Opinion
October 02, 2015

Male Board Members Must Step Up to Fight Gender Bias in Pay at Nonprofits

Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg, Getty Images

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., faced hostile questions from House members, a sign of the persistent bias female leaders face.

When members of Congress asked hostile questions this week about the compensation of Cecile Richards, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, it was hard not to wonder whether they would have been so outraged over her pay if she had been a man.

That’s exactly what Rep. Caroline Maloney, Democrat of New York, thought. She called out her colleagues for "beating up on a woman, our witness" with questions about Ms. Richards’s nearly $600,000 compensation package.

The criticism Ms. Richards faced was politically tinged, of course, but gender bias is a longstanding problem in the pay of women leaders, and it’s time for us all to join forces to change that.

Unlike many vexing social ills, this is one that can be fixed relatively easily compared to what it took to end slavery (the Civil War with 750,000 deaths) or to get child labor laws and to grant women the right to vote, all of which moved us closer to our ideals of equality, justice, and liberty.

But first the facts because all policy, and all policy changes, should arise from a solid foundation of facts.

Gender discrimination is a problem in every part of the economy. Men averaged $41,005 in wages in 2012, while women averaged $30,289, my latest analysis of Social Security data shows. That means for each dollar women earned, men made $1.33.

To be sure, some people deny that bias is the reason women make less than men. They say that many women choose lower-paying occupations like coffee-shop waitress, where the hourly minimum wage has been fixed since 1993 at just $2.13 an hour plus tips.

Others say that pay is low because women often leave the work force temporarily to care for children, so their pay necessarily falls behind.

But such arguments don't add up, especially when reviewing head-to-head comparisons of people with the same job duties in the nonprofit world. The bias there is just as stark in the nonprofit world as in business, according to an annual report from GuideStar, an organization that digitizes nonprofit returns.

Chuck McLean, GuideStar’s research director, says that in the 15 years since the organization started analyzing salaries of men and women, a clear pattern has emerged: As organizations grow in size, the share of top jobs held by men increased and pay disparities widened.

That pattern is a bit more subtle and complicated in the latest report, which compares 2013 to 2003. But the overall finding of pervasive gender discrimination in hiring and pay remains solidly established.

Men in the top job earned more than women in every one of the nine GuideStar size categories and outnumbered women in the larger organizations.

For groups with budgets of less than $1 million, the gender pay gap shrank from 2003 to 2013. For the smallest organizations, it narrowed from a 15-percent male premium to just 6 percent.

At the largest organizations, those spending $50 million or more, the gender gap dropped from 27 percent to 18 percent.

But for organizations between $1 million and $10 million, the pay gap grew by more than a third.

How to explain the 77-percent increase in the gender pay gap for nonprofits with budgets of $2.5 million to $5 million?

Mr. McLean says that perhaps the reason more men are running mid-size nonprofits is that they have left for-profit employers for social and personal reasons.

In 2012, the number of jobs paying more than $2 million fell nearly 5 percent compared to the year 2000, despite an 11-percent growth in population, my analysis of Social Security data shows. This shrinkage of opportunity may have encouraged more highly paid men to take nonprofit jobs at lower pay, and anecdotal evidence I have reported on for three decades supports that.

For nonprofits with budgets under $10 million, the share of top jobs held by women was the same or smaller. But for the three largest categories, the women’s share increased. For the $50 million and larger organizations, women held 14 percent of the top jobs in 2003 but 18 percent in 2013. That’s still appallingly discriminatory.

How to end this? How to get closer to 50-50?

First, nonprofit boards must learn the facts.

Second, we need to persistently remind men who serve on charity boards — especially married men — about these facts. More than just a moral argument about fairness and equity can be marshaled to stop this inequity. Men who are married to women who work outside the home have a self-interest in ending discriminatory pay policies and practices even if they have not thought about it.

Why in the world would married men shortchange themselves, their wives, and their children by giving up all the economic and social benefits of a full-time homemaker for a partial paycheck? That’s an easy argument to sell.

Third, women board members need to do the right thing and also to persuade men to do the right thing. We know they can do that. Decades of persistence and provocations by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other suffragettes eventually persuaded men in Congress and state legislatures to vote for the 19th Amendment. Men did that. Women got men to do it.

Persuading male trustees to embrace pay equity should be much easier, in part because those engaged in volunteering tend to be more socially conscious than average American. But someone must bring up gender discrimination and then ask for change.

If charity boards lead the way in ending gender discrimination in hiring and compensation, the gains to society would be huge. When the nonprofit world ends gender discrimination, then corporate America will have to change, too.

David Cay Johnston has covered nonprofit and tax issues for several decades, including his Pulitzer-prize winning articles at The New York Times.