Three years into her human resources job at a cybersecurity software firm, Ashley Pare walked into her boss’s office and asked for a raise. Despite being armed with market research showing she was being underpaid, her boss turned her down, and told her he was angry she had even asked. Pare started looking for a new job soon after, and attended a free salary negotiation workshop for women put on by the City of Boston in the fall of 2015.
A month later, armed with new skills, she got a job offer and negotiated a higher salary than she was first offered. She has since moved on to another job, with another negotiated pay increase — and now makes 17 percent more than she did less than two years ago.
“It was a new confidence to be like, ‘I’m not going to take this anymore,’ ” Pare said. “I know I have value in the market. . . . I felt empowered and in control.”
Pare, 34, who went on to become a volunteer facilitator for the city’s workshops and start her own salary negotiation business, is not the only one who benefited from the training. Of 52 workshop attendees interviewed as part of a new study by the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at University of Massachusetts Boston, nearly half either negotiated a pay raise at their current job or a starting salary at a new job that bumped them up to or above the market rate.
In short: They achieved pay equity, which is precisely the goal of the workshops.
The results of the study — thought to be the first of its kind to examine women’s experiences as they learn to confront pay discrimination — surprised Ann Bookman, the UMass Boston researcher who conducted it. It wasn’t just the number of women who got higher salaries. The majority of those in the study group said they had increased confidence after attending a workshop, and nearly all of them talked to someone outside their workplace about the gender wage gap.
Learning how pervasive the wage gap is, and realizing that it’s a systemic problem, is a valuable lesson, Bookman said. It’s important for women to know, “This is not about me; this is not a personal commentary on my value in the workplace,” she said.
Pay disparities between men and women have become part of the national conversation in recent years, with everyone from female movie stars to soccer players addressing it, and the City of Boston has led the way in tackling it head-on.
Boston was the first city in the nation to start offering the salary negotiation training, in 2015, held in collaboration with the American Association of University Women, and a handful of cities have followed suit. Nearly 5,000 women around the region have attended the workshops, and the city is aiming to reach 85,000 by 2021. The curriculum was developed by Evelyn Murphy, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and president of the Wage Project, which is working to end wage discrimination against women.
Murphy is also cochair of the city’s Women’s Workforce Council, which has been gathering wage data from Boston area employers — also a first. The initial results, announced in January, found that women in Greater Boston earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with men, a gap that reflects the national average. The average annual salary for women in the Boston area is just under $79,000, while men make more than $103,000 on average, according to the report.
The occupations and industries men and women go into account for more than half the pay gap, according to Cornell University economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, and differences in education and experience also contribute, but 38 percent of the gap remains unexplained — and is widely attributed to discrimination.
Discrimination could contribute to even more of the pay gap by discouraging women from going into higher-paying, male-dominated fields.
The salary negotiation workshops in Boston are intended to encourage women to take matters into their own hands. Among the tips shared during the two-hour seminar: Determine a target salary and benchmark it to comparable jobs in the area on salary.com, then set a “bolstering range” of no more than 20 percent, with the target amount at the bottom. Also set a “resistance point,” the lowest salary you’re willing to accept.
Whether or not it should be a woman’s responsibility to fix the wage gap is a matter of debate, with some arguing that it is the employers, not the women, who should be addressing the issue. Research shows that women who ask for raises are also viewed more negatively than their male counterparts.
One workshop tip: Determine a target salary and benchmark it to comparable jobs in the area on salary.com, then set a ‘bolstering range’ of no more than 20 percent, with the target amount at the bottom.
“There should be, I think, an equal amount of attention being paid to teaching employers to make sure their environment is fair,” said Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Legislation is also being used to close the divide, including a Massachusetts law going into effect next year that will forbid employers from asking job candidates about their salary history.
But women have a role to play, too. As Bookman puts it: “Just because women are discriminated against doesn’t mean they can’t be agents of change.”
And it appears to be working. Nearly 90 percent of women in the study group researched market rates for their jobs and 40 percent talked to their supervisors about their value to the company.
At a recent workshop, about 70 mostly 20- and 30-something women crowded into a startup’s conference room with windows overlooking the Financial District. The facilitator started things off by having the women write down a list of their job-related skills and accomplishments, to prepare them to make a case for themselves, and asked them to share their anxieties about asking for a raise.
One attendee asked: What do you do if a hiring manager asks your current salary?
The answer? Deflect, deflect, deflect.
The woman who asked the question, a 25-year-old Cambridge software consultant who is looking for another job and admits to being intimidated by the salary negotiation process, said later that she is often asked in interviews how much she makes. And she has occasionally been goaded into revealing it.
But after learning phrases that can be used to shut down a probing interviewer, such as “I’d like to see if I’m a good fit first before we discuss salary,” the woman, who asked that her name not be used because of her job search, said she now has a greater ability to guide the conversation.
“Now I know I will never, ever give a number again,” she said, “it doesn’t matter how nicely they ask.”