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Sit Down with Sandy: Behind the Scenes with Local Leaders – Megan Costello

The beginning of a new year always offers time to reflect on accomplishments and set goals for the weeks and months ahead. Castle’s Sandy Lish recently sat down with Megan Costello, the executive director for the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, to discuss her career-defining moments, her goals as a role model for young women and how she plans to continue to pursue her efforts for women’s equality in 2017 and beyond.

Sandy: Being that The Castle Group recently completed our 20th year in business, we spent a great deal of time in 2016 reflecting on our defining moments over the last two decades. Are there any particular moments that you think have shaped your career?

Megan: There are several different moments that have made me who I am today. Because my background is more on the campaign and political side, I’ve had incredible opportunities to meet politicians and people of influence, including Hillary Clinton and President Clinton. One of my favorite moments was when I was in Iowa in 2012 and Vice President Joe Biden was coming to my region to meet all the campaign volunteers. I wasn’t planning to meet him or even attempt to, but at the last minute we realized that there was no one to introduce the volunteers to the Vice President. My colleague looked to me five minutes before and said, “Megan, you’re coming back with us and you’re going to introduce all your volunteers to the Vice President of the United States.” This was nerve-racking, to say the least, but it was also a defining moment for me and for my career. I learned how important it is to step up when you’re called upon. Sure, I made some mistakes (like forgetting some volunteers’ names), but at the end of the day everything was fine. This experience has stuck with me ever since.

Sandy: Stepping up is great advice. What other advice would you give young women in our city?  

Megan: I am fortunate to have strong mentors in my life who take the time to support me, so I always try to remember that it’s my responsibility to lift as I climb. For this reason and others, I always try to be as supportive as possible – and that includes opening the lines of communication with as many people as I can. The best advice I have ever received is “no fast moves.” If you find yourself in a moment where you are presented with a decision that will change your life or your career path, it’s important to recognize that you need to take the time to reflect before you act. This is especially true when you find yourself in an emotional state of mind.

Sandy: Is there anything that you haven’t be able to do that you’d like to?

Megan: There are a million things that I’d love to do! I want to fix child care affordability. I want to end sex trafficking. It’s an endless list, really. Sometimes it’s frustrating because you want to see change overnight, but my measurement and the Mayor’s measurement of success is always, “Are we making progress?” When we can’t answer “yes” to that question, we reflect on what we’re doing and try to do things differently. The good news is that we have been able to answer “yes” to most everything on our list by chipping away a little at a time. And most of these accomplishments are a direct result of working at the local level. That’s when you really have the ability to influence culture.

Sandy: In what ways are you helping shape (or reshape) perspectives as they relate to culture? 

Megan: Our salary negotiation workshops are a great example of how we’re trying to address culture. We acknowledge there are certain social norms. Women have grown up being told, “Undervalue yourself. Don’t ask for what you’re worth.” These workshops are specifically designed to shift women’s perceptions on those social norms. The same goes for the business community. There are laws in place that require businesses to pay women equally, but what are we actually doing for businesses to help them understand the importance of equal pay? It’s not just about dollars and cents – it’s about the actual experience of women at their companies. That’s much more grassroots and complicated, but we have 180 companies working with us in that capacity with our 100% talent compact.

Sandy: What can women – and men – in Boston do to support your efforts to promote women’s equality?

Megan: We are in a place where we need to engage men to promote and support women’s equality. We cannot solve 100% of the problem with 50% of the population. I find that I often talk to only women or other women’s groups. All of us in the room know and experience the same problems, so it’s time for us to talk to the men in our lives if we want to see change. We need to recognize that, because power is still with men in many situations, asking and being very intentional of men in what they can do to support us is incredibly important. This is something that the Mayor believes in strongly. He also acknowledges that he himself must make every effort possible to ensure that women are at the table so that their voices can continue to be amplified.

Our quarterly emails and our website provide ample opportunities for you and your friends to participate in one of our workshops. Encourage your co-workers to do the same. Consider also asking your company to sign on to the compact. And, because we are always looking for new ideas, events, and different things that we should be doing, we of course value your input. All hands-on deck!

Sandy: What would you say has been your most significant accomplishment so far?

Megan: We’ve done a lot of good things—but I am never satisfied (laughs). There is so much room to continue to move the ball forward. I am most proud of the three-pronged approach the Mayor and I are taking to close the gender wage gap: introducing new legislation, working with individuals (women and men), and continuing our outreach efforts to local businesses. To date, we have 180 businesses that have signed the Boston Women Workforce Council Compact committing to, for the first time in our nation’s history, reporting real wage data. This is groundbreaking!

I am also proud to say that we trained over 2,500 women in salary negotiation workshops in 2016. This is where local government truly has the ability impact individual people’s lives. It’s been extremely impressive to see the business community step up and acknowledge that local businesses have a responsibility to do something about the women’s equality and the wage gap in particular. It’s also been inspiring to meet women from all walks of life and at different points in their careers saying, “I want to take charge of my life and my career now and I want to finally get paid what I’m worth!”