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Identity & Community

Nonprofit Gender Wage Gap Closing, But Significant Pay Disparity Still Exists

Cliff Owen
Actress Patricia Arquette addresses the White House Summit on the United States of Women in Washington on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Arquette has been vocal about the need for equal pay between men and women.

Female executives at nonprofits in southwestern Pennsylvania still don’t earn as much as their male peers, but the gap is getting smaller.

According to the 2017 Wage and Benefit Survey by the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, women in senior leadership positions at the region’s nonprofits make 81 cents to the dollar of their male peers. In 2015, when the report was last released, women were earning 75 cents.

Peggy Outon, executive director at the Bayer Center, said she thinks awareness has contributed to the gap’s closure. 

“It’s been so satisfying to see how visible this issue has become,” Outon said. “From Patricia Arquette at the Oscars to, my goodness, a Super Bowl ad about pay equity—I mean, that was a moment in my life.”

The biannual report included 186 nonprofits, with staffs ranging from two to 412. Outon said the agency’s annual budgets varied from under $150,000 a year to more than $50 million. On average, reporting organizations had less than 20 employees with annual operating budgets under $1.4 million.

Despite the wage equity improvements, Outon said nonprofits tend to operate cautiously, often prioritizing budgets and fundraising over employee experiences. She said this is especially evident in agencies that were hit hard by the 2008 financial recession.

“There’s still a fragility to the depth of our ability to continue to survive,” Outon said. “This issue around employment is key.”

Generational employment changes also factored into the report’s recommendations. Outon said as Baby Boomers leave, employers are worried that not enough Gen X’ers or Millennials will be prepared for leadership positions. This can be remedied by offering leadership training and professional development opportunities, she said. 

“Boards of directors need to understand that they need to think more like employers," Outon said. "Pay competitively and deal with the fact that many of the younger people coming up have a burden that the Baby Boomers did not have. That’s student debt.”

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, average student debt for 2015 college graduates was about $30,000 and is expected to increase. 

Outon said the report includes information on 124 different jobs in the nonprofit sector, but focuses on executives because their salaries are reported on 990 IRS tax forms.

The pay gap is even larger for women of color, who according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, earn 68 cents to the dollar compared to men.