The Pittsburgh region is characterized by the strength of its nonprofit community. Nearly 300,000 people work every day to see that our region is just, decent and fair. Nonprofit employees not only feed the hungry and assure compassionate relief after a disaster, they also teach your children, visit your elderly parent, clean up the stream that runs by your house and bring the arts alive all over town. The vast majority of these employees -- about 225,000 -- are women.
Since 2000, the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University has conducted a biennial wage and benefit survey with the United Way of Allegheny County. Over the past 12 years, the findings have revealed a persistent and troubling truth. Women, who make up 74 percent of the local nonprofit workforce, are consistently underpaid and far less likely than men to lead the larger organizations.
This pay gap pervades the local nonprofit community, regardless of the size, services or staff qualifications of the organization. Women earn approximately 74 cents on the dollar earned by their male counterparts.
This has been confirmed by data from the annual IRS tax forms required of all nonprofit organizations. Interviews with more than 35 women working for nonprofit organizations further confirm that local nonprofits routinely reward the performance of male employees disproportionately.
One problem is that women don't ask for justifiable pay increases. Sometimes, women lack active champions among executives or board members. More often, human resources management is the last place nonprofit leaders and their boards invest time or money to develop better practices.
The 74-percent reality identified by the Bayer Center hurts our region in many ways.
Fairness is a first principle of healthy societies, especially among nonprofit organizations. And attracting and retaining talent is essential in building successful organizations. Yet an important national study, "Daring to Lead," which surveyed 3,000 nonprofit leaders, has shown for the last 10 years that younger employees, most of them women, are not eager to ascend to the executive-director jobs soon to be vacated by retiring baby boomers. The jobs are not attractive for many reasons, including inadequate compensation.
This must be remedied. If nonprofit boards continue to skimp on staff salaries, how will they replace the expertise and commitment required to achieve their missions?
Women are underrepresented as board members and officers, as well, despite the disproportionate number of female employees in nonprofits. The extent to which boards include women has been documented to directly affect whether women are considered fairly for CEO openings or fairly compensated.
The impact of pay inequality isn't confined to the women who work in nonprofits. Families across the region suffer when mothers and daughters bring home unfair and inadequate paychecks.
This also is a simple matter of rights -- pay discrimination is wrong. We need to protect the rights of all nonprofit employees, especially as they struggle to serve the citizens of our region during these harsh economic times.
More informed women must seek and be allowed to reach decision-making levels at nonprofit organizations in our region. This, in turn, would fuel the reforms needed to attract and retain the most effective nonprofit leaders. These reforms would include, at the very least, equal pay for equal work.opinion_commentary
Sylvia V. Fields is executive director of the Eden Hall Foundation, Rebecca Lucore is executive director of the BayerUSA Foundation, and Peggy Morrison Outon is executive director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University. For more information on the Bayer Center's 74% project, visit www.seventyfourpercent.wordpress.com. First Published April 13, 2012 12:00 AM