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New law in Mass. attempts to raise IT pay for women

Patrick Thibodeau | Aug. 22, 2016
The commonwealth is trying to close a wage gap with a new state law

The hope is that it will encourage businesses to conduct wage audits. “The most effective way to close the wage gap is for businesses to do these types of internal audits and to figure out where they have trends and where they need to place their attention,” said Budson.

Women typically start out at lower annual salaries, usually $5,000 to $7,000 below men, said Karen Panetta, editor-in-chief of the IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine, and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University.

HR plays a role

Panetta said the problem is often in the human resources department, which gets rewarded when it saves money on hires. “Women don’t negotiate their starting offers are rigorously as men,” she said.

Women appear to be less valued. If a man comes in with an offer letter from a competing employers, the hiring company will usually match it, but “if a woman comes in with an offer letter, they will say goodbye,” said Panetta.

The problem for employers is keeping women, since pay disparities often cause them to leave STEM occupations. “They are going to go where the money is and they will go where they feel appreciated,” said Panetta.

Women make up about 25% of the IT labor force, according to government data.

Panetta’s message to employers is that if “you want to stop paying lip service to this, you need to address it head-on and be transparent with your employees. Everybody should know where they stand relative to everybody else,” she said. “I understand that companies don’t want that information out because it is costly to correct, but it’s the right thing to do."

IT managers need to fight for hires

IT managers should fight the HR department on salaries, said Panetta.

“The managers have to go back and say, ‘This is the best candidate and I want this candidate,'” said Panetta, who added that managers also need to make clear that they want to see equitable offers to all candidates.

This law has divided business groups. In January, prior to a vote on the legislation, the Massachusetts High Technology Council said in a letter to lawmakers that the measure would make it “exceedingly difficult and risky for employers to reward any employee, female or male, through commissions and other merit-based or performance-based compensation systems.”

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, however, supported the bill, and told lawmakers that “fifty percent of the Greater Boston workforce is made up of women, yet studies show that even in 2016, women are earning significantly less on average than their male counterparts. And wage inequality not only affects businesses, it also has a negative impact on families and the overall Massachusetts economy.”


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