Evelyn Murphy on Wage Equity Now - Full Transcript

May 15, 2023

Evelyn Murphy served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1987 to 1991—the first woman in the state to hold a constitutional office. Prior to that, she was Massachusetts Secretary of Environmental Affairs from 1975 to 1979 and Secretary of Economic Affairs from 1983 to 1985. Following her work in state government, she held leadership positions in the corporate sector. Evelyn has dedicated much of her adult life to fighting for wage equity for women. She is the author of the book Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men and What to Do About It, founder of the national Wage Project, and has testified before the U.S. Senate and House on pay discrimination against women. Now, as a leader of Wage Equity Now, she is working closely with the Boston Foundation to pass An Act Relative to Pay Equity, which would make Massachusetts a national leader in wage equity for women and people of color.

This is the full transcript of a conversation with Evelyn. An edited version of this interview appears in the Spring 2023 issue of TBF News. 

A black and white headshot photo of Evelyn Murphy

The Boston Foundation: Tell us about the origins of the Wage Equity Now coalition. 

Evelyn Murphy: When Jackie Jenkins-Scott [now Interim President of Roxbury Community College], became president of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum, a group of well-positioned successful women, she convened some members and former members and asked, “What can we do to promote social justice as group?” We convened over breakfast one morning. She invited me and a half dozen other women. While I listened quietly, the group concluded, “We want to do something about the gender wage gap.” 

So, with Jackie’s leadership, for the next several months, we convened various groups and started talking about what it would take to move this agenda forward. Jackie said to me, “You have you been at this for quite a while. Let’s do it together!” We approached Paul Grogan [then the President and CEO of the Boston Foundation] and Keith Mahoney [Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs], looking for some initial funding to help us crystallize the idea, further expand the coalition, build a website, convene a steering committee—all the mechanics of building an effective coalition at that stage. Paul said yes and Keith agreed to work with us to carry it out. 

We spent the next year planning. We created the Wage Equity Now logo and gathered the initial set of information for the first bill that was filed. We built this with initial support from the Boston Foundation and some additional funding from Eos Foundation. Meanwhile, Paul retired and Lee [Pelton] became the CEO of the Boston Foundation. As we were coming to the end of the legislative session last year, it occurred to me that if there was going to be a future for this legislation, we needed a way to grow and expand the reach and the influence of the coalition.

I talked to Keith [Mahoney]. I said, “There’s a potential with this coalition to impact gender and racial wage gaps which in turn can impact the racial wealth gap.” Keith recognized the importance of this coalition and, with approval from Lee, assumed responsibility for managing the day-to-day needs of the coalition and its steering committee.

I do not know of another large (96 member organizations by the end of 2022) coalition combining racial and women’s wage interests in America. Typically, they proceed separately: Women’s groups advocate for gender equity; advocates of color organize for racial equity. The Wage Equity Now coalition is powerful because it recognizes the common interests of these groups in advancing earning power. When you look at the gender wage gap today, it’s terrible for all women, yet even more dire for Black women and Latinas. 

To sum it up: With its priority on addressing the racial wealth gap, the Boston Foundation, through Lee Pelton’s leadership, has created a setting for combining historically separate race and gender interest groups to pursue a common purpose: wage equity.  

TBF: Many people are shocked when you tell them that the wage gap in Greater Boston actually has increased. How does it compare with national wage gap statistics?

E.M.: Boston Women’s Workforce Council (BWWC) data is different from the federal data. It’s different because it’s from employers, not employees. When we/BWWC first began this work, then Mayor [Marty] Walsh had just appointed me to be the co-chair of the Women’s Workforce Council along with Cathy Minehan. We looked at the official national data which said Boston had a 20 cent wage gap at that time. Yet, when we collected our own data, it was a 30 cent gap, which is what it is today. We asked ourselves, “Why is our measure of the gender wage gap so much bigger than the federal government’s measure? Why is it going backwards?”  

Here’s the difference. National EEOC and Labor Department surveys ask employees, “What did you make last year?” There’s a lot of room for error in that question. People tend to answer with their current salary rather than what they made last year, forgetting they got a raise late last year. Or they can’t find their old tax return. So they estimate what they made—and the Labor Department takes them at their word. 

In contrast, the Greater Boston data of the Women’s Workforce Council is from employers, not employees. These employers are the “good guys” who agree to look under their roofs and give BWWC their wage gap data anonymously. They also have pledged to the Mayor to do something about it if there is a large gap. But, in fact, there’s been no progress over the 10 years that I’ve co-chaired the Women’s Workforce Council. I conclude Boston has a larger wage gap than the federal government reports, and I believe, [that is] more accurate because it’s [based on] employer data.

TBF: And these are, as you say, the “good guys” who are willing to share their wage information and think they’re being fair in their wage structures.

E.M.: Exactly. They’re proud of what they’re doing—or at least not embarrassed. So, this reality is painful. We’re collecting data again this year to see whether there’s been any progress.

TBF: You have been quoted as saying to women, “If you’re reluctant to ask for more money, it’s not your fault. You’ve been pressured not to ask.” And then you explain that, even if you are reluctant, it’s important to do it for yourself and for all women.

E.M.: For a decade, I led workshops for women on how to negotiate a higher salary or a promotion, and I was always struck by the fact that few participants understood that the mindset and the behavior are all learned. So, my goal in those workshops was to help women understand when to negotiate a salary or a promotion (and to be sure the salary goes up with the promotion), and how to be objective, strategic and persuasive in negotiations.

But salary negotiation workshops only help employees act to achieve wage equity. Employers need to address racial and gender biases in their policies and practices.  So, we’re missing half the story. The other half of the story is what employers do. That, to me, is the undone agenda in closing racial and gender wage gaps. 

TBF: You have been working on this issue for your entire adult life. How do you keep your spirit and your enthusiasm for the topic when progress is not only not being made, but is going in the wrong direction?

E.M.: This has been a lifelong question for me. When I was 12 years old, my father had a heart attack and was forced to retire. Since neither parent seemed able to financially support our family—my father had dropped out of school after the eighth grade to enlist in World War I; my mother only finished high school—I believed I would have to be the major provider. 

From then on, I was driven to get the credentials to earn enough to support the family. I raced through high school and got straight A’s (and one B) . Then I raced through college and then a master’s degree—always figuring out how to finance the next stage of my education. I had a Ph.D. by the age of 25 because I was in such a hurry! Initially, I wanted to be a mathematician because I thought mathematicians must earn good money. But I had limited mathematical aptitude, so I switched to economics and earned a Ph.D. in economics.

I became interested in the gender wage gap the summer after I finished college. I got a job at the National Bureau of Standards. My friend Dave and I had both just graduated from college. He was hired at a higher grade level than I was and so he earned more than I did. One day, I asked our boss why, with the same credentials, we weren’t at the same GS grade and pay. The boss said it was because he had “management potential.” That’s when I became aware of the earnings advantage that male workers had. 

Over ensuing decades, I watched this gender wage gap slowly inch downward from 40 cents when I began working to 20 cents in recent decades. But the solution to eliminating the gender wage gap always focused on how to fix women. Women needed to get more education. Women needed to work longer and harder. Women needed to get more skills. So, in 2000 I started researching in order to write a book about why women don’t get paid like men and what to do about it. And, I too focused on what women could do. 

At that time, in 2000, the only way women could contest their salaries was to litigate. So that’s when I designed the salary negotiation workshop. My team delivered that workshop in 49 states on 450 campuses and to working women. The AAUW [American Association of University Women] took over the workshop with the commitment to reach 10 million working women. 

Then Mayor Marty Walsh, in appointing me to co-chair the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, gave me this entirely different lens on the gender wage gap—looking at employers, their policies and practices—rather than employees. This is the other half of the story about how to eliminate the gender wage gap: how employers hire people and fairly promote people; how they pay people fairly for the job title they have; and how they promote women and people of color. For employers, eliminating their wage gaps hinges on those three components. 

Overcoming the “power gap,” being promoted into higher-paying, leadership positions, is particularly important along with a fair entry level salary and being paid fairly for the current position. All of that is from the employer side of the ledger. And that’s what drives me now. These are the same issues women and people of color encounter wherever they work. To date, an employer’s responsibility for eliminating its wage gaps has not been constructively addressed. That’s the purpose of our proposed legislation.

TBF: So, is there communication between those representing women and people of color in this fight?

E.M.: Yes, it’s coming through the WEN coalition—an amalgamation of women’s groups, BIPOC organizations, labor unions, civic organizations, and employers. We have a racially diverse Steering Committee of men and women, led by Megan Driscoll and me. We are encouraging communication among coalition members. As we all know, through personal contact we help each other and build trust with one another. We are building bridges within the coalition and we’re also scrambling hard to get this legislation passed. You ask the right question: Communication builds connections and enables the coalition to become stronger and more of a force.

TBF: What is the relationship between moving forward on a state level and moving forward on a federal level? 

E.M.: When I first served in state government as a Secretary of Environmental Affairs, I learned that once Massachusetts and New Jersey and New York had certain similar environmental policies, we would trigger a federal discussion—and that often resulted in federal legislative and executive action. So, yes, when state actions move other states to adopt similar practices, the ripple effect can become a big wave nationwide. 

TBF: Let’s talk about the pending the legislation. Why is it important?

E.M.: In the last legislative session, our wage equity bill was blocked in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It was a bill requiring individual employers to report their gender and racial wage gaps publicly. The U.K. publishes employers’ wage gaps on a public website. So, we believed, if the U.K. can do it, Massachusetts could, too. It was a naming and shaming proposition opposed by business organizations which blocked the bill in committee. In reviewing the U.K. experience over the years of its public reporting, gender wage gaps have not significantly improved. That prompted me to reconsider the approach with employers.

To me, the issue was: How do you get business support for beginning to think seriously about their wage gaps? And so, over the last six months I’ve been working with AIM [Associated Industries of Massachusetts], the state’s largest business association. I can't speak for them. They will speak for themselves. However, I believe this is legislation they can support. It requires employers to report to the state the EEOC filing they send annually to the federal government. The state will aggregate that data so that what the public sees is the gender and racial representation in hierarchical positions by industry. It will also require employers to disclose pay ranges for positions to job applicants and current employees upon request.

It’s the first step and it’s a modest step. But it’s finally saying, “Let’s think constructively about how employers can learn where they fit and whether their policies for attracting, retaining and promoting employees are competitive within their industry.” Employees can assess where they and their employer fit their industry. Younger workers are now looking around trying to find out who’s the fairest and who gives them the most opportunity to earn. 

To me, this is a constructive approach through which advocates and employers can bring some sustained, systematic attention to their wage gaps. Over time, I believe this is the route Congress should take, too, because clearly, blame and shame doesn’t work. So, let’s move thoughtfully ahead, bearing in mind that we have a tight labor market and that Massachusetts is losing employees. I have no doubt that demonstrating progress in reducing racial and gender wage gaps can result in enhanced productivity among all employees, especially women and people of color.

The state of California requires employers to file this EEOC data with them. It is not made public by California, and it is only used for litigation by state prosecutors. So, that’s another punitive move. Otherwise, no other state has anything like this. No other state has even proposed anything like this. 

TBF: Are you optimistic about passing this legislation?

E.M.: I am encouraged, especially because of the Boston Foundation’s commitment to taking on this important issue and working closely with the coalition. We’ve learned from the previous legislative session how to address wage gaps by involving employers as well as employees. As a result, there is momentum. Massachusetts has been a leader in so many arenas, and I believe we can be a national leader in the fight for wage equity now for women and for people of color.