Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Equal Pay Day 2018

By Angela Speck 

April 10th 2018 is “Equal Pay Day”. It is the day in 2018 that women have to work until to earn the same as men did in 2017. In fact, this isn’t even a true statement. For women of color Equal Pay day is later in the year: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/equal-pay-day-is-not-equal-at-all-for-women-of-color_us_58e3ec04e4b09deecf0e1af4. In 2016, white women earned 77 cents on the dollar compared to what men earned; African American women earned 64 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women only earned 56 cents on the dollar. Within academia in the US, women earn 80 cents on the dollar:https://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/.

As a white woman, and a woman with a tenured position, I acknowledge my privilege amongst women. I am sharing my story about pay and gender inequity knowing that it could be worse.

Last year, on Equal Pay Day 2017, I sent the (male) chair of my department an email regarding my pay compared to that of a colleague. It’s always difficult to compare faculty salaries. Our paths to tenure and promotion are all different. Our research topics are always at least somewhat different, so making a direct comparison is tricky. But I happen to have a story in which we come as close as ever to direct comparison.

Back in 2004 I became a tenure track assistant professor at Mizzou (I’d been here as a “visiting assistant prof” for the 2 years prior to that). A male colleague in the same department and the same sub-discipline (our research is very close, although he is a theorist and I’m an observer) also became a tenure-track assistant professor in 2004. We started on exactly the same salary. We are the same age (to within less than a year). We got our PhDs at about the same time, and from similarly prestigious institutions. We get invited to the same conferences. This is as good as it gets when comes to comparing track records in academia.

Thirteen years after our arrival (on EPD2017) he was earning >20% more than me despite the fact that I got tenure a year before him and I have been a full professor for a year longer. How do we explain to difference in our salaries?

In the time up to EPD2017, my colleague had certainly published more papers than me and has a higher h-index, but I had brought in at least as much grant money. I had also received a prestigious NSF CAREER award; he had not. I had graduated 4 PhDs and 6 masters’ students, to his 1 PhD student. In addition to research and student training, I developed our astronomy program, which was built from nothing to a minor in astronomy and an astronomy emphasis for physics majors. I developed a bunch of courses and a huge outreach program. I have also advised more undergrad researchers than any member of faculty in my dept. in this period (possibly ever!). My colleague antagonized students, did a poor job of teaching and zero outreach. I have even mentored his students.

As evidence of my contributions to our institution, I have won campus-level awards for excellence in research (2008), teaching (2013) and service (for diversity work, 2016). He has not won any such awards. I have served on several college- and campus-level committees including in leadership roles. He has not. I have been an elected member of the AAS council, as well as a member of the congressionally appointed Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee, demonstrating my commitment to providing leadership in our field. He has not.

On the other hand, he has done things that could potentially embarrass our department. He has simply not shown up to conferences to which he was invited and agreed to speak. I even had to intervene in his teaching of tides in the non-majors’ astronomy class; he clearly did not understand how tides work. When I mentioned these issues to various faculty colleagues prior to his promotion to full professor, I was told to keep my mouth shut. It was clear that my (male) colleague thought I was a bad actor for mentioning his bad behavior, rather than a whistleblower concerned about the reputation of my department.

After I complained about the disparity in pay I was given an “extraordinary” pay raise. For several years now we haven’t had pay raises, except for those that have special need. Even with the 10% raise in my pay I still earn 10% less than my colleague.

Because of austerity measures on campus, our chair decided he needed to discuss the extraordinary pay raises in a faculty meeting. This is to be commended; transparency is good. However, he appended a comment about how there is no gender gap in the salaries in our department. This is a weird thing to say. As a public/state-supported institution our salaries are public. You can look here to search the databases: http://graphics.stltoday.com/apps/payrolls/salaries/31_75/ (This data is for 2016-17, prior to my pay raise). Now if you look at salaries for my department – the only way the you can select a sample in which there isn’t a gender gap is to take all the tenured and tenure-track faculty together. But there are no female faculty members below the rank of professor, so this sample artificially reduces the average for men. Amongst the full professor, there are a few “distinguished” professors which will also skew the sample. Amongst full professors who are not “distinguished”, there is a 5% difference between the median salary for women and for men. I was earning more than 10% below the median for women, the colleague I am comparing to was earning 5% above the median for men. In fact, I was earning the median salary for all women in the department (the women faculty are dominated by lower paid teaching faculty), whereas my colleague was earning nearly 8% above the median for all men in the department. I confess I may have gotten a little obsessed with the numbers, but when your chairperson refuses to discuss the issue with you and then declares publicly that there isn’t a gender-related pay gap, and that anyone who thinks there is a gap is deluded, the desire to dig into this stuff is overwhelming.

Why am I sharing all of this minutiae about my salary woes? It’s equal pay day. There are lots of articles about how the gender pay gap remains a problem: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00113-6 and https://www.chronicle.com/article/Gender-Pay-Gap-Persists-Across/239553. But our colleagues will deny that it happens on their watch and in their departments. They will even try to use statistics to prove it (to themselves, to us, to the outside world). Gaslighting is a problem in academia, just as it is elsewhere. They will say that we cannot compare faculty salaries because our paths are all different. They will point to the h-index, but not to the awards.  They will claim that there is no bias. They will claim that the disparities occur because of retentions packages (seriously – like it doesn’t occur to them that only the men are getting these packages to keep them).

That brings me to a slightly different but related topic: spousal hiring. Full disclosure: I am a spousal hire! My department has done exceeding well from spousal hiring. At one point we had six couples amongst the faculty members in our department (we still have 5 couples); and there are two of us with partners who are faculty in other departments. In a six-year period we received 5 career awards, with four of the five being recipients being one half of a spousal arrangement. We have done very well out of spousal hiring. However, most of the “trailing” spouses are the women (myself included). The one case where the spousal deal was bringing the man into the department was an odd case (he was transferring his faculty line from a different campus within our university system). We recently lost one of our best women faculty because we wouldn’t offer her husband a job. In the past, when existing or prospective faculty have requested a job for their spouse/partner, we have always discussed it as a faculty in a meeting. In this case, our chair did not see fit to bring the question to the faculty as a whole. In fact, most of the faculty are unaware of why she left. Why is it that male faculty can ask to bring in their wives and get taken seriously, while female faculty are essentially dismissed out of hand and told it isn’t worth our time?

Again – why am I sharing all of this? Because we need to share our stories. We need to know that we aren’t alone in dealing with gender bias. And maybe in sharing we can prevent history for repeating.

Don’t let the patriarchy get you down.