Daily Hampshire Gazette: Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg focuses on wage inequality for women

July 17, 2015

Daily Hampshire Gazette // Dave Eisenstadter

Though the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Equal Pay Act in 1945, requiring equal pay for equal work by women and men, females today still make only 82.5 percent of what males earn in the state, according to state Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg.

Those competing facts were the backdrop to the first of Goldberg’s roundtable discussions on best practices for wage equality, held at the University of Massachusetts Center at Springfield on Friday.

“This is an economic issue for our state, not just a fairness and a moral issue,” Goldberg said. “It is also a business issue. What some businesses are finding as they dig into this and look into what caused these inequalities is that it is institutionalized.”

She said that certain business practices — such as giving women no alternative but to use personal and sick time when they become pregnant — sidetrack careers of otherwise highly qualified and productive workers.

The discussion followed a March announcement that Goldberg had formed a statewide advisory committee on wage equality. The committee’s charge is to develop strategies and highlight best practices to “lead the nation in implementing wage equality initiatives,” Goldberg said in a statement at the time.

At the state level, Goldberg said Friday she has tried to encourage companies to promote more women to leadership positions by using the leverage of the state pension fund, which invests in 9,000 companies. Companies with fewer than 25 percent of their board of directors as women or people of color are now considered a bad investment in proxy voting guidelines, she said.

She also said changes to the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act would help level the playing field for workers. The changes, which took effect on April 7, allow both men and women to get eight weeks of unpaid time off after having a child, instead of just women.

She also established the office of economic empowerment in the treasury office. Alayna Van Tassel, executive director of the office and deputy treasurer, opened Friday’s event.

“I can tell you, she’s keeping me very, very busy,” Van Tassel said of Goldberg. “She’s been doing that since day one.” Goldberg said that the office of economic empowerment is the first in the nation.

“That sends a signal locally and nationally that this issue is as critical to economic stability and opportunity as debt or cash management or unclaimed property, and in many ways more so,” Goldberg said.

Beside Goldberg at Friday’s event were seven panelists representing private industry, academia and nonprofit organizations. The first to speak was Elizabeth Barajas-Román, the CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, based in Easthampton.

“There is still sexism in our society,” said Barajas-Román, who also serves on Goldberg’s advisory council.
She said pay inequality stems from three different sources.

First, companies don’t have enough women in leadership roles to provide role models for others within the organization.

Second, institutionalized policies around pregnancy do not protect women’s careers and serve as barriers to moving up the ladder. Third, women have not been able to fight for their wages as effectively as men.

“Even with training on how to negotiate a fair wage, women often lack the confidence to be able to negotiate what they are worth,” she said.

Goldberg said that being a female treasurer immediately puts women she deals with more in their comfort zone. “As women see more women, they begin to feel that they have a path, and the data again has shown that,” she said.

Panelist Betsy Larson, vice president for compensation at MassMutual, said her company, which sits in the top 100 of the Fortune 500 list, is made up of more than 50 percent women and they make up more than one-third of its board of directors. Forty   percent of executive leadership positions are filled by women.

The company has an outside firm analyze base pay between men and women and has an open policy about salary ranges so that all employees can see how they stack up in their respective departments, she said.

“We have a very transparent culture,” she said, adding that the transparency is relatively recent for the company. “I think if you are not transparent, that is one of the reasons the wage gap is where it is today.”

Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, said that many more women are in poverty and in need of the food bank than men. In households of single women, 34 percent are food insecure while only 24 percent of single men are, he said.

Meanwhile, women make up the majority of managers and the work force at the food bank, according to Morehouse. “We have values that attract people who are diverse,” he said. “Diversity does breed strength.”

Goldberg said the panelists’ testimony had been recorded and invited all present to further discussions, which will be announced later online at www.mass.gov/treasury/roundtables.