Maura Healey is the Attorney General of Massachusetts.
Today we recognize Equal Pay Day, symbolizing how far into the current year the average woman has to work to earn as much as her male colleagues in the prior year. Thanks to persistent gender wage gaps and gender discrimination, women in Massachusetts still only make about 84 cents for every dollar made by men.
For women of color, the numbers are even worse. African American women mark their Equal Pay Day as vacationers head to Cape Cod in August, and Latina women have to wait until the day after Halloween.
It is time to end gender pay discrimination once and for all. And on July 1, a new law will go into effect in Massachusetts to help do exactly that.
Seventy years ago our state passed the first Equal Pay Act in the country, declaring that it was illegal to pay women less than men for the same job. But the pay gap has stubbornly persisted, while the law stayed stuck in the past. So over the past two years, my office worked with the Legislature and a range of stakeholders to write and pass important updates to our Equal Pay Act. My office lent our expertise in enforcing civil rights and employment laws. Government and community leaders weighed in. And best of all, we worked hand in hand with our business community.
Our companies know that pay discrimination is bad for business and toxic for workplace culture. But equal pay isn’t just about ensuring basic workplace fairness and dignity for women. It’s also about building and maintaining a strong economy for everyone.
Women are the primary or sole breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children. By some estimates, closing the gender pay gap would put $11 billion extra into women’s pockets every year in Massachusetts alone. That’s money that could be used to buy homes, start a business, or support local economies.
Our legislation provides stronger tools to help women address discrimination, incorporating similar language to the federal Lily Ledbetter Act. Victims of pay discrimination now have the time they need to bring a claim by extending the statute of limitations to three years, and resetting the clock every time a discriminatory pay check is issued. Perhaps even more importantly, the new law creates incentives for businesses to address disparities that they may not even be aware of.
It nudges everyone in the right direction, towards more transparency, more openness about pay, and the adoption of best practices. It protects workers who discuss what they make with their colleagues. It prevents employers from relying on an applicant’s previous salary in deciding what to pay for a new job, helping ensure disparities aren’t carried from one job to another. And it creates real incentives for companies to review their books for any disparities and take steps to correct them.
That’s why this law earned the strong and consistent support of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Business Leadership. We worked closely with them and others, including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, to ensure that the voice of the business community was heard throughout the process. What this has shown all of us is that when we work together, when we listen to each other, we can make progress.
Pay equity is just one piece of our broader strategy to support economic security for women and families in Massachusetts. From implementing paid sick leave to adding new protections for pregnant women, we want to level the playing field and help create opportunities for everyone in our state. But it’s a long overdue and important step forward.
I was at the public hearing on the pay equity bill at the State House a few summers ago. As I walked in to testify, a young girl in a star spangled dress came up to me. I asked her why she came with her grandfather to the equal pay hearing.
“Because,” she said, “I don’t think it’s fair that boys get paid more than girls.”
Sometimes, it’s our kids who remind us what we’re fighting for. To learn more about the new law and download guidelines to help you ensure pay equity in your workplace, visit www.mass.gov/ago/equalpay.