Teaming up to target the gender power gap

Boston Women's Workforce Council, Boston Foundation joining forces

WE LIKE TO THINK of Boston as a bastion of progressiveness. The area hosts over 40 higher education institutions and hundreds of innovative and forward-thinking businesses are headquartered here. Yet, working women in Boston still earn, on average, 30 cents less on every dollar than their white male colleagues and Black, Latina, and Asian women earn even less, with the gap as high as 55 cents.

For workers on the wrong side of this gap, lower pay means an inability to meet anything more than the most basic needs – often postponing or forgoing health care, car repairs, or home improvements. Every cent must be used to support immediate needs – there is nothing left over for savings. Over time, that lack of savings feeds a long-term inability to build wealth – to purchase homes, finance children’s education without excessive borrowing, start businesses, weather rough financial patches, pass along wealth to descendants, or provide for a reasonable retirement.

As part of our work in the coming decade, the Boston Foundation is making a bold commitment to close the racial wealth gap, partnering with a broad, multi-sector coalition of leaders to both create a better understanding of the root causes of those gaps, and devise new strategies to address them. The Boston Women’s Workforce Council’s research, too, illustrates how the gender and racial wage gap that plagues Boston today perpetuates the wealth gap.

That is why we are working together to focus on measures that reduce both by targeting a third gap – the gender power gap. Research shows that women, especially women of color, are advanced to senior positions at organizations less frequently and more slowly than men for three primary reasons: lack of diversity on committees deciding on who receives promotions, subjective criteria for those promotions that make the system ripe for discrimination, and a relative shortage of women in the existing pool of managers, meaning there aren’t enough women to promote.

This last trend was discussed in great detail in the recently released McKinsey and LeanIn studyWomen In the Workplace 2022. The study found that women senior executives and newly promoted managers alike are “breaking up” with their companies at high rates, moving from their current jobs to new ones because their current work conditions are unacceptable. According to the report, “Women leaders are significantly more likely than men leaders to leave their jobs because they want to work for a company that is more committed to employee well-being and diversity, equity and inclusion – and many women leaders say these factors have become more important to them over the past two years.” You can’t promote women if they’ve left your company.

Companies can take several steps to close the gender pay, promotion, and resulting power gaps within their organizations. First and foremost, it is important to calculate the raw and adjusted wage gaps at a company through a pay audit. This method gives the company a more accurate picture of the numbers that need to change. Inclusive hiring practices, such as gender-blind application evaluations, significantly increase the number of women candidates considered for positions. The removal of additional identifying information can be used to increase diversity in hiring as well. Companies must offer flexibility around where and when work gets done, which research shows can help keep people in their jobs and boost retention.

Today we have an opportunity to rebuild faulty systems and reimagine structures that, for too long, have held back women and fed into our longstanding racial and gender pay gaps. We know what to do: focus on flexibility, diversity, and increased advancement opportunities for all women. At a time when many of the “old ways of doing things” are being challenged, we have a chance to make fundamental changes to workplace cultures that have held women back. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.

Cathy Minehan is the cochair of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, a public-private partnership between the Boston Mayor and Greater Boston employers to close the racial/gender pay gap. Lee Pelton is president and CEO of the Boston Foundation.