October 10, 2014

Mass. panel pushes for women in workforce

A state task force charged with finding ways to boost women in the workforce wants companies to increase flexible scheduling, actively recruit and promote women to senior positions, and find ways for schools to encourage girls to study science and math so they eventually work in higher-wage fields.

The task force, created by Gov. Deval Patrick in March, looked at what the state can do to advance women in their careers. Women in Massachusetts earn 77 cents to every $1 a man makes.

Women make up only 13.8 percent of directors at Massachusetts' 100 largest public companies - a record high for Bay state businesses but far below the 17 percent national average, according to a report released earlier this year by The Boston Club, an organization that works to advance women's careers.

Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rachel Kaprielian said the problems facing women in the workforce are not new, and policymakers have talked for decades about how to solve the wage gap.

It's time for businesses to adapt for changes in work patterns, she said.

"A lot of our policies mirror the employee of the 1950s. A lot of it is based on the careers of working men," Kaprielian said. "We are trying to change the definition of who's working. We are 50 percent of the workforce, yet we are far less in leadership in those companies."

When women find their work schedules inflexible for their family schedules, they sometimes drop out of the workforce. Data shows they never recover, either economically or in their career paths, Kaprielian said.

After recognizing a dearth of women in executive positions or on boards at private businesses in Massachusetts, Patrick launched a fellowship for women, hiring 14 to senior positions in state government for one-year fellowships. The women were named last week.

"Women make up nearly half of the Massachusetts workforce and nationally they are the sole or primary source of income in 40 percent of households with children under the age of 18," Patrick said in a statement. "If the Massachusetts economy is going to continue to thrive, employers must design a workplace that maximizes their talent and potential by eliminating the wage gap and focusing on family-oriented practices and benefits."

The task force report, scheduled for release Friday morning, recommends incentivizing companies to adopt policies that encourage work-life balance, like flexible work schedules.

Ernst & Young, now known as EY, is one company that has had success with "family-friendly" schedules, Kaprielian said.

"It is also generational. The men want the same things; they want time with their families and for other pursuits," Kaprielian said. "Ernst & Young found out it works for everybody. They offered the incentives for all their workers and they have just as much satisfaction from the men."

Kaprielian said within state government a pilot program will be adopted for flexible work schedules.

"That is the kind of thing we will be looking towards going forward," she said.

To eliminate the wage gap, girls and women need to be encouraged to choose careers in higher wage occupations, according to the task force.

The task force will collaborate with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Higher Education to report on what courses high school girls select, and identify patterns. The reports will allow policymakers to promote new programming designed to draw girls to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Kaprielian said.

"We are trying to get information, and by getting information and data you are able to point to that data and say 'What's the problem? How big is the problem? And how do we begin to solve it?'" she said.

The Patrick administration, along with Bentley University, is "challenging" companies around the state in every industry to hire more women and "more effectively harness the talents of all women in the workplace."

Companies that pledge to take the challenge will appoint an executive to participate in the corporate challenge. The company must also actively recruit women and increase its percentage of women among the top 10 percent of senior positions. Companies involved in the challenge will also agree to monitor pay by gender and address gaps when they are discovered.

The task force also recommended the Patrick administration work with state lawmakers to do a cost analysis of paid family leave for all private sector Massachusetts workers. The federal government awarded a grant to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development to do an analysis of what paid leave would cost private employers. Nearly three million Massachusetts workers do not have any paid leave to care for newborns or family members, according to the task force.

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