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The Podium

Closing the wage gap in Boston

Boston has taken a major step toward Mayor Tom Menino’s vision for the city to become the best in the United States for working women by closing the wage gap: Business leaders gathered earlier this week to sign 100% Talent: The Boston Women’s Compact.

Early signers include State Street Corporation, Raytheon, Partners Healthcare, Suffolk Construction, National Grid, Hill Holliday, Blue Cross Blue Shield, BJ’s Wholesale, Putnam Investments and many other enterprises large and small. What these businesses that drive our economy know is that effectively managing their talent and leveraging their human capital through the hiring, retention, and advancement of women is not only the right thing to do, but also is good business.

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Massachusetts is in the unique position of having the most highly educated cohort of women within the United States. Boston is poised to become the most competitive city in the nation if it builds on that strength as well as the fact of its having the largest proportion of working young women of any major city. Women between 20 and 34 comprise nearly one-fifth of city residents, and women make up nearly half of heads of households. Bottom line, women are a major portion of our city’s workforce and if they do well, so will Boston.

100% Talent: The Boston Women’s Compact invites businesses to commit to three actions aimed at closing the wage gap. First, they will assess their own situations. Second, they will address any issues they identify. And third, they will make data available anonymously every two years to assess and report on progress.

To assist businesses in meeting the tenets of the Compact, the Mayor’s Women’s Workforce Council has published a companion report that provides employers with numerous evidence-based interventions that businesses can adopt. Female residents of our city earn 83 cents for every dollar their male colleagues earn, and female workers in Boston, whether residents of the city or not, earn 85 cents on the dollar. The differential in lost wages over a 40-year career span is substantial, and the negative impact on how women see themselves as contributors to the workplace is damaging not only to the employee but also the company.

The leadership gender gap is considerable not only for Boston but also for the nation. Only 4.2 percent of women have broken into the ranks of CEO for Fortune 500 companies and a mere 16.6 percent of board seats are held by women. In addition to women’s skills and expertise being underutilized, research shows that women and minorities are significantly less likely to remain in an organization where they don’t see peers within the leadership structure. The Council’s report provides many strategies to effectively attract, retain, and promote the most talented workers. These strategies can help to produce a return on the investment the company has made in the employee. Most importantly, they are a step toward an environment in which the valued employee will invest her talent in the institution rather than depart.

Here in the United States, as well as in Europe, women receive the majority of high school, college, and post-graduate degrees. As a society we have already successfully invested in women’s education. What we have yet to do is reap the full benefit of this investment. Doing so will create gains for businesses, communities, families and for women themselves.

As Council members, we believe that the time is right for Boston to take a national leadership role in closing the wage gap. In an ever more competitive world, effective use of 100 percent of our talent here in the Greater Boston area will make us a city that attracts the best talent around. In doing so, our working women will thrive, area businesses will thrive, and Boston itself will thrive.

Victoria A. Budson is executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School. Cathy Minehan is dean of the School of Management at Simmons College. Alison A. Quirk is executive vice president of State Street Corporation.

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