Gender Inequality in Nonprofits – Mind the Gap

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on September 18th, 2015 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Though my preference would be to not know anything, I am grateful that I seem to be catching Donald Trump on the reruns.  It wasn’t until I was driving into work post-debate that I learned that Mr. Humble had the audacity to comment on Carly Fiorina’s face.  Never having paid much attention to her, I couldn’t imagine what he had to say about her face—or why.  Here we are in 2015, and it is still tough times for women.

I don’t know whether Carly Fiorina—or any of the three other female CEOs of Hewlett-Packard since she left—received the same salary (adjusted for inflation, of course) as the six men who held that position between Fiorina and current CEO Meg Whitman—but I’d bet big money each of their compensation well outstripped the highest paid nonprofit “CEO”—male or female.  Not really going out on a limb there, am I?

Nor is it a risk to say that as badly as those CEOs’ salaries ran circles around male nonprofit executives, the number of circles run was even greater for the female nonprofit executives.  Sadly, Guidestar’s recently released Nonprofit Compensation Report (reporting on data from 2013) shows that not only did the pay differential for male and female executives continue—for the 15th year in a row (and only 15 because this report has only been published for 15 years)—but the number of women filling in that lead position decreased.

There is movement in the right direction, though I hesitate to call it progress:  in 2001, that pay differential had female leaders earning anywhere from 21% to 47% less than their male counterparts.  (Please:  take the time to let that sink in:  in this century, women were paid almost half the salary of men.)  The 2015 Report finds the range of disparity dropping to “only” 6% to23%.

Some of you might actually be thinking something along the lines of, “Not bad!” or “See, there is progress/hope.”  Yes, so long as it isn’t your paycheck, your family, your job.  And while female leaders did make a little headway into the leadership positions at organizations with annual budgets over $50 million, there numbers only represent 18%.

We know there is no logical reason why these differentials should continue.  If you know both male and female leaders, you know you have the aces, duds and middle ground in each group.  The pay inequity can’t possibly reflect actual performance differences, but more likely reflects old ways of thinking and behavioral differences.

Here’s one of the many times where I’ve wanted one of those Men in Black memory erasing flashers so that we could erase from every dinosaur brains those malinger thoughts that in our society men are breadwinners; women are not.

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, four out of 10 women in households with children younger than 18 were the sole or primary breadwinners.  That’s a fourfold increase since 1960, and the highest it has ever been.   But let’s be honest:  in no compensation schedule for work done on a job have I ever seen factors such as:  primary breadwinner or not? number of mouths to feed? bodies to clothe? healthcare to provide?  And I bet you haven’t either.  Compensation for work done at a job is determined by experience being brought to the position and how well the position is executed, generally over time.

And here’s where the behavioral differences come into play.  Nothing we haven’t known for a quite some time, but a new study really highlights these gender differences in way that can be seen to directly tie back to pay differentials.  Two researchers, one at the University of North Carolina and the other at the University of Pennsylvania, wanting to understand why there are so many more male entrepreneurs than females, studied 90,000 projects launched on Kickstarter.  They found that when women failed to meet their Kickstarter goal and, therefore, couldn’t launch their enterprise, they were more likely not to try again, thinking they tried, it didn’t work, it didn’t match their sweet spot, move on.

Males, on the other hand, were overconfident in light of their failures and would try again, believing that the failure to meet their goals wasn’t their fault or of their doing.  This pattern of women’s lack of confidence and men’s overconfidence also played out for those whose Kickstarter’s campaigns did succeed and they were able to launch their enterprises.  Women attributed their success to luck, good friends and support; men attributed it to their own genius and talent.  But the finding that really caught my attention was this:  if women sported the same overconfidence as men, they would launch 1/3 more second projects than they do now.  Sad to think about all the opportunities that we, as a society, are losing as a result.

We have known for quite some time that women, for the most part, are more humble than men, are far more willing to share credit with others (while taking the blame solely on their own shoulders), to downplay their talents, successes, etc.  It is one of the many things that people like about working for female leaders.  But perhaps there is a time and place for stepping outside our gender typing—and most likely our comfort zone–and borrowing, temporarily, from men.  It just might not hurt to bring that overconfidence to your next compensation negotiation.  Along with the MIB doohickey.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.