06/13/2014 01:43 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2014

The Power of Cities: Boston's Plan to Close the Gender Wage Gap

No question, I'm a "city girl" at heart. I grew up in Toronto and have lived in many big cities around the world from Hong Kong to Paris. I've always believed in the power of cities as centers of creativity and cultural influence. What I didn't realize was the potency of their financial muscle. According to McKinsey & Company, more than 20 percent of global GDP comes from only 190 North American cities. Clearly, cities in developed regions are economic powerhouses, and there is a growing discourse emerging about the power of cities and the mayors who run them to drive change - both economic and social change.

So why not leverage that power to focus on women in the workforce?

Take Boston, for example, where the Mayor's office has introduced something called "100% Talent: The Boston Women's Compact." It's a city government effort with one primary focus: closing the gender wage gap.

The way it works is businesses and institutions join the Compact voluntarily (a sign-up form is on the city's website) which then commits them to three goals:

  1. Understand the root causes of the gender wage gap
  2. Based on a self-assessment of internal practices and data, implement three suitable and relevant interventions to close the gap
  3. Evaluate progress by participating in a biennial review to discuss successes and challenges and contribute unidentified company data to a report compiled by a third-party on the Compact's success to date.

Currently 50 businesses and institutions have signed on, including large employers such as MassMutual and Boston Medical Center. To help signees get started, the city offers information sources, contacts and a primary resource in the form of a 59-page document. It includes stats on existing wage disparity, with national and local-level data for Boston, including breakdowns by occupation, age, education, as well as race and ethnicity.

The report makes a case for wage parity, not just in terms of benefits for individuals and families, but for businesses. It states that pay fairness improves productivity, retention and creates a "robust pipeline of talent for many years to come."

Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

The report also details 33 interventions that "have been shown to help close critical gaps in human capital or mitigate bias toward women." These fall into two broad categories - "feeding the pipeline" and "attracting, retaining and promoting," and include actions such as gender-blind hiring practices, wage transparency, negotiations training, and on-site childcare. For each intervention, the report presents the challenge, the root cause and one or more suggested remedies. While the remedies are meant to be a starting point, not a comprehensive plan, the report is a terrific resource for organizations interested in taking "tangible steps" to close the gender wage gap.

Hats off to Mayor Marty Walsh and the Boston Women's Compact for recognizing the power of the full representation of women in the workforce. And, most importantly, for taking action to help close the wage gap and position Boston as a city that values all talent equitably.

In Columbus, Ohio, we've launched a voluntary initiative from within the business community called Widen the Circle where our focus is on the full representation of women in leadership and on corporate boards. Although women participate in the workforce in record numbers, there remains a severe under-representation of women in leadership roles across all sectors of American business and culture. This leaves an untapped resource of talent that can help organizations of all sizes and models succeed.

The business case is clear. Research has confirmed that companies with women in leadership roles - on management teams and on corporate boards - on average, outperform other companies.

Another no-brainer.