New Project Will Address Faculty Pay Disparities, Share Best Practices

Salaries and inequity are uncomfortable topics, but a new initiative seeks to clarify what needs to be done to level the playing field and help decision-makers be more inclusive, fair, and well-versed on a complex issue.

A new effort aims to address salary inequities among university faculty, a timely concern as a 2021 study by the Women’s Power Gap Initiative and Eos Foundation found that women account for only 24 percent of the most highly compensated employees at the nation’s 130 major research institutions.

A multidisciplinary research team, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Aspire Alliance, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and American Association of University Women, will collaborate to better understand best practices for faculty compensation and provide insights to guide payment practices.

“No one likes to talk about compensation, and possible inequity, in particular,” said Carol Marchetti, professor at RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and associate director of the Research Center on Teaching & Learning at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, in a press release.

“Data doesn’t provide all of the answers, but we can use the data as a stepping stone to begin the difficult conversations that people need to have,” Marchetti said. “Our goal is to change the conversation around salary in higher education.”

“Let’s Talk Money: Building Community Understanding of the Institutional Compensation System,” a $1.3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE Partnership grant, draws on experiences gained from an ongoing salary equity initiative carried out as part of RIT’s Institutional Transformation project.

The work of the grant will engage administrative departments at partnering institutions to study salary equity. Looking at the salary decision-makers—usually supervisors—and determining how well informed they are about the salary process, if they are comfortable having those conversations, and how they can be more effective having conversations with someone who is not like them demographically are key goals.

“Decision-makers are really crucial here in terms of what they know and how well prepared they are to have these conversations,” Marchetti said.

While most people don’t like to talk about money, for women it’s often more difficult. “There’s definitely a stigma that women carry,” Marchetti said. “Even when women start to become more prevalent in a field that was dominated by men, salaries tend to decrease for that field in general because it has essentially become women’s work.”

Women consistently earn less than men. In 2020, women’s annual earnings were 82.3 percent of men’s, and the gap is even wider for many women of color, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In higher education, the gap persists among faculty, especially at institutions with the highest levels of research, according to NSF.

The project has two councils to help provide input. One is comprised of women of color and the other of deaf and hard of hearing women. “We want to make sure we’re capturing the voices and the needs of these often-underrepresented groups,” Marchetti said. Rather than focusing on meeting everyone’s needs, focusing on one group or one type of need at a time can be more broadly applicable and effective than expected, she said.

The project is also focused on improvements for the next generation. “Inequities accumulate over time,” Marchetti said. “The earlier in your career you can start to advocate for yourself and have discussions around salary, the better place you will be when it comes to retirement.”

(kentoh/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!