Pay Inequity or Glass Ceiling? What Women Leading Education Nonprofits Confront

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This past April, the US Senate’s Joint Economic Committee shared a report that observed that as recently as 2015, full-time female workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 21 percent.

But does this inequity persist in the nonprofit world? Are women and men on equal playing fields in education nonprofits—or are there gender salary inequities that are going unnoticed, especially when it comes to who holds positions of power?

Each year, the Oakland, CA-based Nonprofit Compensation Associates (NCA) investigates nonprofit compensation in Northern California, including how these organizations pay their senior male and female staff. The NCA’s annual report covers all types of nonprofits through anonymous surveys and does not identify any specific industry sectors—say, the education industry, for example.

So, EdSurge decided to explore the education sector a bit more. All U.S. nonprofits annually file Form 990 financial disclosures to the Internal Revenue Service and include, among other details, salary information of top employees. That information can be found publicly on Guidestar and FoundationCenter.org. We sampled a dozen leading education nonprofits based on the 990 data—and along the way we found some intriguing trends.

Where Nonprofits are Falling Short

NCA co-founders Rita Haronian and Bob Orser weren’t exactly sure what they were going to find when they carried out their first survey of Northern California nonprofits back in 2010. By 2013, their survey grew to include 434 organizations that anonymously shared compensation and benefits awarded to their top leaders, including executive directors and CEOs.

The most pronounced disparity they observed in the 2013 data centered on the salaries of nonprofit leaders: women’s average salaries were $26,600 less than that of their male counterparts (shown below).

Even so, Haronian wasn’t surprised. Women on average made 82% of men’s salaries, she notes, in part because the larger nonprofits that could pay higher salaries were dominated by men.

Who Runs No. Calif. Nonprofits and How They’re Paid (2013)

SOURCE: Fair Pay for Northern California Nonprofits: The 2013 Compensation & Benefits Survey, Nonprofit Compensation Asso.

From 2014 to 2016, average salaries at Northern California nonprofits became more equitable at most levels—but not so much at the top of the pyramid where organizations had more than $9 million in annual operating expenses:

Who Runs No. Calif. Nonprofits and How They’re Paid (2016)

Haronian has an additional concern as she looks at the charts. “What’s really accentuated in our survey is the fact that women are disproportionately leading the smaller organizations, but as the nonprofits grow, they get more led by men,” she explains. “As you look at larger and larger organizations, it’s more likely that a man is going to be in that top job. That’s why the difference in overall salaries is so much; it’s the fact that there are many more men at the higher-end of the scale.”

So, How About Education Nonprofits?

Inspired by NCA’s survey, EdSurge decided to sample leading education organizations to see if similar trends existed. We analyzed the most recently published 990s of a dozen significant education nonprofits headquartered in Northern California.

We looked at the compensation of salaried, full-time employees who were listed as working at least 40 hours per week and had worked a full year. (That excludes board members.) We added up salaries, bonuses and any extra compensation to get a full picture of what individuals received in a year. We also looked at median (rather than average) compensation to avoid the skewing impact of a few large salaries like that of Salman Khan (who, as of 2014, made more than $540,000 at Khan Academy).

The data has its peculiarities: In the 990 reports we surveyed, organizations provided compensation data on anywhere from three to 13 top employees. And the 990s report on different fiscal years, as some of the nonprofits’ most recently published data is from 2013 or 2014.

Here’s what we found.

What Education Nonprofits in California Pay

SOURCE: (990 Forms from GuideStar, Foundation Center, and nonprofit websites)

In contrast to NCA’s findings, more women (56) than men (42) held top leadership positions in these dozen organizations.

However, here’s the rub: The women leading these dozen organizations are still making an average of $38,000 less than their male counterparts.

Specifically, at the three organizations where women are indeed making more (George Lucas Education Foundation, Rocketship and the New Teacher Center), the female median is higher than the male median by less than $24,000 in all cases. But in most of the organizations where the male median surpasses the female (7 out of the 9), the disparity is more than $30,000.

Ands, Buts and Ahems

How should we interpret--and react--to these numbers? First, a few caveats. Positions do differ in responsibility; each nonprofit board sets its own parameters for compensation. Then, there’s the fact that some of these 990s represent the 2013 or 2014 fiscal years—things may have changed since then.

Additionally, since these numbers represent only Northern California-based nonprofits, can this compensation gap be seen as a national issue?

The NCA’s Rita Haronian says that although she and her team haven’t published reports on nonprofit compensation outside of Northern California, they have seen similar data from other parts of the country—and she often sees even more of a pattern. “Right now, I’m looking at the executive director average of another state’s set of nonprofits… and the women were paid to 70% to 80% of what the men were paid. For every category,” she shares.

According to Haronian, there is potential for addressing these inequities—as well as others, including how compensation correlates with racial diversity. But ultimately, it’s up to the nonprofits themselves to do a thorough self-examination, and decide how best they want to address these inequities.

Mary Jo Madda (@MJMadda) is Senior Editor at EdSurge, as well as a former STEM teacher and administrator. In 2016, Mary Jo was named to the Forbes "30 Under 30" list in education.

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