all equally. A step towards wage equality is a step towards a healthier, stronger economy.

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Posted 02.04.2016 - 06:05 pm EDT