Women: Over-Performing, Under-Represented, Underpaid

more women
and minority scholars
into senior positions at
research schools… affects what
questions get asked and
how the findings are

Dr. Lynn GangoneDr. Lynn Gangone

Where are the women? Outnumbering men in the workforce and on campus, women remain sparse in the top levels of leadership in 14 sectors of the U.S. economy. But where women lead or have an equal share in leadership, the entities they lead are more successful.

That’s the conclusion of Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, released in October 2013 by Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver. It’s a followup to the work begun by The White House Project in 2009.

Colorado Women’s College President Dr. Lynn Gangone discussed the report at the Women’s Leadership Institute in Amelia Island FL in December.

Women in 2012 averaged 81 cents in earnings for every dollar earned by men. The study analyzed leadership data from the top 10 organizations in each sector, looking at gender distribution and sector-specific measures of individual and organizational performance.

“It’s a labor of love,” Gangone said of the study. “This isn’t just numbers. It’s about a system that is unwelcoming to women and people of color.”

On average, women still hold less than 20% of leadership positions across the 14 sectors. Gender differences in pay and numbers are greatest in the most prestigious institutions within most sectors.

But leadership diversity turns out to improve performance. Increasing women’s presence is not just a question of fairness but also of building the strongest, most effective organizations throughout the American economy.

Higher education is no ivory tower cut off from larger societal trends, as both its critics and its admirers like to believe. Where it differs from other public and not-for-profit organizations, not all the differences are in academia’s favor.

Across other sectors

She summarized their findings in 13 other sectors before detailing the results in higher education.

A few highlights:

Arts and entertainment. In 2011 women wrote 60% of the top-selling books but received only about a quarter of industry earnings. Top-earning women movie actors earned only about a third as much as top-earning male actors. Just one woman of color and no white women were on Billboard’s 2012 list of 25 most influential musical artists. And television hit a 15-year low in the number of women in any major position except executive producer.

Business and commercial banking. Women hold 51% of jobs, 51% of professional and managerial positions but only 15% of executive positions in Fortune 500 companies and 13% of the seats on Fortune 500 boards of directors. Companies with women on the board achieved higher return on investment. “Where there’s diversity, there’s better performance,” she said. Women manage only 3% of U.S. hedge funds but women-owned funds produce more than 1. times the returns of male-dominated funds.

Entrepreneurship. Women owned 40% of all privately held U.S. companies in 2008. Women were 20% of the top entrepreneurs in 2011 but received only 11% of the capital investment.

Journalism and media. “What we see is influenced by who is reporting,” she noted. Although women are a majority of journalists, they make up less than a third of hosts and only 13% of guests on the Sunday morning roundtables that shape our views of politics—and who we see as leaders.

K-12 education. Women hold 75% of teaching positions but only 30% of educational leadership roles. More women teach math and science; more men teach physical education and social studies. Women superintendents earn just 81% of what men earn in that job.

Law. In 2012 women were 47% of law school graduates, 15% of law firm equity partners and 5% of managing partners. Women were 60% of law school assistant and associate deans but only 26% of deans. Women of color are 6% of all lawyers but 13% at large firms with more than 700 lawyers. The gender pay gap in private law firms worsened from 2010 to 2011.

Medicine. The number of women physicians has doubled in the last 20 years. At the not-for-profit hospitals with the highest gross revenues, women CEOs earned 57% as much as male CEOs. Among winners of a highly competitive research grant, women earned $360,000 less than men over a 30-year career.

Military. Following a sharp growth in their numbers, women in 2010-11 were 14% of enlisted military and 17% of commissioned officers. Active-duty women are 31% African American and 53% white, more racially diverse than men, who are 16% African American, 71% white. Ahead of its time, the Armed Services has paid women equally for equal work since women began military service in 1901.

Nonprofits and philanthropy. The larger the organization, the bigger the CEO gender gap in both numbers and pay. Women are nearly 75% of the nonprofit workforce, 45% of nonprofit CEOs overall and only 16% of CEOs at nonprofits with budgets more than $50 million. Women CEOs average 80% of male CEO pay overall and only 77% at the largest nonprofits.

Politics and government. Less than a third of federal judges are women, affecting rulings on reproductive rights, abortion rights, child care and sex discrimination. Women hold 18% of seats in the 2013 Congress. “We’ll achieve parity in 2090 at the current rate,” Gangone said. But they’re more productive than the men, cosponsoring about 26 more bills per Congressional session and bringing about 9% more federal spending to their districts.

Religion. In 2009, 10% of U.S. religious organizations had a woman as senior pastor; Episcopalians lead among major denominations at 31%. The larger the church or temple, the smaller the percentage of women leaders becomes.

Sports. Women won 56% of all the U.S. medals at the 2012 Olympics and 64% of the U.S. gold medals. InDivision I collegiate sports, coaches of women’s teams earn only 68% of what coaches of men’s teams earn, “one of the largest pay gaps in this study,” the authors wrote. Women’s sports at Division I schools get only 37% of athletics spending and 32% of recruitment dollars, though more than half their students are women.

Technology. Women are better represented in leadership in new fields where the gatekeepers have not yet emerged. But the average CEO salary in the top ten tech companies is 26% lower for women than men.

Academic sector

So how does higher education measure up against other sectors? Public universities offer more scope for gender bias than other forms of public employment, which tend to be more closely regulated.

She quoted a woman politician, “I thought I had experienced politics until I entered higher education.” Higher education is one of the most political sectors.

Students. Women are outpacing men in professional, PhD, master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Men’s numbers are still growing but women’s are growing faster. “This is the pipeline. This is Title IX. This happens when people make policy,” Gangone said.

The biggest surge in women students is due to Latinas, African Americans and older adults returning to school. Women of color in 2010 made up about 20% of fall enrollments. Older men are much less likely to return to school, and Latino and African American boys drop out in middle school and high school.

Administration. As in nonprofits, women college presidents are more apt to lead small schools than large ones. Women presidents have a far larger presence at community colleges than at research universities. One reason there aren’t more women presidents is that the boards who hire presidents are more than 70% men. Women’s presence on boards has decreased steadily since 1997.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education since 2008, was one of the first women to lead a large national academic organization.

Faculty. Women become more scarce as rank goes up:

Instructors 55% women

Lecturers 53

Assistant professors 48

Associate professors 41

Full professors 28

Usually only tenured faculty are considered for advancement into administrative leadership, so the concentration of women in entry-level and untenured jobs limits diversity in upper administration.

Women full professors earn 80.9% as much as their male peers, essentially unchanged since 1980. The pay gap is biggest at public doctoral universities. This contrasts unfavorably with other public entities, which pay more equitably because they are regulated and monitored.

The case for women’s campus leadership

As in other sectors, campus measures of performance show women in the lead. Women students are more likely to persist to graduation; at 57% of enrollments, women get 59% of degrees. This difference mostly reflects students of color, where minority males are lagging.

Universities with women leaders perform better as measured by grants. Women lead only 22% of doctoral institutions but 33% of the schools with top funding from the National Institutes of Health and 30% of those with top funding from the National Science Foundation.

Faculty women earn major research grants from top national organizations, such as the National Science Foundation and the Social Science Research Council, far out of proportion to their presence at the school receiving the grant. Women received 56% of those prestigious awards, even though they are only 29% of tenured faculty at doctoral universities.

Moving more women and minority scholars into senior positions at research schools goes beyond equity and superior performance. It affects what questions get asked and how the findings are interpreted. Faculty diversity increases the breadth and depth of scholarly ideas.

To address the discrepancy between women’s high performance and their low numbers and pay, the benchmarking study recommends that schools diversify their search committees, tenure and promotion review committees and candidate pools. They should evaluate the lack of tenure-track hires and examine whether adjunct faculty get fair consideration for promotion.

What women can do

“As individuals we have a responsibility to engage and be positional leaders, but the system is skewed,” Gangone said. Women will stay at a disadvantage so long as the cultural expectation is that they carry more responsibility than men outside work, such as caring for kids and parents.

But the women in the benchmarking study, which focuses on top leadership, have already made decisions about kids and jobs. They understand the system. They outperform men.

She listed three commonalities of women leaders:

• They played organized sports; they love to compete.

• They were Girl Scouts; they learned a lot of skills.

• They attended a women’s college, where every woman gets to be a leader.

“I think in those environments women learn to love each other and work together,” she said. They develop an attitude of abundance, where success for one is success for all. To lift as you climb, support women and the men who support women. Support women’s colleges; they are still important. “Our students have a more robust sense of self in navigating the system,” she said.

Pursue positional power for the difference you can make in the world. Stand up, volunteer for committees and let people know you are ready to move up. “I see an opportunity and I take it. I take the risk,” Gangone said. “I think higher education is cool and there are all different ways to play in the sandbox.”

Allow yourself to dream, act on your dreams and encourage your students and younger colleagues to do so too. “When you invest in women, you change a village,” she reminded participants.


To reach her: 


Cook, Sarah Gibbard. (2014, January). Women: Over-Performing, Under-Represented, Underpaid. Women in Higher Education, 23(1), 6-7.



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