Evelyn Murphy is founder of The WAGE (Women Are Getting Even) Project, a Brookline-based national nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the gender wage gap. A former lieutenant governor, she was appointed by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh in 2014 to co-chair the Boston’s Women’s Workforce Council, whose mission is to work with the public and private sector on a pledge to end wage inequality. So far, about 110 Boston employers have signed the pledge and agreed to share payroll data to provide an accurate measurement of the city’s wage gap and to help find solutions. Murphy, 75, is also the author of “Getting Even: Why Women Don’t Get Paid Like Men — and What To Do About It,” published by Simon and Schuster in 2005. She recently spoke about her career and her push to even the playing field for women in the workplace.
1. Murphy ran for lieutenant governor after realizing the influence being in state government could have in improving people’s lives during her stints as the state’s secretary of Environmental Affairs and secretary of Economic Affairs under Governor Michael Dukakis from 1975 to 1985. She was elected to the lieutenant governor position in 1986, becoming the first woman in state history to hold a constitutional office.
“When I decided to run for lieutenant governor, it never occurred to me that no woman had ever run for state office. . . . Wage inequality was not part of my agenda. During my time as economic affairs secretary, I was focused on child care — corporate responsive child care that would allow more women to work. So for me, the agenda was to build an economic base here that could look into the future.”
2. Murphy was the first person in her family to graduate from college. Murphy earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Duke University, a master’s in economics from Columbia University, and a doctorate in economics from Duke, all by the time she was 25.
“My mother always wanted to make sure I had some kind of skill to get a job, and she always wanted me to go to college because she had not, my father had not, and my sister went for a couple of years to junior college and then got married. My mother married her high school sweetheart and he left her, and she had a daughter and worked until she met my father. So she worked for a few years supporting her daughter on her own. She was a secretary, and she saw that women had to support themselves and she told me that.”
3. After entering the private sector in the 1990s, it became clear to Murphy that companies were not paying enough attention to gender wage inequality. She researched the issue, which led to the publication of her book and the founding of The WAGE Project. The project’s salary negotiation workshops for women have been held on more than 400 college campuses in 49 states. Mayor Walsh committed to offering these workshops free to women in the city’s workforce over the next five years.
“I started researching it. That made vivid for me the discrimination from the ’80s and ’90s was still going on in the 2000s — in the early part of the new century. The book stated that women had to act. We couldn’t legislate our way to resolving this problem; there was no money behind it. So I made a set of recommendations at that time, similar to what [Facebook executive] Sheryl Sandberg said about creating the leaning in circles, I created the wage circle. . . . It’s very exciting. Over the last 10 years or so, I can see the activism that’s been missing is finally here in a scale that could make this measurable difference.”
4. Murphy has held an array of jobs since she started working in her teens, from delivering newspapers, to “an accounting thing” for a meat-packing company, to working for the National Bureau of Standards (now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology) to help pay for graduate school. But she said the hardest job she ever had was as a waitress at a Northern Virginia ice cream parlor in the hot summer months when she was around 17.
“It wasn’t crappy; I enjoyed it. You had to scoop the ice cream and serve it before it melted. I never worked so hard physically in my life. Honest to God, it was pretty hard to do that.”
5. Murphy was born in Panama, where her father was stationed with the Army, and grew up around several military bases, including in North Carolina, Virginia, New York, and Rome, Italy. No stranger to travel, Murphy escapes Massachusetts every January and February for the milder weather of Tucson, Ariz.
“I love the desert and hiking. I’ve been doing it probably 10 years, so I don’t have to shovel snow. I work up there. But hiking in the desert, you can run into javelinas; they’re wild.”