Women rarely among highest paid at elite US universities

Non-white women just 2.5 per cent of top earners on most research-intensive campuses

February 25, 2021
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Women account for less than a quarter of the highest paid workers at top-ranked US universities, and non-white females are just a fraction of that, a nationwide analysis has found.

The data compilation, by the Eos Foundation and the American Association of University Women, also showed that only 11 of the nation’s most research-intensive institutions have gender parity among their top earners.

The study covered the 130 universities ranked as R1, meaning the highest level of research activity. It found that women represented 24 per cent and non-white women 2.5 per cent of their top 10 earners.

The groups behind the report portrayed their findings as evidence that while equity campaigns may be making gains in some aspects of US higher education, they’re still largely missing the highest ranks by salary at the most elite campuses.

The results, they said, therefore amounted to a rejection of the idea of patiently waiting for equity to gradually work its way through the academic system without demanding more deliberately crafted operational changes.

“The lessons of the last 30 years tell us that we will never close power and pay gaps doing more of the same programmes, which largely train historically underrepresented groups to lead like white men,” the groups write.

Some universities singled out by the analysis for poor records offered words of contrition, sometimes mixed with imprecise complaints about the quality of the data and calculations. Several described gender and racial equity in their hiring, rather than their pay rates, and offered general strategies for improvement.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst said the report gave “a somewhat misleading picture of the compensation status of women” at UMass. Rather than having no women in the top 10 by pay, a university spokesman explained, the actual number is one.

“We certainly need to do better,” the spokesman acknowledged.

Pennsylvania State University said it didn’t cooperate with the authors’ request because of confidentiality concerns, and complained that the authors then used some outdated information. But Penn State also admitted it had no women among its top 10 earners.

“Progress in gender equity and other forms of diversity is an important value to us,” the university said in a statement.

Others found by the study to have no women among their 10 highest paid employees – Carnegie Mellon University, North Carolina State University and the University of Florida – said that women filled nearly half of their top administrative or faculty positions.

That, however, is part of the problem, said a report co-author, Andrea Silbert, the Eos Foundation’s president. “Women have been getting the majority of bachelor’s degrees for four decades,” she said. “Our work across sectors shows that the glass ceiling is just so pervasive.”

One problem for both women and racial minorities, said Mary Ann Villarreal, vice-president for equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Utah, was that institutions tended to aim for low barriers.

“We pay well for one, and then we ask everyone else to settle,” Dr Villarreal told a briefing hosted by the report’s authors, in describing a mindset she saw as common to university leaders.

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean of law at Boston University, said she sometimes paid women more than they asked simply because men were more willing make such requests. Without university leaders taking initiative to boost women, Professor Onwuachi-Willig told the event, “the only reason for the pay gap would be that he asked and she didn’t”.


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