A Call to Action: Let’s Close the Pay Gap in Independent Schools

2059. That’s the year that the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) says we will close the gender pay gap in the United States. A recent report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “The Simple Truth About The Gender Pay Gap,” paints an even bleaker picture, noting that, because of the slowing pace of progress in this arena, the goal of equal pay is not likely to be achieved until 2119.

What are the stats today? According to a IWPR report, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings was 81.8 percent. The stats are considerably worse for most women of color, with Hispanic women’s median weekly earnings only 62.2 percent of white men’s and black women’s only 67.7 percent. Asian women fare better with earnings at 93 percent of white men. When you dig even further into the IWPR store of pay gap data collected over time, you also see differences by age and progression through a woman’s career:

In 2016, for full-time workers ages 20–24, women were paid 96 percent of what men were paid on a weekly basis. As workers grow older and progress in their careers, median earnings for women grow more slowly than median earnings for men. From age 25 to age 54 women are typically paid 78–89 percent of what men are paid, depending on age. By the time workers reach 55–64 years old, women are paid only 74 percent of what men are paid.

According to the IWPR, the pay gap in education is smaller than in other industries (see table below), but many would argue that teacher salaries are lower overall as it is a female-dominated profession.

In the independent school world, the pay gap progression follows that of other industries. The gap is smaller for entry- and mid-level jobs and gets larger as one progresses to senior administrative roles and the head of school position. And, only for the Director of Diversity position are women paid more than men. See the table below for the pay gap according to figures reported in DASL for 2017–2018.

In examining the root causes of the pay gap, the AAUW report outlines the complexity of the situation and concludes that a number of factors are at play.
  1. How men and women choose occupations is one contributing factor. Jobs traditionally associated with men tend to pay better than those associated with women. For example, women are disproportionately represented in education, office and administrative support, and health care occupations, and men are disproportionately represented in construction, maintenance and repair, and production and transportation occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017).
  2. Parenting affects the pay gap differently for men than for women. “Taking time away from the workforce or cutting back hours, both more common scenarios for mothers than fathers, hurts earnings (Bertrand et al., 2010).” Ironically, research has shown that quite the opposite is true for men: Fathers actually receive higher wages after having a child, known as the “fatherhood bonus” (Killewald, 2013; Budig, 2014).
  3. Bias also plays a role. The AAUW research, after accounting for college major, occupation, economic sector, hours worked, months unemployed since graduation, GPA, type of undergraduate institution, institution selectivity, age, geographical region, and marital status, found a remaining 7 percent difference between the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation. That gap jumped to 12 percent 10 years after college graduation. 

Closing the Gap

Have any organizations taken steps that have eradicated gender and racial pay differences? A few have made this a priority and have achieved parity in a relatively short time.

The tech company Salesforce was one of the first to commit to closing the pay gap, investing $3 million to close the gap for its 16,000 employees. Lululemon, the athletic wear company, took 13 months to study and eradicate the issue for its 14,000 employees. Apple has taken similar actions but also has concentrated on closing the gap between white workers and people of color, stating, “Women now earn one dollar for every dollar male employees earn. And underrepresented minorities earn one dollar for every dollar white employees earn.” On top of closing the gap, the company said it “examines the compensation” employees earn yearly and “makes adjustments” to ensure equity is maintained. Adobe, Intel, and Starbucks also have closed their pay gaps and have pledged to take steps to ensure the gap remains closed.

Gap Inc. has looked at the issue comprehensively, including taking steps to get women into more top leadership positions. And, they have made notable progress. At the most senior leadership level, women’s representation has gone from 33 percent to 77 percent, and four out of 10 women are of color. Between 2010 and 2015, women’s representation on Gap Inc.’s board of directors increased from 10 percent to 36 percent.

Many other companies have signed the White House Equal Pay Pledge issued by President Barack Obama in 2016. When taking this pledge, companies commit to, “conducting an annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations; reviewing hiring and promotion processes and procedures to reduce unconscious bias and structural barriers; and embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives.”

Promoting Pay Equity in Our Schools

Although some independent schools have achieved pay equity, we still have some work to do as an industry. As the market for faculty and administrators gets tighter, candidates will increasingly be considering pay equity when choosing a job. We are a community that cares deeply about equity and inclusion. To that end, I urge you to become intentional about pay equity in your school and consider the following actions:
  • Check your salary data to see where gaps exist. Identify root causes that have contributed to the inequity. 
  • Make closing the gap a priority for your school and develop a plan for achieving equity across the board. This may be a multiyear plan, but having a plan is the first step to eradicating any inequities that exist.
  • If you currently allow employees to negotiate for salary increases, consider eliminating that practice. Research has shown that people often react more negatively to a woman asking for more money than a man. Also consider stopping the practice of requiring salary history data as that practice has contributed to inequities.
  • Review your time-off and return-to-work policies to ensure that they are fair and equitable for all.
  • Examine all parts of your hiring process to identify areas where bias exists. The company GapJumpers is developing tools to help organizations identify all of the ways in which bias creeps into hiring and promotion processes. I was particularly intrigued by the points they made about how bias begins with the structure of job descriptions.
  • Be transparent about how you calculate salary ranges/increases and determine promotions.
  • As a leader, pledge to become a mentor and/or sponsor for women and people of color in your school in their journey to leadership.
  • Ask your trustees to make diversifying the board a goal. Research shows that diversity at the top begets greater equity throughout an organization.
I know many schools have taken other intentional steps to promote pay equity in their schools. I hope that you will share those initiatives through this blog post or in the NAIS communities. As we are for students, we can be leaders in how we serve and support the adults in our schools.
Donna Orem
Donna Orem

Donna Orem is NAIS President.


1/26/2019 3:45:29 PM
I think this is a misuse of DASL data and dramatically oversimplifies compensation. You need to dig deeper: experience, school size, school type, location, tuition, and level of education are all factors that need to be taken into consideration when comparing compensation. Also, DASL exists to help schools and should not be used to promote a specific agenda within our schools. NAIS should support schools, not try to tell them how to operate.

Jennifer Carey
1/25/2019 3:10:36 PM
This is a phenomenal article. Thank you for highlighting this issue in our own community and making a call to action

Adriana M.
10/17/2018 12:14:16 PM
I wonder if it is time to reconsider faculty/staff membership on boards. Some of the best preparation for headship comes from being able to participate in board work. If faculty are largely women and faculty cannot serve on boards, then there is a built-in barrier to acquiring the kind of experience needed for a headship. While I've often heard that having faculty discuss salaries is a conflict of interest, I wonder how it's any different than having parents set tuition. It seems that with proper training this sort of conflict of interest could be addressed.

10/17/2018 11:01:16 AM
Thank you for bringing this important topic to light. There has been a lot of discussion about this in the nonprofit sector, and I am happy to see it being brought up in the independent school field. Just a few things I would add:

1. I would also urge schools to start posting salary ranges in their job postings. Here is a fantastic blog post on the topic: http://nonprofitaf.com/2015/06/when-you-dont-disclose-salary-range-on-a-job-posting-a-unicorn-loses-its-wings/
2. You ask schools to consider not asking for salary history, and I would add that it is now illegal in some states to ask for it.

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