Talking about how much money you make has long been taboo in American culture. People applying for jobs are often even kept in the dark about how much those jobs pay until an offer is made — a lack of information that observers say has perpetuated pay inequities in a labor force where the scales remain tipped in favor of white men.
But in the past few years, several states and cities have started requiring employers to disclose salary ranges in job listings, and a number of others have introduced similar legislation, including Massachusetts. Two bills promoting pay transparency were recently reintroduced on Beacon Hill and are expected to be endorsed by the state’s largest business association, greatly increasing the chance of becoming law.
One measure calls for companies to provide pay ranges in job postings, as well as to employees inquiring about other internal positions, while another would make larger organizations’ collective wage data public, aggregated by industry and broken down by race, gender, and job category.
These changes would arm job seekers with knowledge that puts everyone on more equal footing, advocacy groups say, and start erasing the large gap in wages between men and women, especially women of color.
Together, the bills go further than laws in Colorado, California, and Washington to address wage inequities that continue to persist, even though women make up roughly half the workforce and differences in education and skills have largely disappeared.
“This is one of those opportunities to take a leading role in genuinely affecting longstanding racial and gender wage gaps that have been with us forever and a day,” said Evelyn Murphy, a former Massachusetts lieutenant governor and longtime pay equity advocate who is a leader of the Wage Equity Now coalition pushing for the bills.
“We’ve always fixed people,” she said, referring to women being told to “lean in”— get more education, work harder, attend salary negotiation workshops. But mandating that employers shed some light on their payrolls takes the effort to another level, Murphy said: “This really is structural reform.”
Massachusetts has some of the strongest pay equity laws in the country, banning employers from asking applicants their previous salaries or from prohibiting workers from discussing their wages. Yet women here still earn less than 86 cents for every dollar men make, according to the National Women’s Law Center’s analysis of worker-reported census data. For Black, Latina, and Indigenous women, the gap is significantly larger.
In Greater Boston, data gathered from employers by the Boston Women’s Workforce Council found that women earn just 70 cents on the dollar compared to men, a gap that has widened since data was first collected in 2016 and a wider range of employers started participating.
Some of the wage gap can be explained by gender differences in job choices and time taken off to care for children, but the difference that remains is widely attributed to discrimination and gender stereotyping.
Momentum to address pay inequities has been growing, driven in part by a massive labor shortage that has sent tremors through nearly every industry. Employers are doing everything they can to attract job seekers, and three-quarters of those who responded to a recent Indeed survey said they were more likely to apply for a job if the salary range is listed. Younger workers in particular are leading the charge, said Cheryl Pinarchick, managing partner at Fisher Phillips in Boston who cochairs the law firm’s pay equity group. And the number of requests from employers seeking pay equity evaluations and assistance with pay architecture from her firm has “exploded” in the past year.
“Not everybody’s thrilled about it, but I do think many companies are seeing the benefits of doing it,” she said.
Last year, Indeed, one of the biggest job-search sites in the country, started publishing estimated salary ranges in job listings even when employers don’t provide them.
In Massachusetts, the employer group Associated Industries of Massachusetts is close to endorsing the pay-related bills, said Brooke Thomson, the organization’s executive vice president of government affairs. Filling jobs is employers’ number one problem, she said, and interviewing job candidates who balk when the salary is revealed can be a major waste of time.
“You have a better chance of finding qualified candidates if they have a better understanding of the job they’re applying for,” Thomson said.
In Massachusetts, only 29 percent of employers list pay ranges in their postings on the employment platform Jobcase, compared to 72 percent in Colorado, which has required the information since 2021, and 61 percent in New York City, where a similar law went into effect in November — demonstrating that a mandate doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate compliance, even with penalties on the line. In Massachusetts, employers with 15 or more workers would be subject to a warning for the first offense and a maximum fine of $500 for the second.
The Boston-based financial giant State Street Corp. just started publishing salary ranges in job postings, as did the recruiting firm Aquent, also headquartered in Boston, which is also working to do so for client postings nationwide.
But most employers aren’t ready to make the change, said Fred Goff, chief executive of Cambridge-based Jobcase, either because they don’t have the bandwidth or don’t have consistent pay scales and risk upsetting employees whose wages fall below posted rates. Some companies already being required to publish wage data have posted ranges so broad they’re silly, Goff said. A recent Bloomberg analysis of more than 400 open positions in New York City, for instance, found pay bands with a range of more than $100,000.
In fact, laws aimed at addressing the wage gap don’t always work. A 2018 Massachusetts mandate banning employers from asking job candidates about their previous salaries has “backfired” in some ways, said Megan Driscoll, a consultant and member of the Wage Equity Now coalition. Driscoll used to run PharmaLogics Recruiting, now based in Woburn, and found that even when companies started asking job candidates about their salary expectations instead of their history, men tended to ask for far more, keeping the wage gap alive. One female job applicant at a Boston biotech had planned to ask for $95,000, but Driscoll advised her not to name a salary. The offer eventually came in at $145,000 — an amount that likely would have been far lower if she’d asked for less, Driscoll said.
There is evidence that bans on asking about salary history have helped, though. A 2020 study by the Boston University Law School found that workers who change jobs in states where the bans are in effect earn 4.1 percent more than job changers elsewhere. The increase was even larger — 6.2 percent — for women, and for people of color, who earned 5.9 percent more.
Wage gaps are also much narrower among union members and public sector workers, where pay scales are more open.
But even among local employers committed to addressing pay inequity, the gap has widened, noted Patricia Jehlen, the state senator who cosponsored the job-postings bill. “That to me says self-examination is apparently not enough,” she said.
That’s because fixing systemic problems isn’t easy, said Kim Borman, executive director of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, and it extends beyond starting salaries, But greater wage transparency is a start.
“You’re trying to make a cultural change,” Borman said. “It takes a long time. It’s a real shift.”