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Women who work at nonprofit organizations in the Pittsburgh region earn an average of 85 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, says a new survey from the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University. 

That figure dropped from 92 cents on the dollar when the Bayer Center released its last report in 2021 — a decline the center attributes to more large nonprofits with heftier budgets responding to the 2021 survey.

Peggy Outon, executive director of the Bayer Center which conducted the survey in partnership with RMU’s Rockwell School of Business, says while the decline in average wages for women was disappointing, “We were sort of steeled to see it go down.” The survey was sponsored by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

“What made the difference [two years ago] was that we had more women in the survey with executive jobs in big nonprofits,” says Outon. 

Despite the drop in average pay, women at Pittsburgh’s nonprofits are making more on average than women nationally, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, which found women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The Bayer Center has been compiling research and data on women’s wages and benefits in the nonprofit sector for two decades. 

When its survey launched in 2002, female nonprofit executives in the region earned, on average, 67 cents for every dollar earned by men. 

Peggy Outon, executive director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University. Photo courtesy of Peggy Outon.

Since then, the biennial report has found “slow but steady progress” in closing the gender wage gap, says Outon. 

“I’m framing this as a social justice issue,” she says. “Certainly it’s a management, employment and governance issue, but at its core, it’s a moral issue. The leader in a nonprofit organization has a responsibility to show the world leadership that mirrors justice.”

“It’s not surprising that a wage gap still exists in the area’s nonprofit sector,” says Camila Rivera-Tinsley, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation. “For various reasons, many individuals who self-identify as women are drawn to work in the nonprofit sector, and the view of women as caretakers — and the work of ‘taking care’ as less valuable — is still pervasive in American culture.”

Many nonprofits also face financial constraints, says Rivera-Tinsley. 

“The high ideals of nonprofits often come into conflict with practical goals and fundraising,” she says. “Charitable and foundation giving has not caught up with the need. The grant amounts are not able or allowed to cover overhead and have not adjusted to the rising cost of living, leaving nonprofit managers in a quandary.”

The Pew report showed that “progress toward narrowing the pay gap has all but stalled in the 21st century,” the Washington, D.C.-based research organization said when it released its study in early March.

“There is no single explanation,” Pew said. “Women generally begin their careers closer to wage parity with men, but they lose ground as they age and progress through their work lives, a pattern that has remained consistent over time.”

Factors that negatively impact pay equity for women, Pew said, include mothers scaling back on work to raise children, and fewer women in management jobs and higher-paying careers such as the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

From The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap by the Pew Research Center.

Also, racial disparities persist.

Pew found that in 2022, Black women earned 70% as much as white men and Hispanic women earned 65% as much, while white women earned 83% as much as their male counterparts. Asian women experienced the smallest gender pay gap, earning 93% as much as men, Pew said.

The Bayer Center’s latest survey included responses from 187 local nonprofits in the region that together employ more than 11,000 people and had a median annual budget of $972,226. The report is available for purchase.

Of total employees, 79% were women, 21% were men and fewer than 1% were non-binary or gender non-conforming. 

Among top executives at the nonprofits, 54% had female executive directors or chief executives, 45% had men and 1% were non-binary or non-conforming. While 83% of executives were white, 13% were Black and 4% were from other races.

From The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap by the Pew Research Center.

The average salary was $130,470; the average pay for men was $143,343 compared with $121,278 for women.

Besides wage data, Bayer polled firms on benefits such as vacations, sick leave, holidays, insurance and retirement programs. 

Asked about diversity, equity and inclusion practices, 47% of organizations said they were “doing nothing or only having discussions.” But 79% said they planned to hold diversity staff training in 2023.

“I was somewhat disappointed and surprised” by the lack of diversity initiatives, says Outon. “It feels tepid and safe that 47% are saying ‘We’re thinking about it, talking about it.’ That’s not radical.

“Training is fine,” she says. “But training is not practice. Hiring policies need to be examined. Human resources is an underfunded mandate at nonprofits. Issues around race, culture and equity are boiling out there. But nonprofits have not had the money or time to devote to issues of personnel and the workforce.”

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Joyce GannonContributor

Joyce Gannon is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.