The latest raft of annual salary data has been published and it tells us something that we were quietly hoping would go away on its own – the gender wage gap still persists in the United States. What’s more,  we’ve actually lost ground when compared to the previous year. Plotting trend lines against the data available from 1960 to present predicts that the wage gap won’t close until 2059.  The American Association of University Women has redrawn the trend line to reflect the plateau that has happened in women’s wages relative to men’s from 2003-2010 and it shows that we won’t reach salary parity between the genders until 2139, or 176 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

 You’ve come a long way baby. What took you so long?

Much work has been done trying to uncover the cause of the persistent imbalance. Maybe it’s because women are primary caregivers in families and choose more flexible assignments and maybe there is a disproportionate penalty for choosing those assignments. While some of these hypotheses have been found to explain a portion of the gap, they are unable to explain all of it. Indeed, one researcher even found that where women suffer a motherhood penalty, men are the beneficiaries of a fatherhood bonus. Not surprisingly, people of color are even more disadvantaged relative to their white male peers. What about education levels? On average, women are more educated, and the education gap between women and men is actually growing. In another fascinating study, researchers found that as traditionally male dominated professions began to include more women, organizations started to value the work less. New York University sociology professor Paula England explains how women’s work is valued when they enter a male-dominated profession, “It just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill.” Simple macroeconomics – supply and demand stuff, right? Nope. The same researchers found that as female dominated professions began to increase the percentage of males, the wages and prestige increased in corresponding fashion. Of course, the problem with meta studies like these is that they allow us to hold problems at arms length for careful examination and with sufficient detachment. We can say, “it sure is a shame that a female physician earns 23% less than their male counterpart. I hope they get that problem figured out.”  Meta studies make the problem someone else’s to solve. Besides, surely higher education is doing a better job than society as a whole, right? Data published by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPAHR) for the 2015-16 fiscal year show that, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Data excerpted from the survey include the fact that:

  • Males occupy the overwhelming majority of executive positions in higher ed. Male presidents outnumber female presidents 2 to 1. In fact, the only executive-level position in which females occupy the overwhelming majority of positions is that of chief HR officer, in which females outnumber males nearly 3 to 1.

The American Council on Education recently launched a national campaign called Moving the Needle: Advancing Women Leaders in Higher Education which asks presidents of colleges, universities and related associations to commit to help achieve the goal that by 2030, half of U.S. college and university chief executives are women.  To date, more than 300 presidents or chancellors have signed on. Is your school on board yet? Ideas on how to improve the odds of reaching that goal are also  included in the report: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States by the Colorado Women’s College of the University of Denver. The CUPAHR survey also reported that:

  • In 12 of the 15 executive positions reported, males earn a higher median salary than females. The highest salary gap is in the position of chief financial officer, in which females earn $.77 for every dollar that males earn.

While the CUPAHR survey dealt with administrative salaries, similar results have been reported across all faculty ranks as well. salary by faculty rank When viewed at the industry level, there really isn’t any good excuse as to why this problem persists. True, research has found that women don’t do as well in salary negotiations and that when they attempt to advocate more strongly for their worth, they are penalized for not acting feminine enough. However, suggestions that women should just get better at negotiating their salaries are victim blaming at best. Best practices for closing the gender pay gap have been developed and are updated annually by the American Association of University Women. Recommended strategies are transparency in pay, regular audits of pay and pay practices, and paying what a position is worth rather than what a person is able to negotiate. Purchasing the CUPAHR survey results and mapping them to positions to identify areas for improvement and developing a plan to close the gap is another obvious place to start. P.S., Equal Pay Day this year is April 12, 2016. It signifies the additional amount of time that women have to work in order to earn the same amount their male counterparts earned last year. On Equal Pay Day next year, it would be great to write an article about how higher education had done their part and closed their gender pay gap.

The strategies to solve the problem are available. Is the willpower?