Wages

Boston to Spend $1.5 Million Encouraging Ladies to 'Lean In' At Work

"America's largest civic experiment to close the gender wage gap" is launching in Boston. It won't work.

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petukhov.anton/Flickr

Contrary to popular lore about why U.S. women make less money than men, experts generally pinpoint career choices, time out of the workforce, and myriad other non-discriminatory factors as underlying causes. But according to Boston city officials, the whole gender wage gap business could be solved if us ladies would just learn to ask for raises more forcefully. Hence the city has started offering free salary-negotiation classes to any Boston woman who is interested. 

The Washington Post is calling it "America's largest civic experiment to close the gender wage gap." But—in addition to being a very dubious use of city funds—how can Boston's new plan to boost women's wages work when it's based on such obviously flawed premises?

At present, millennial women tend to earn almost as much as male peers. Wage gaps emerge and become exacerbated as men and women enter their 30s and 40s. Do all these 20-something women suddenly get worse at salary negotiation and self-promotion? That seems unlikely. A better explanation lies in women's persistent role as primary caregivers for children. "Recent cohorts of young women have fallen further behind their same-aged male counterparts as they have aged and dealt with the responsibilities of parenthood and family," Pew Research Center says.

Whether this bifurcation is more a product of preferences or pressure, whether it remains a serious obstacle for women's social progress, how much employer bias against women of childbearing age (regardless of whether they plan to have kids) is a factor, and related questions are not trivial. But they are far from the kind of issues that we can simply legislate or educate away. Sure, some individual women might benefit from the two-hour salary negotiation sessions the city is offering. However, the Boston proposal takes for granted that the wage gap is simply a product of women not "leaning in" enough, which is way too simplistic a view.

"Economists doubt [Boston's] unprecedented approach will yield much of a difference, considering the social forces that exacerbate the gap," notes the Post's Danielle Paquette. "Also, a growing body of research suggests employers may be predisposed to respond negatively to women who request more."

Robin Ely, who teaches organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, told the Post that despite the city's good intentions, it should be careful. "The conversation should not be around women's deficiencies, which is inaccurate," Ely said, "or special treatment, which creates backlash."

Boston's new initiative is projected to cost the city up to $1.5 million over the next five years, not including marketing and community outreach efforts. 

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  1. “I love it when my female employees lean forward, I get a better look at their…oh, you mean lean *in*?

    “Hold it, you’re not going to report me to the EEOC, are you?”

    1. Lean in, bend over, its all the same, really, isn’t it?

  2. Silly women. If you’d just learn how to ask for raises like men, you’d make more money.

    1. Officials educating adult women on how to behave in an office isn’t sexist.

    2. So we need to teach women to be more like men and men to be more like women?

  3. But they are far from the kind of issues that we can simply legislate or educate away.

    It would be possible to legislate away at least some of the variation that might be caused by general discrimination against women in their childbearing years by allowing discrimination against women who have or plan to have children. I’m sure folks would have little trouble creating financial instruments that reward women who do not.

    1. Right, because most people share with their employers their reproductive plans. As well as issues with people who change their minds or decide to let mature take its course when something unexpected happens.

      1. Well you are currently not able to share your reproductive plans with your employer, because of the discrimination issues.

        But you could, in a world without such antidiscrimination laws, negotiate for, say, 2% higher pay because you agree to stay at the company for 5 years with no break, or until they terminate you, whichever is earlier, and that 2% extra could be held in escrow until the 5 years is up and you have fulfilled your end of the bargain. Or whatever similar plan you prefer.

    2. It isn’t the “time off for having children” that makes the difference to an employer. It’s not like last year’s salary was actually an investment in employee output 6 years hence.

      Women get paid less because they’re less willing to take shit at work than men are.

      1. Actually the ‘time off for children’ does make a big difference because it’s lost experience, and in many fields, in which technology and other aspects change rapidly, taking a few years off and coming back puts one essentally in the same position as starting all over again.

        But yes, women wanting ,more safety, comfort, flexible hours, being in general more litigious, more likely to change employers (taking their training with them), take more sick days, vacation days, etc. all also contribute.

        It really pisses me off that people can still get away with talking about a wage gap. Probably one of the biggest and most pervasive lies in modern politics; there isn’t a wage gap, there’s an earnings gap, and they always admit it when confronted. ‘Oh, but the social forces, the patriarchal cultural blah blah..”, fine, try to explain the *earnings* gap any way you want, but at least admit that it is an earnings gap and that it isn’t the result of pay discrimination! But alas, they they always go back to that lie and all the ’72 cents’ bullshit no matter how many times it’s refuted. I guess they figure it’s a ‘lie that tells the truth’ or something.

  4. It’s intended purpose is to generate votes for politicians and a warm sense of superiority for those that support it. The stated purpose is irrelevant, and its effectiveness will never be addressed.

    1. It’s the political equivalent of driving a luxury car or drinking expensive wine ? it’s a positional good.

      1. it’s a positional good.

        Reverse Cowgirl?

        1. If that shows your place in the social hierarchy?

  5. I’m guessing this fails spectacularly, and they replace it with a new initiative aimed at making men worse negotiators. Which will also fail spectacularly.

    1. “So when you ask for a raise, slap your boss on the back and say, ‘well, old buddy, when are you going to start paying me what I deserve, or does this situation have to get as ugly as your wife?'”

      1. So, the Erlich Bachman approach to negotiations?

        1. “Also, your logo looks like a sideways vagina…and I find that racist.”

    2. Boston’s new “Give Her a Raise, Give Him the Boot!” campaign starts with an initial funding of $2,000,000!

    3. I’m guessing this fails spectacularly, and they replace it with a new initiative aimed at making men worse negotiators

      And, due to budget constraints imposed by sexist Republicans, they will spend $.70 on the dollar for this program. This will cause feminist leaders to bemoan the discrepancy while glossing over the fact that we are suddenly talking about $1 for and $.70 against for as opposed to $.70 for vs. $1 for.

      1. I’d be more worried about this being replaced by a wage law.

        1. Or quotas; What happens in Europe will happen here in a few years, so I wouldn’t say it’s long before we have quotas stipulating at least 40% of members of boards of directors have to be women (but of course no concomitant quota stipulating that at least 40% of unemployed people in every industry must be women).

  6. I still have no idea what “lean in” is supposed to mean.

    And I have yet to see much evidence that women are frequently paid less for doing the same job with the same amount of experience and degree of skill than men. Which seems like the only reasonable way to measure any “wage gap”.

    1. I still have no idea what “lean in” is supposed to mean.

      Aggressive stance. Cultural appropriation of the Male Gaze. Invade the personal space of your boss, putting Xem on the defensive.

      And I have yet to see much evidence that women are frequently paid less for doing the same job with the same amount of experience and degree of skill than men.

      In my previous job, 100% of the analysts who were female made considerably more than the men who had more experience and were more skilled.

      Totally anecdotal I know, but it always gave me a smile when I read articles about the fabled 76 cents on the dollar.

      Plus, the media is behind the times… women are becoming more highly paid than men in equivalent jobs AND across the board. There’s even supposedly a “crisis” in the black community where black women are being educated at a much greater rate than men creating an earning imbalance between potential partners.

      1. Invade the personal space of your boss,

        Also known as the “career-limiting gesture”.

      2. Yeah, the fact that society constructs black men so that they land in prison hasn’t yet caused constructionist feminists (most feminists) to focus efforts under their ‘philosophy of equality for women and men’ on this most disadvantaged group.

      3. Aggressive stance. Cultural appropriation of the Male Gaze. Invade the personal space of your boss, putting Xem on the defensive.

        You forgot “Deepen your voice so you sound more forceful.”

    2. And I have yet to see much evidence that women are frequently paid less for doing the same job with the same amount of experience and degree of skill than men.

      It’s bullshit. If it were true every man in America would be laid off.

  7. Just ask for more! Why didn’t I think of that?

  8. Here’s how you eliminate the wage gap and poverty in one shot:

    New legal mandate says all companies pay all employees $47/hr. All employees are paid for 40 hours per week regardless of whether or not they attend work.

    1. Feel the Bern!

  9. Purely anecdotal, but a lot of the women I’ve worked with would regard this program as grossly condescending. Of course, “government” and “condescending” are two words that just naturally go together.

    1. A bunch of people who sit around telling everyone else the proper way to live and act…

      Why does that sound so familiar?

      1. Yeah, but we’re right.

  10. ok class, let’s begin.

    Step 1. Be good at your job

    Step 2. Be hot

    Step 3. Tell boss you got a lucrative offer from a young rich tech CEO but you really prefer “serving under” a more mature, dignified mentor

    Step 4. count the money

    1. In my experience, step 3 is completely optional.

      1. If you’re really good at step 2, step 1 is also.

  11. Boston’s new initiative is projected to cost the city up to $1.5 million over the next five years, not including marketing and community outreach efforts.

    That seems very expensive. How much are they paying these people to teach a handful of seminars? Or is this three or four full time people giving seminars multiple times a week?

    1. It costs a lot of money to mansplain salary negotiation to a bunch of dames.

      1. Working gals are referred to as ‘broads’, dames don’t normally work.

        1. Damn, I got mansplained for my own joke.

          Hangs head in shame.

    2. How much are they paying these people to teach a handful of seminars?

      I can hardly wait to find out that, like the government officials who prattle on about the “wage gap”, the program pays chicks teaching seminars less than men.

  12. I hope a bunch of Men sign up for this program and sue the fuck out of the City when they’re denied access/equal treatment under the law.

  13. I’ll teach the class:

    Step one: ask for more money.

    Where’s my $15,000,000?

    1. FIGHT FOR $15MM

  14. Lean in? I thought they were supposed to lean back and think of England.

    1. Its a new era. Now they’re supposed to bend over and think of England.

  15. If the title of the class is anything other than “A Broad Exploration of Negotiating” then I’m pissed.

    1. Part of a cluster of offerings under ‘Lass: A Fair’.

  16. Leaving aside the question why such courses aren’t offered to anyone who finds he is bad at negotiating (or is good at negotiating, but not in a conventionally accepted way, say some black men) has anyone calculated how much money is invested in affirmative action, including research, advertising, this initiative and all other stuff?

    That kind of teaching is questionable indeed. It certainly doesn’t suffice to teach women to imitate male body language. If she can’t back it up – and that will be tested – it’ll backfire. (Weaknesses – and hypocrisy – are also be punished in posturing males, when they can be detected.) What I wonder too is whether these courses will be exclusively ones that teach women to be more manly (e.g. aggressively assertive), or whether among them there are courses for women who prefer a feminine style, something that augments their specific superiority. I suspect this initiative discriminates against men as well as against such women.

    1. These initiatives are based on equality of outcome. It’s merely so that whenever there isn’t parity inequality of opportunity is assumed. The government is pursuing a planned economy of the sexes. Whatever the common damage, men face a specific problem. It’s that measuring and redistributing money is fairly easy. Doing so with non-monetary benefits is more difficult. Women’s characteristic advantages happen to be non-monetary (e.g more and closer personal relationships), men’s monetary. Upon divorce, try assigning half of the social circle the stay-at-home-mom has curated to her (former) man. What such initiatives seem to do is to compensate for the negative side of women’s trade-offs, but not for the negative side of men’s trade-offs. (Consider universities that make companies actively seek out female but not male students. The reasoning being that men are more assertive and take more risks, while women are too shy to apply. So women get to stay nice – enjoying the WAW effect – and risk-free, and are provided with pretty much the same outcome as men.)

      Take a look at these: http://tinyurl.com/ntr6wgk (women need to belong more than men do, are more more averse to competitive effort [STEM]); http://tinyurl.com/od9xlca: wage gap due to performance gap (young lawyers).

      1. (RE the first link: discussion on page 6.)

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