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State House News Service: Pay Equity Boosters Look Back on Long Road to Legislative Success

April 04, 2017

Backers of the pay equity law passed last year took a victory lap Tuesday, reflecting on the two decades of advocacy that went into its passage and the partnerships that pushed it over the finish line.

The law, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in August 2016, bans gender-based discrimination in pay, allows coworkers to freely discuss their salaries, and prohibits employers from requiring an applicant's salary history before a formal job offer. Versions of the legislation have been filed since 1995.

"Despite the fact that it's taken so many years, the passion in this subject was always, always there, each and every year," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said at a panel hosted by the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. "This year again it's a little different because I think we have something to celebrate."

"As we embrace the new reality that over half of our employees are women and if your goal is to attract the best and the brightest, you need to be thinking about not just pay equity but the workplace culture." - Jim Rooney, President & CEO, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

The panel was held in conjunction with "Equal Pay Day" -- this year, April 4 -- which, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, is a date that symbolizes how deep into the next calendar year women must work to earn the equivalent salary of a man for the previous year.

Former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy, who moderated the discussion, said DeLeo's support for last year's pay equity bill was key because early versions had "died quietly every session, but largely because of opposition in the House."

"There was no doubt in my mind if we could get the parameters of a bill that he could be comfortable with, that his support would be there," said Murphy, the founder of a nonprofit, The WAGE Project, that seeks to fight wage discrimination against women.

DeLeo said Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad knocked on his door one afternoon to ask if she could take over work on the pay equity bill, saying she thought she could help find ways to get it done. He said the Somerset Democrat "led the way" in bringing stakeholders together.

"She broke heads," DeLeo said, as Haddad held a finger to her lips in a shushing gesture.

Haddad said she had "honest and candid" conversations with business groups to figure out how to address their concerns about cost, regulation and other issues.

"It was exactly about sitting down with people face-to-face and being able to talk a lot -- what is it you're trying to get at, where are we all trying to be," she said. "And I do believe that every man -- wow, it was mostly men at the table, I'm so shocked by that -- most of the men, they did believe that we could get there. They just didn't know how."

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce announced its support for the bill in January 2016. Murphy said Chamber President and CEO James Rooney had "opened a door that had been closed for almost 20 years" by getting business interests to look seriously at the bill.

Rooney said there is more to be done for women in the workplace, calling for a focus on diversifying boards and C-suite positions to include more women.

"As we embrace the new reality that over half of our employees are women and if your goal is to attract the best and the brightest, you need to be thinking about not just pay equity but the workplace culture," he said.