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What Does Massachusetts’ New Equal Pay Law Mean for Women in the Workplace?

Guest Blog by Jody Robie, Senior Vice President North America at Talent Works International.

Massachusetts’ new law aimed at reducing the gender pay gap comes into effect on July 1, 2018.

Boston, March, 8, 2018 – Massachusetts is at the forefront of tackling the pay gap with this law which will make business leaders here scrutinize how they operate in this area. And business leaders elsewhere should take note as it may end up being adopted more widely.

The law bars clauses in contracts which forbid employees from discussing their pay with colleagues, so that will lead to greater transparency. It also gives the state a role in creating data which can be referred to in equal pay disputes.

Perhaps the main provision that business leaders will have to get their heads around is the one that says you can no longer ask candidates in an interview what they get paid. People who are running a business want to get the best people they can afford and in the past they have been able to ask candidates what they currently earn and then base the offer on that – offering someone significantly more than their current salary may seem a good deal even if it is not as high as the company was prepared to go.

But, as women tend to be paid less, over time that difference ends up compounding and adding to the gender pay gap. Actually, this is not just about gender, it can affect men too – I know several couples where it is the man who has taken a career pause or made a sideways move because of family responsibilities. And this can end up affecting their pay.

So under the new law, a hiring company will have to look at the role beforehand,  think about what it involves and decide what the pay range is – it could be from $75,000 to $100,000 depending on experience. So it doesn’t mean that everyone will get paid the same, but it creates a fairer basis for deciding on the salary. A candidate might still choose to say what he or she currently earns in the interview, but they can’t be asked.

The new law is a step forward but there are still barriers, for instance when looking for a more experienced hire, a company can lose out on talent if they are inflexible about length of service or an exact match of past roles. That means you may be less likely to find women who fit the bill.  Being open-minded to a diverse workforce will give companies the upper hand and in turn help enhance their organization with motivated and engaged women, veterans and those returning to the workforce.

It is a slow process but, in my view, the world of work is gradually becoming more friendly to women. I remember getting my first Blackberry in 2004. That was transformative  – you no longer needed to spend long hours at your desk to have a career. The effect of technology has been that our generation hasn’t had to make the stark choice that the ones before us did. We are more able to fit our work around our life rather than the other way round. The generations coming up after us are going to take that flexibility for granted. In fact, Gen Y and Gen Z talent has grown up with the technology and they have started to shift work/life balance into a culture where technology doesn’t demand you are always plugged in. The great convenience for Gen X can sometimes be perceived as an intrusion for other generations.

For me personally, I shifted my career from a large broadcast company to a small privately-owned recruitment marketing agency. My daughters were babies and I needed to be available to leave and pick them up at daycare. I shifted my career to fit my life and I stayed with a smaller company until they were school-aged.

There is a strong job market in Massachusetts and that is encouraging companies to offer more flexibility – allowing people to telecommute a couple of days a week for instance, or to work 8 to 4 instead of 9 to 5. That can help companies to attract the best candidates and keep them.

In some parts of the technology industry, we still see more men than women – where very deep knowledge of specific technology is required there may just not be that pool of talent available. The first priority is to find someone who can do the job and diversity often has to come second.

But some companies are realizing they have to grow their own to compete. That means they may offer training – perhaps to a woman returning to work, or to someone who may have done a liberal arts degree but then decides they really want to work in the technology industry. In these programmes, it may be the more diverse candidates who are keen to grasp this opportunity.

In conclusion, I would say that when interviewing candidates, a better question than “what do you currently earn”, might be “what kind of package are you looking for?” That opens up a discussion about things like flexibility, openness and career opportunities which can make your company stand out as a great place to work.