The push to close the gender and racial wage gaps in Massachusetts is kicking into high gear on Beacon Hill.
Samantha Mewis, a member of the United States Women’s National Team that successfully fought for equal pay for professional soccer players, testified at a legislative hearing on Tuesday in support of a pair of bills that would mandate employers provide salary ranges on job postings and collectively disclose wage data by race, gender, and job category.
The Hanson native was on the team that won the World Cup in 2019 and a bronze medal at the 2021 Summer Olympics. She has been a constituent of state Representative Josh Cutler, who chairs the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development with Senator Pat Jehlen. They, along with Representative Brandy Fluker Oakley, are cosponsoring the salary transparency bill, while the wage data legislation is being put forward by state Representatives David Rogers and Christine Barber, and state Senators Paul Feeney and Liz Miranda.
“After decades, our fight for equal pay was successful. For many others, the fight is still ongoing,” said Mewis, who now lives in Dorchester. “Without understanding the financial benefits and resources the men’s team were receiving, we would not even have known the level of discrimination we were facing. These two bills would make more data available on gender and racial pay gaps . . . We know that leveling the playing field in this way and shining a light on these pay disparities is the first step to ensuring equal pay for equal work.”
Beyond Mewis’s star power, the bills have gained the support of an influential trade group: Associated Industries of Massachusetts. Business groups have traditionally been reluctant to get behind more regulation, but in recent years they’ve realized they have to walk the walk to address inequities that women and people of color face in the workplace.
Since last summer, AIM has been working with former lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy and Megan Driscoll, founder of staffing firm PharmaLogics Recruiting, on how to strengthen the state’s 2016 equal pay law. Murphy and Driscoll are among the leaders of Wage Equity Now, a coalition of more than 80 organizations and labor unions that support the two bills. Among the members: the Massachusetts Women’s Forum, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, Amplify Latinx, the Boston Foundation, and the SEIU 32BJ union.
While AIM eventually backed the 2016 equal pay law, this time the group — which has about 3,400 members representing over 150 industries — wanted to be out front on the issue. When the pandemic shut down the economy and schools in 2020, women felt the brunt of the impact with a disproportionate number choosing to leave the workforce to take care of their families.
Since then, AIM has been urging an array of policy changes, from promoting more affordable child care to ensuring that women aren’t penalized for taking career breaks. The salary transparency and wage data bills align with the group’s new sense of urgency to make sure women don’t fall behind in the workplace.
To AIM, getting these bills passed would mark just the beginning of leveling the playing field. As progressive as Massachusetts may seem, women here earn 86 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the National Women’s Law Center analysis of census data. The gap is much larger for women of color. Black women, for example, make 58 cents for every dollar a white male worker earns.
“If we are lucky enough to get this passed, the inequities are not going to disappear overnight,” said Brooke Thomson, AIM’s executive vice president of government affairs who testified on the group’s behalf. “But it shows a commitment for the business community to lead and not follow.”
So why wasn’t the 2016 equal pay good enough? Partly because that measure barred employers from asking salary history, so employers began asking a different question: What are your salary expectations? There was an unintended consequence to that approach: White male candidates tended to overestimate their earning power, while women and people of color underestimated theirs.
Requiring employers to list a salary range on job postings — say from $80,000 to $100,000 for a project manager — can reduce inequities when candidates pull a number out of the air. The bill would also allow for salary range disclosures if requested by current employees. New York City has a similar measure on its books, as do a handful of states including California, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
The wage data bill is modeled on the work of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, which has been aggregating gender and racial wage gap data from about 250 employers on a voluntary basis. The legislation would mandate that the state collect similar data by receiving copies of the federal equal employment opportunity report employers file annually about demographic workforce data. The state would aggregate the data by sector and publish it so inequities can be tracked.
The growing sense of momentum for the legislation is boosted by Tuesday’s testimonies from Attorney General Andrea Campbell and Cathy Minehan, the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The bills also arrive as champions of equal pay dominate Beacon Hill — Governor Maura Healey, Senate President Karen Spilka, and Treasurer Deb Goldberg. More details need to be worked out, though ― some supporters want the bills merged, while others want to make sure compliance isn’t too onerous for smaller employers.
For Murphy, the former lieutenant governor, the timing is right for another reason. When many people can work from anywhere, a state with laws designed to close historic inequities represents a competitive advantage.
“This helps keep workers of color in the state,” said Murphy. “It’s constructive in what it’s doing to both keeping our economy going and growing, and at the same time making it more equitable.”
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.