BU Today article: “How to Ensure Equal Pay? Women’s Guild Event Takes On the Issue”

Photo: A panel of experts debate gender pay equity at a recent conference at Boston University.
On stage at the event were Jin In, assistant vice president of diversity and inclusion in the Office of the Senior Diversity Officer (from left); Susan Fournier, dean of the Questrom School of Business; Karen Antman, dean of the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus; Stan Sclaroff, dean of Arts & Sciences; and Amanda Bailey, BU’s vice president for Human Resources.

Originally published March 11, 2024 in BU Today by Amy Laskowski. Photo by Cydney Scott.

Here’s a sobering statistic: the World Economic Forum estimates it will take 131 years to close the overall gender gap. But, if we were able to close the lifetime earnings gap, we would add $172 trillion to the global economy.

The stat came courtesy of Jin In, assistant vice president of diversity and inclusion in the Office of the Senior Diversity Officer, during introductory remarks to a gender pay equity panel held March 8 at BU’s Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground and hosted by the BU Women’s Guild.

“That’s a powerful contribution to society; it would empower all of us, our families, and our institutions,” said In, who is also the Guild’s second vice president and chair of the membership committee. “But sadly, gender disparities still exist in 2024.”

Her remarks were met with applause from more than 100 members of the BU Women’s Guild and the BU community who had come together for the event on International Women’s Day. Panelists were three University deans, who, combined, provide leadership to 44 percent of BU employees, and according to In, are “the economic investors of 71 percent of BU’s female faculty”: Karen Antman, dean of the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus; Stan Sclaroff, dean of Arts & Sciences; and Susan Fournier, dean of the Questrom School of Business.

In noted that the panel discussion’s free tickets were sold out within 38 minutes. She came up with the idea for the event last fall while chatting with Sclaroff during a meeting. “We were talking about tough inequity issues—whether myth or reality—in higher ed,” she said. “How do we shine a light as leaders of the BU community? That conversation inspired the event, and President [Ken] Freeman resoundingly supported the idea of the panel.”

Moderator Amanda Bailey, BU’s vice president for Human Resources, asked the deans how their teams prioritize among professional development programs, mentoring, promotions, and equity.

“Usually, people come in pretty equitable, pretty much equal,” Scarloff replied. “And then at the promotion to associate, things are pretty much equal, with some vigilance… It’s at the senior level that things start to spread apart. And that’s where the greatest attention is needed to make corrections.”

Fournier agreed, citing research that shows that “one of the big things that happens in that ‘middle area’ for women has to do with maternity, caregiving, and childcare.”

It’s so important to post every job, Antman said, because there may be people who want that leadership position “that you haven’t even considered… And so if you post the job, you get a broader spectrum of people and have equity in choosing.” It’s also crucial, she said, that the selection committee be diverse and balanced fairly by gender because that increases the likelihood that traditionally underlooked, not-as-obvious candidates will be considered.

“How do we shine a light as leaders of the BU community?”
– Jin In

Fournier provided an essential, and unique, perspective, as she and her faculty have produced a significant amount of research on workplace equity and best practices. “As a whole, women are risk-averse,” she said. “Studies show that women accept offers sooner and settle because they don’t think a better offer is going to come along… For men, in terms of salary, a term that comes up is “overconfidence.” It’s, ‘Of course I’m ready. Of course [and] you can add $20 [thousand] to that.’”

Antman cited Lean In, a book by Sheryl Sandberg, a former Facebook chief operating officer, which points out that women sometimes turn down jobs before they even have families because they might have families one day. Antman said the book urges women to take that job when offered—it’s your chance. “I’ve been in the situation of offering a position to a [female] candidate whose CV is hands-down the best, and then the woman says, ‘I’m not ready,’” she said. “And then we go to the next candidate, who is a man, whose CV is half as good? He’s ready!” The crowd laughed.

Moderator Bailey reminded folks that Massachusetts residents are fortunate to have the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), a law that says employers cannot discriminate against employees because of their gender when deciding and paying wages. With this in mind, she asked the panel which trends they believe will help sustain pay equity, not just at BU, but more generally.

Fournier, who is also the business school’s Allen Questrom Professor, said it was essential to have transparency around salaries. She said that corporations have a significant role in the policies they put in place, and noted BU as a major employer in the area. Childcare, she said, is also an important benefit to offer. She went on to say that it was important to continue research looking at the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. “Research coming out of that shows that, on average, men got a lot more papers written than women did,” she said. “We need to look more closely at this.”

Unlike some medical schools, BU’s doesn’t provide tenure for professors. Antman said she thinks that’s a positive for women and worries for those who do have to deal with tenure. A tenure system may “not be good for women” because many of them have to juggle the demands of child-rearing and career early in their professional lives. “There are women eliminated before they hit that mid-career time and hit their stride—when their kids are in high school and college,” she said. She is proud that the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine ranks in the 99th percentile among medical schools for the number of women faculty, that BU was the first medical school open to women in the country, and that women comprise more than 50 percent of its faculty.

At the event’s end, In asked the panelists for their thoughts or plans on changing policy and culture (she is the author of the upcoming book Girl Power: Sustainability, Empowerment, and Justice with Cambridge University Press). Scarloff stressed the importance of managers getting “beyond narrow metrics” during annual review periods and instead looking holistically at how the person has contributed, considering their mentoring work, for instance, since women often serve in mentorship roles and that can get overlooked.

“We’ve got to get women in leadership positions early,” Antman said—and it’s important that women not say, “I’m not ready.”

“If you’re not a little uncomfortable,” she said, “and it’s not a stretch, you’re not going to get to the next level.”