Sit Down with Sandy: Behind the Scenes with Local Leaders – Evelyn Murphy, Part II
Below is Part Two of Sandy Lish’s interview with the first female Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Evelyn Murphy. Part One can be viewed here.
Sandy: As you think back on your experiences, is there one defining moment that led to your focus on pay equity and the wage gap?
Evelyn: There is no one defining moment, but there is a defining period of time. I challenge you to think of it that way. Let me explain. While I was in public office I didn’t attend to my retirement years. As a result, I concentrated my time during the majority of the 1990s on making and saving money so that I could live modestly for the rest of my life.
By the end of the 1990s, I began to see that there would be a time where I could decide what would drive me—what would be meaningful—for the rest of my life. I thought about what meant a lot to me personally, my own upbringing, and what I had been doing all my life. I reflected on my family—my father had his first heart attack when I was a teenager. From that day forward I always believed that, some day, I would have to support my family. That experience helped me think about how I would support my own family from a very young age.
My years in public life and private life also taught me what government can and can’t do to help a woman support her family, what the private sector can do, and what women have to do. I came to a point where I realized that pay equity intersected my personal and professional experience practically all my life. That’s when I decided that eliminating the gender wage gap would be the driving force and the central theme for the next chapter of my life and my professional efforts.
Sandy: Did people know what you were talking about when you got started? In other words, did you have to educate the audience, like we do sometimes for our clients, before they could be open to receiving your message? Or did you find that there was already a knowledge of these topics?
Evelyn: Pay equity and the wage gap have been a subtheme in American business and politics since the end of World War II, but most people haven’t really paid attention to the problem until recent years. What I’ve noticed is that more people have started to take notice of the discrepancies in last 20 years and in particular the last five years. A lot of this visibility can be attributed to the increasing voice of women in business, politics, and entertainment.
There is now a more concerted effort to come together to eliminate the underlying social bias of the workplace, but we still have work to be done to solve the problem. That said, it is encouraging to see that attention to the issue now is bigger than ever before. We need to continue to focus our energies as we do here in Boston across the country.
Sandy: We’ve talked a lot about employers and their role in solving this issue, but what should young women in the workforce be doing? What responsibility do they have to be aware of this and effect change?
Evelyn: Young women have a great responsibility. In my adult life there have been two nagging inequities caused by racism and sexism. We unfortunately see examples of both on an almost daily basis. Open the paper and you’ll see that our country continues to be plagued by horrible displays of racism. The same applies to sexism. Just look at some of the comments and remarks made about Hilary Clinton and her campaign. Young women need to be aware of the fact that they have to act on their own behalf to be treated fairly and equitably. If they can achieve that, they will show others how to do it and we will begin to take the biases out of the workplace. However, if women don’t take responsibility for themselves from an early age, then there will be no change. We have to take on the responsibility – not in hostile or aggressive ways, mind you, but in small ways – to get rid of the cultural and gender bias that are so deeply engrained in American history. These are very complicated issues, but we can attack them in small pieces by promoting the values of equality out in our own lives. And that’s how we will do it.
Sandy: I have to ask you one last question. Are female politicians treated different than their male counterparts today?
Evelyn: Yes. Of course (no hesitation). We are treated differently, and it’s been like that for as long as I can remember. I was treated the same way as Ms. Clinton is being treated now. The “what does her hair look like?” and “what she wearing?” comments and questions that she has to deal with are the same old stuff that has been around for decades. For whatever reason, the press seems to be calling it out more to some extent, but it doesn’t change anything. It’s still there in its all its ugliness. It’s even more blatant in some ways. The criticisms I used to get pale in comparison to what today’s female politicians have to put up with.
Sandy: Can anything be done to fix this? You probably need another whole half hour.
Evelyn: The press plays a very important part in either reinforcing sexism or discouraging it. I think the key is more enlightened treatment of women and men and people of different races and religions. We have a lot of work to do in our society, especially with regard to race and sex.