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Report: Nonprofit organizations in Western Pa. undervalue women leaders

Natasha Lindstrom
| Monday, March 16, 2015, 11:15 p.m.

Women account for three-fourths of the nonprofit workforce in Western Pennsylvania but run less than 40 percent of the region's largest, highest-paying nonprofit organizations, a study found.

Female leaders at nonprofit groups of all sizes make an average of 75 cents per dollar earned by their male counterparts in similar roles, reports the 2014 Wage and Benefit Survey of Southwestern Pennsylvania Nonprofit Organizations.

“We are still seeing a sector that is chronically and consistently undervaluing women's work,” said Peggy M. Outon, executive director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, which conducted the biennial survey for the seventh time in 14 years.

In 2002, the gender pay gap was 67 cents on the dollar; in 2010, it was 75 cents; and in 2012, it was 74 cents.

The latest report collected data from 151 nonprofit groups employing 14,752 workers in Allegheny and surrounding counties. The nonprofits' budgets ranged from $50,000 to more than $50 million.

Women hold a majority — 61 to 73 percent — of CEO positions at nonprofits with budgets up to $15 million, the survey found.

At nonprofits with budgets higher than $15 million, 62 percent of CEOs are men. Those men make an average salary of $213,309, compared to $188,057 earned by women running nonprofits of similar size.

The gap persists at smaller nonprofits. Male CEOs of nonprofits with budgets less than $250,000 make an average of $73,972, compared to $51,529 earned by women running small organizations.

Outon cited a few possible reasons for the pay gap, including the need for some women to negotiate more aggressively for higher compensation.

Research suggests that women who lead nonprofit boards — the body typically responsible for setting CEO pay — are not as vocal as male board chairs about advocating for increases in executive pay, Outon said. That may be partly because some women leaders tend to focus on consensus-building rather than pushing their own recommendations.

Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women & Girls Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, pointed to perceptions among some boards that women join the nonprofit sector strictly to pursue a passion for a good cause — and therefore do not require as high a salary as men because they are less likely to leave the field for for-profit positions.

Some boards neglect to conduct “open and transparent public searches” for executive candidates, Arnet said.

“So often they end up recruiting and hiring someone they already know, someone who's already familiar with the board,” Arnet said, “and that limits opportunities for women who are emerging leaders because they don't even get to compete for those jobs.”

A separate obstacle to closing the gap is basing compensation on a woman's previous salary, as opposed to setting pay based on the scope of what the role requires, Arnet said.

“We need to be serious about placing monetary values on the specific position and really discontinuing this practice of basing a new salary on a past salary,” Arnet said.

“Because if women are consistently making less, that's a sure way to keep the wage gap going.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or

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