Gender Pay Inequity is Real – So What Can We Do About It?

Apr 10, 2018

By Edie Stringfellow, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at MassBio

Research shows that no industry offers equal pay for equal work. In biotech, there is absolutely no reason for this, especially when women have gone through the same level of education and have the same credentials as men. In honor of April 10th being recognized as Equal Pay Day, let’s look at some of the issues and go over some productive solutions. Unfortunately, the 1963 Equal Pay Act is not working and today is a reminder of this problem. 

While lower earnings affect all women in life sciences, there is an even larger pay gap with women of color who are less represented in STEM positions.

Breakdown by Ethnicity provided by American Association of University Women (AAUW)


Caucasian Male

Caucasian Female

Asian Female

African American Female

Hispanic Female

Median Salary







Motherhood Penalty
One of the causes of gender pay inequity can be attributed to family care responsibilities, particularly motherhood, which can lead to breaks in career paths for women. Research shows that many mothers suffer workplace-related consequences after having kids. They may be viewed as having less commitment; they face unsurmountable expectations; and the ‘time out of the labor force penalty’ reduces their chances of being promoted or hired.

I find this troubling (because I have done this myself) but the reality is that women are hesitant to negotiate salary or advocate for themselves In fact, the Lifstream-MassBio report found that the majority of men (59%) gained a pay rise of greater than 6%, where a minority of women achieved the same (45%). The reasons may be varied, but the fact is that employees should be paid what they’re worth – not what they can best negotiate.  

Managers may inadvertently or deliberately devalue the work of their female employees. This problem will not be easy to fix on its own. Stereotypes about women’s abilities are at the heart of gender discrimination – perpetuating pay disparity, occupational segregation and fewer leadership opportunities.

Here are some suggestions from the Liftstream-MassBio report:



How to Overcome

Balancing domestic responsibilities

• Flexible work schedule; telecommute
• Culture that values parents and supports them
• Family friendly policies such as shared parental leave

 Limited female pipeline

• Incentivize women in leadership to be role models
• Ask female employees what support they need in terms of balancing family and work responsibilities, especially high-potential women when they try to leave
• Engage women in leadership to ask how policies can be adapted to better support other women in rising in the ranks

Psychological differences
(i.e. – more risk averse, less likely to negotiate)

• Establish formal sponsorship programs for women
• Encourage employee (men & women) networking, learning, engagement through discussion about gender-specific concerns

Discrimination and unconscious bias

• Promote gender equality and inclusion as a core value of the company
• Accountability through pay equity processes
• Empowering managers with information and resources to correct for pay differences
• Prohibit asking about previous salaries for applicants

As an industry, we need to close the pay gap, as it’s an important step in ensuring a diverse and inclusive environment. Part of this may involve addressing workplace discrimination against mothers and those who may have to take a career break. We can also help eliminate wage inequality by having pay transparency and closing the negotiation gap.

Joanne Kamens, Executive Director at Addgene, is actively engaged in at least half of the recommendations from the MassBio-Liftstream report, and when asked how she ensures diversity and inclusion at Addgene, Joanne said:

I review pay across the company 2-3 times a year with HR and Finance to ensure no pay inequities. We routinely give employees unasked for raises and adjustments. When I say routinely I mean this occurs in every round of pay changes and promotions which happen in January and July and when needed if a job role changes.

Addgene provides 8 weeks paid parental leave for both birth parents and non-birth parents. We also provide free health insurance with no premiums and mostly no co-pays. We have very transparent interview and hiring practices. The same group of people interview all candidates. This group has a public debrief focused on the the job requirements and candidate qualities to meet the job requirements. HR is present to ensure that no decisions are made based on “gut feelings” that someone “fits better”.  “Gut feelings” are usually bias creeping into the discussion. All of our employees have participated in a workshop on “unbiasing” to become aware of the impacts of bias and learn tactics for counteracting prejudiced decision making.

What are some of your best practices that prevent gender pay inequities at your organization? Share your stories with me! 

             – Edie M. Stringfellow

See all MassBio News