The Declaration of Independence, the first official document in the history of our nation, famously stated that “all men are created equal” — specifically leaving women out of the equation. Since then, women have been pushing back on this patriarchal structure, trying to achieve equality for women in the United States. In recent years, the mainstage in this fight for equality has been the American workplace.
The Boston Globe published an article Wednesday highlighting the most recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on gender inequalities in the Massachusetts workforce. The results show that women now earn 84.3 cents to each dollar of their male counterparts, marking a 2.7 percent increase from the previous year — the smallest wage gap ever recorded in the state.
Activists far and wide will decry this disparity — of course they will, a 15.7 percent difference in salary is not pocket change by any standards. However, when compared with wage gaps throughout history, a disparity this small is actually phenomenal.
Women have been earning a fraction as much as men since tsehe moment they first entered the workforce. This is a centuries-old battle, deeply rooted in our patriarchal history. Now, for the first time, we’re actually starting to get to where we want to be. We as a society, and especially as a state, are headed in the right direction, and making big strides along the way.
Just 10 years ago, women in Massachusetts earned 74.8 cents on the dollar. Closing this gap by nearly 10 cents in as many years is huge. Furthermore, these statistics show only the harshest reality, not accounting for any other factors, many of which can significantly affect these figures, including job responsibilities, work experience and specialization. When you adjust for these other influencers, the gap shrinks enormously.
The fact of the matter is that we could be doing so much worse. The United States is easily one of the best countries for women’s equality and rights around the globe. More specifically, Massachusetts is one of the best states in the country for women to live and work. The most recent data ranks us tied with Rhode Island for 13th smallest wage gap in the country. Those kind of rankings are nothing to write home about. However, in 2016, Governor Charlie Baker signed the strongest equal pay law in the country, one that won’t go into effect until 2018. With any luck, a few years down the line, these results will tell a very different story for women in Massachusetts.
In 2015, Boston became the first city in the United States to offer salary negotiation training to help women advocate for their own raises — with one of the primary factors causing women to earn less than men being women’s hesitation to negotiate their salaries. Surveys show that nearly half of the women who attended these trainings negotiated a pay raise that bumped them up to either at or above the market rate.
Though these workshops originally seemed like a very small step to address a very big issue, the results have been thoroughly impressive. To date, nearly 5,000 women in Boston have attended a workshop, with a goal of training 85,000 — half of the city’s working women.
Even with all this progress, there are some issues that still have a long way to go. People of color, and especially women of color face a disparity much worse than that of women in general. This positive trend for women in Massachusetts doesn’t necessarily address issues specific to these groups, women of color will undoubtedly benefit from a general boost in equality for working women.
Another aspect of this issue is addressing the misogyny in which the pay gap is rooted. Earlier this year, the story of two co-workers, one male and one female, switching email signatures in their professional correspondences went viral. The woman, who had been frustrated by working with condescending and rude clients, found that when using a man’s name on her emails, her job suddenly became much easier. The man experienced the exact opposite, with his once perfectly pleasant clients beginning to treat him with noticeably less respect.
When women have to deal with sexist clients, coworkers and superiors at the office, it is clear that inequality in the workplace extends far beyond simple legislation. It is also a societal issue, although tackling that scope of sexism is even harder than the rest.
It’s hard to say that we are doing enough for women’s equality, or moving fast enough on these issues. Nothing could ever be fast enough when it comes to achieving equality. Ideally, that kind of equality would exist today, or yesterday or 100 years ago. As with many other issues, Massachusetts is just doing its best. This just happens to be one of those times when “doing our best” is actually pretty good.