Almost lost amidst last week’s political circus, international terrorist strikes and stock market ups and downs, a brief but significant ceremony was held in Boston’s State House when the Commonwealth’s Governor, Charlie Baker, signed into law a pay equity act. A key provision of which will prevent employers from requiring prospective employees to say how much they made at their last job.
This is significant because it will help women break out of the cycle of low or inequitable salaries when compared to men who do the same work.
This is not a concept divided along political lines. The act, now law, had bi-partisan support. It was sponsored by a Democrat state senator and signed by a Republican governor. Massachusetts now joins California, New York and Maryland, states that passed similar legislation last year, and a number of other states with such laws on the books.
Sentiment is growing nationally for this kind of support for pay equity. A 2014 survey commissioned by American Women, the National Partnership for Women & Families, and the Rockefeller Family Fund, shows broad majorities of likely voters favor public policies that help families and women get ahead. The poll results also show that voters are more likely to support a candidate who is in favor of policies, such as a higher minimum wage, fair pay for women, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave.
It is fair to say that pay equity and other concepts supportive of workplace gender equality are gaining traction among most Americans and moving politicians to act. So, can we expect an avalanche of legislation favoring workplace gender balance – especially with the prospect of a woman in the White House? Possibly…maybe even probably.
But, why wait?
We women already have legislation – and a growing number of legislators – on our side (more correctly, on the side of doing the right thing…this is not just a “women’s issue”*).
I have been helping women position themselves for leadership and supporting their efforts in a fight for workplace equality for years, and have seen some remarkable women seek out mentors and sponsors who can help them reach their aspirations. They didn’t need laws and legislation…and neither does any women.
We all have the moral courage to act in our own best interests when negotiating compensation or seeking support for moving along our career paths. No question, legislation helps…but we really don’t need it.
The kind of support now growing in state legislatures and on the federal level should provide encouragement for any woman who has been hesitant to push back in a job interview when the question of “salary history” comes up to now assert herself; to recognize how answering that question hampers her negotiating position.
There is no question that favorable legislation provides “political cover” for women in the workplace. In this political season, we should thank the legislators – men and women – who are willing to step out front to push gender equity legislation, and in some cases, jeopardize political careers, and who shine a light on the need for greater gender balance. They provide women with the legislative and regulatory support needed to move their careers forward.
*About half of all workers (51 percent of women and 47 percent of men) report that the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged or prohibited and/or could lead to punishment. Most government agencies have formal grade and step systems that make general wage and salary information public (only 18 percent of women and 11 percent of men in the public sector report discouragement or prohibition of wage and salary discussions). - See more at:http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/pay-secrecy-and-wage-discrimination-1#sthash.EEZ28VD7.dpuf