Massachusetts Just Took A Big Step Toward Closing The Gender Wage Gap

By signing a salary bill into law Monday, the first of its kind in the nation, Massachusetts moved toward closing the gender pay gap in the state. Beginning in July 2018, employers will not be allowed to ask potential employees about their previous salary and must state how much the job will pay upfront. Because women typically make less than men, basing new employees’ salaries on what they used to make perpetuates the cycle, so hopefully this law will help create more of an equal playing field.

The law also requires employers to pay men and women the same and allows employees to openly discuss how much they make. “This legislation is an important step toward advancing more equal, inclusive and thriving workplaces throughout the Commonwealth for women and families,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito in a press release Monday.

While prohibiting pay discrimination based on gender isn’t a new idea (though it sadly still hasn’t caught on, despite being federal law), forbidding employers from asking applicants about their salary histories until after they’ve made an official offer will help cut out unintended discrimination. Only shitty humans knowingly pay women less for the same work, but otherwise OK bosses can add to the wage gap without even realizing it by basing salaries off of what new employees made before.

“I think very few businesses consciously discriminate, but they need to become aware of it,” State Senator Pat Jehlen told The New York Times’ Stacy Cowley. “These are things that don’t just affect one job; it keeps women’s wages down over their entire lifetime.”

Employers will still be allowed to consider applicants’ previous experience, training, and education when determining what to pay them, so it’s not like every person who applies will automatically be payed the same amount, but the person’s gender will be less of a factor.

The provision telling employers they can no longer ban workers from discussing their pay checks will also make a big difference in terms of eradicating the wage gap. One of the biggest problems with enforcing the federal law against gender discrimination is finding out where it’s happening. If people don’t know what their coworkers make, how can they know they’re being cheated? (Here’s a hint: they can’t.)

As the first state to prohibit interviewers from asking about job applicants’ salaries, Massachusetts is setting an example for the rest of the nation. It takes more than simply outlawing discrimination to fight such a systemic and pervasive injustice against half the population; it takes specific actions that address the root causes and the spread of the problem.