Study: Gender Gap Pronounced for Nonprofits, Workplace at Large

A wide-ranging study from the University of Denver that covers a number of fields (including nonprofits), suggests that a lot of work needs to be done to improve equity for women in leadership, both in representation and compensation.

The gender gap isn’t closing—no matter which industry you’re looking at.

That’s the main finding of a wide-ranging new study on female leadership across the business world. The Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver has encapsulated the issues facing female leaders in its new study, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, 2013, which examines data across 14 different sectors, including nonprofits.

“The leadership landscape is so lopsided,” Lynn Gangone, the dean of the college, told The Denver Post. “Part of the message in this report is to say, ‘What can we do together, men and women, to change?’ Because everything out there, even internationally, says that unless we bring diverse voices to the table, we are not going to solve the complex problems of the 21st century.”

A few highlights:

Overall trends: Women represent 51 percent of the total workforce, and despite outperforming men in many cases, they are often shut out of CEO roles and earn lower salaries, the study found. Less than 20 percent of top leadership jobs are held by women across all 14 sectors (academia, arts and entertainment, business and commercial banking, entrepreneurship, journalism and media, K-12 education, law, medicine, military, nonprofit and philanthropic, politics and government, religion, sports, and technology). The study also found that though women have a better chance of standing out in more modern industries, such as social media, in more traditional ones it proves much more of a challenge. “The findings and the resulting ramifications contained in this study illuminate data that are missing as part of the public discourse on the U.S. economy and this country’s future as a global competitor,” the study’s executive summary states [PDF]. “For our nation to make the best widget, offer the best solution, engage in effective lawmaking, gross the largest profit, and educate future leaders, it must take advantage of 50 percent of its workforce—women.”

The nonprofit factor: While the study finds [PDF] that women continue to dominate the nonprofit space—they made up 75 percent of the sector’s total workforce in 2005—that representation doesn’t translate to the C-suite. According to the study, just 16.3 percent of nonprofits with budgets above $50 million had a female CEO in 2009. While more than half of nonprofits with budgets of $1 million or less had a female CEO that year, the percentage dipped below 40 percent for nonprofits with budgets of more than $2.5 million and below 25 percent for those with budgets above $25 million. The study also found that female CEOs on average made about 80 cents for each dollar earned by their male counterparts and that there are no women of color on half of all nonprofit boards.

How the findings compare: The findings echo those that have emerged from other research. ASAE’s 2012–2013 Association Compensation and Benefits Study found that while the gender gap was closing among association CEOs, compensation continued to lag behind. And a CEO Update study released in April found that, among large associations, female CEOs tended to lag in both the representation and compensation, though the former was improving.

How is your association working to improve the gender gap? Let us know in the comments below.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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