Past dusk on a recent November evening, over a dozen women – mostly strangers – gathered in a third-floor conference space at JVS CareerSolution to confront an unfortunate reality that bound them.

“I don’t think it’s something talked about ever,” said one woman.

“It definitely affects us,” said another.

Participants discuss their position in the marketplace at an AAUW “Work Smart in Boston” workshop

The bogeyman in the room – the “it” – is the fact that their work is being undervalued and undercompensated. In Boston, a woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That figure, compounded over a lifetime, translates into a string of losses that the women at CareerSolution could name with rueful clarity when prompted by a workshop facilitator: “We’re leaving money on the table. What else would you do with that?”

Retire earlier. Buy a home. Forego that second job. Enjoy more free time.

The women were not willing to write off these losses so quickly, though. They had gathered that evening to learn the art of salary negotiation at an AAUW “Work Smart in Boston” workshop. These free workshops, coordinated by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, train women to advocate for the true value of their work. Research shows that women are less likely to negotiate than men and feel more apprehensive doing so.

“Boston thrives when women and men have an equal playing field,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said on the occasion of this year’s Equal Pay Awareness Week. “These salary negotiations are one step we can take to provide women with the information and tools to advocate for themselves and work towards closing the wage gap.”

For the past two years, Boston’s salary negotiation workshops have been helping women across the city learn how to evaluate, negotiate, and articulate their worth in the job market. These two-hour workshops are available to any women who live or work in Boston.

So far, over 6,000 women have taken advantage of the opportunity. An evaluation of the program’s first year found that roughly half of participants surveyed had used their new skills to negotiate a pay raise or starting salary. Additionally:

  • 87% had identified target salaries for themselves
  • 71% referred others to the workshops
Mayor Walsh meets with AAUW “Work Smart in Boston” partners at a networking event. (Photo courtesy of City of Boston Mayor’s Office)

The curriculum for the workshops was initially developed by The WAGE Project, a national advocacy organization founded by Evelyn Murphy, a former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. Murphy reached out to the AAUW to help bring the workshops to scale.

AAUW has since partnered with four U.S. cities – starting with Boston, where the organization was founded in 1881 – to bring negotiation training to more women. Launched in September 2015 and slated to run until 2021, Boston’s workshop series is unique from AAUW’s other municipal collaborations in that the workshops are free to the city, host organizations, and participants thanks to seed funding from the Boston Foundation. AAUW has also committed to funding upkeep of the series. The Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement helps to identify host sites for the workshops – such as career centers, nonprofits, and universities – and promotes them to the public. The city aims to increase the workshops’ number and reach in coming years.

“We’re doing a lot of intentional work around host sites, especially membership organizations that serve women of color. We recognize that the gender wage gap adversely affects women of color, so we want to make sure the workshops are reaching those who need them the most,” said Brenna Callahan, Policy & Communications Manager for the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, created by Mayor Walsh in 2014 to promote equal opportunity for women and girls.

Lauren Flaherty, a participant at the CareerSolution salary negotiation workshop, learned of the opportunity through the City of Boston website. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce after the birth of her child.

“I feel like I’m a very good worker, but I wasn’t educated on how to advocate for myself,” she said. “I have to fight for every right I have.”

By the end of the workshop, participants asserted their new tactical approaches to negotiation: Be confident. Do your research. Make your case.

Flaherty added her voice to the others: “Be prepared, not scared.”