The Pay Gap in the Academe: New Research and Solutions

New research from the Eos Foundation’s Women’s Power Gap Initiative reveals a dramatic gender and race wage gap for professionals in higher education. This study examined publicly available information for 2,300 employees regarding the total compensation data of top earners in public institutions and private higher education institutions in 2017. The authors note that the wage gap persists despite the fact that women make up 60 percent of all professionals in higher education and have been earning the majority of master’s and doctoral degrees for decades. Despite these accomplishments, they noticed these alarming facts:

  • Women represent only 24 percent of the highest-paid faculty members and administrators at 130 leading research universities.
  • The findings of this study parallel those of other recent studies showing that women college and university administrators earn eighty cents for every dollar a man takes home.
  • While women represent 50 percent of medical school students, they hold just 12 percent of top-compensated positions within academic medical centers.
  • Women hold 7 percent of the top-compensated positions within athletic programs. The average compensation for head coaches of men’s basketball teams is 2.5 times higher than that for women’s basketball head coaches.
  • Women of color were “virtually nonexistent” among top earners at the subset of institutions that provided data on race. No female American Indians, Pacific Islanders, or Alaskan Natives were in this group, and only one man was. A minimal number of Asian employees were among top earners: fifty-one men and just three women.
  • Eleven of the 130 institutions studied have reached gender parity, with half of their top earners being women.

Why is pay parity important, besides the obvious answer that discrimination is unfair? The authors of the Eos study point out that colleges and universities are “role models for our future civic and business leaders, making diversity at the highest levels of leadership paramount.” They go on to state that higher education “could and should be the first to achieve gender parity and fair representation of people of color at the top” because organizations must include diverse perspectives to achieve the best results. They also point out that without equitable representation of women at the highest pay levels, the gender pay gap will never improve. In addition, the expression “you can’t be it if you can’t see it” means that women may not think about being senior leaders if they don’t see a significant number of women in those roles.

The findings and solutions offered by these researchers are relevant beyond higher education. Parity within corporations is important for the same reasons that it’s important within higher education. The authors point out that men also tend to dominate higher-earning fields beyond higher education, such as business, economics, natural science, technology, engineering, and math, where men account for 93 percent of the top earners.

The authors offer a number of solutions to the gender and race wage gaps that are useful beyond academia:

  • Organizations need to examine their institutional cultures and systematically change their hiring, retention, and advancement practices.
  • Institutions should ban the use of salary history as a component of the hiring process to ensure that women and people of color are hired on at pay levels equivalent to white men.
  • Conduct regular audits to root out unconscious bias. Hold staff and hiring committees accountable to equitable outcomes, not just hiring processes. In other words, it is not enough to recruit a diverse pool of candidates if the hires are not proportionate to the diversity in the finalist pools.
  • Make disaggregate diversity pay data transparent by releasing an annual report on the percentages of each demographic group within the highest earners.
  • Conduct regular pay equity analyses.
  • Make bold, long-term public commitments to reach equitable representation for women and people of color among the top-earning employees. Presidents should create annual benchmarks to work toward those goals.

The authors note that without transparent disaggregated diversity data at the institutional level and bold annual benchmarks that donors and boards hold institutions accountable for achieving, “we are just tilting at windmills.”


Photo courtesy of Bold Content (CC BY 2.0)

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