fb-pixel Skip to main content

Where are the women on the state’s list of highest-paid workers?

From left to right: Lisa Colombo, Jacqueline Moloney, and Katherine Newman.

Every year when the comptroller releases salaries of state employees, we kvetch over how many of them earn six figures.

But here’s the real outrage: the dearth of women among the 100 highest-paid state workers. By my count, women accounted for only a quarter of the list in 2019, and no woman cracked the top 10.

It gets worse: Add up the salaries of the highest-paid women, and they account for only 11 percent of the total pie.

“Money is the proxy for power,” said Evelyn Murphy, the former lieutenant governor and the first woman elected to statewide office in Massachusetts. “When you look at the data and have to go down to number 13 to get to the first woman, that says in state government women still have little power.”


At number 13 is Lisa Colombo, executive vice chancellor of Commonwealth Medicine, the health care consulting and operations division of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Colombo took home $510,125 last year.

The second-highest-paid woman, Jacqueline Moloney, comes in at 16. She is chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, a job that earned her $505,207. In third place among women is Katherine Newman, interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, at $447,043.

If the gender gap still doesn’t feel real to you, here’s another way to look at it: the chasm between the highest-paid man and the highest-paid woman. The top male earner, Michael Collins, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, made $1,096,430. That’s twice as much as Colombo.

Colombo was unavailable for comment, but Moloney said she has worked hard to get to where she is. She is also proud to see four other women from UMass Lowell rank among the most highly paid state employees.

Moloney said none of this is by accident. She has made advancing women a priority, with mentoring and leadership training. Today, women account for half of her senior management team at the school. Still, she acknowledged there’s more work to be done at UMass Lowell and elsewhere.


“We’ve made some progress, but none of us are satisfied at where we are,” Moloney said. “We should all be striving to have gender equity in all the places where we work.”

UMass dominates the list of the state’s highest-paid workers, accounting for all but six employees. These well-compensated workers are primarily administrators, deans, and professors. (The data set released this week does not include quasi-state agencies like the Massachusetts Port Authority, which report later.)

UMass president Marty Meehan tells me that employees of public research universities tend to be among the highest-paid on state payrolls all over the country because they reflect what peers at public research universities are paid. (Indeed, employees of public higher education systems in Maryland and New York, for example, also dominate the salary lists in those states.)

When I shared with Meehan the dismal showing of women on the Massachusetts list, he offered no excuses. “We need to do better,” he acknowledged. “Universities should be the leader.”

Meehan has in the past elevated women to prominent posts. When he was chancellor of UMass Lowell, he promoted Moloney to the number two job. After Meehan became president of the UMass system, in 2015, Moloney got the top position at Lowell, becoming the first woman to lead the university since its founding in 1894. Meehan was also behind installing Newman as UMass Boston’s interim chancellor.


“We are constantly encouraging all five campuses to do a better job with gender equity and diversity,” Meehan said. “I get a little more optimistic when I look at the deans who are up and coming.”

Here is where I should point out that I’m not calling on Meehan, or Governor Charlie Baker for that matter, to just increase women’s salaries across the board to match the men’s. This is about making sure women on the state payroll are being considered for — or at least being groomed for — the most coveted jobs.

I’ll also point out that we have an extraordinary number of women in powerful positions in state government who aren’t among the most compensated. Here’s a sampling: Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito ($164,009), Senate President Karen Spilka ($169,061), Attorney General Maura Healey ($182,152), Treasurer Deborah Goldberg ($185,880), Auditor Suzanne Bump ($180,950), health and human services secretary Marylou Sudders ($170,201), and transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack ($170,201).

Still, I’m with Murphy, our trailblazing lieutenant governor, when she says there is tremendous power in money. An economist by training, she founded the Wage Project, which is devoted to eliminating gender-based pay inequities.

“You can’t solve the wage gap until you solve the power gap. That’s exactly what is playing out here,” she said.

Murphy credits Meehan and Baker with having good track records of appointing women to key posts but says “it’s not enough anymore. Money talks here.”


And what the greenbacks are telling us is that structural and systematic changes are needed to achieve gender equity in our lifetime.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.