I’m an active member of Women in Genome Sciences, a group in my department that works to make our field more accepting and welcoming to minorities. Today in belated honor of Equal Pay Day we hosted Dr. Laura Meyers who did research here at the University of Washington on the gender pay gap in higher education. I figured it was a topic my readers would be interested in, so here’s a summary of her talk:

Even though the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act were passed over 40 years ago, female faculty still make less. The average salary in 2009-2010 for men was $80,885, while for women it was $66,653. It is important to keep fighting this fight so that women don’t miss out on their life goals, like getting on the property ladder with Toronto Real Estate for example. Dr. Meyers wanted to investigate potential causes of such a pay gap, like:

  • Segregation of women to lower paying jobs/fields (Education field is predominantly female and not well paid)
  • Nonmarket responsibilities as mothers/caregivers
  • Higher attrition rates in tenure-track positions
  • Devaluation of women’s work. Women are more likely to have more teaching and service tasks (being on committees, running events and seminars, participating in outreach). However, research gets paid better than teaching or service
  • Lack of training and on-the-job education
  • Salary negotiation – are women not as good at it for whatever reason?
  • Organization behaviors and equity/salary/promotion policies

Her work takes three main categories of variables into account:

  1. Gender (Your gender and the percentage of your field that’s female)
  2. Human capital (Amount of training, rank, tenure status)
  3. Structural effects (Average faculty class loads, percent of faculty with funded research, average number of publications)

What is the effect of gender on things like base faculty salary, base faculty salary by discipline type, and base faculty salary by institution type? What is the effect of being in a female dominated or male dominated field? To answer these questions, she used the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, the most comprehensive survey of faculty out there. It includes 11,257 Faculty affiliated with 26 disciplines and 860 institutions. The downside is that it’s a single snapshot of time and from 8 years ago, but it’s really the best data we have.

Her major findings were:

  • When looking at gender alone, there is a 14.3% gender salary gap. This is reduced to a 4.8% gap when you take the other variables into account. The variable that had the most effect on reducing the gap was rank and status. This is because there’s a high attrition rate for women in tenure track positions, especially in STEM fields, mostly due to policy and climate. So professors who are farther along in their careers and have tenure get paid better, but there aren’t as many women in these positions.
  • Controlling for other variables, the gender salary gap increases as you move toward institutions that offer higher levels of degrees. Associate’s programs are the most equal, followed by Baccalaureate, then Master’s, with Doctoral institutions being the worst with a 5.7% gap.
  • The gender gap is larger in research based positions than in teaching or service positions. Male faculty receive a larger benefit by focusing on research instead of teaching.
  • A higher proportion of female faculty in a discipline is associated with lower overall faculty salaries in that discipline
  • The gender salary gap is larger in institutions with less female faculty than in institutions with more female faculty. This results in male faculty benefitting financially by working in institutions with less female faculty, but females benefitting financially by working in institution with more female faculty

Dr. Meyers made the following suggestions on how we can combat this remaining pay gap:

  • Have flexible tenure/promotion policies and encourage/require faculty to take advantage of them. Often times alternative policies are in place, but there’s social pressure to not take them.
  • Recognize and reward alternative/varied ways that faculty contribute to a department institution. Women tend to do teaching and service more, and these are often seen as less important as research
  • Female faculty should focus on research that is aligned with mission/goals and tenure/promotion policies of their department. If your department is focused on research, limit service and teaching responsibilities. This is especially true when women are basically guilted onto being on every committee or every outreach event because they’re effectively the token minority. Feel safe in saying “No.”

A professor from my department asked if having publicly available salary data makes a difference. Are women more likely to ask for raises if they know what other people in their department are making? Dr. Meyers said she didn’t know for sure because no research has been done looking at that specifically, but she guessed having that knowledge would help. Someone floated the idea of making this gender gap data publicly available so people could see which institutions suck and with the hopes of the public shame changing things. Dr. Meyers responded that research institutions were the biggest offenders when it came to the pay gap, so you’d have to some how tie it into them receiving grant money for them to care.