Should I Worry about a Reverse Pay Gap?

By Traci L. Baird

The fact – and it is a fact – that women are often paid less than men has been something that has frustrated and angered me for as long as I can remember. Even before I was in the workforce I understood that women and men often do not get paid the same for equal work, that jobs that are predominantly held by women are often lower paying than those predominantly held by men, and that women are underrepresented in leadership positions.

However, when I entered the non-profit workforce in my 20s, the idea that I was being paid to do work that I was passionate about, and that my organization had to fundraise to pay me at all, distracted me from being personally concerned about whether I was being paid fairly. Additionally, a majority of the employees were women; there were very few men to benchmark salaries to. In retrospect, I think I was paid fairly – but honestly I was paying more attention to the work I was doing than to my own salary and benefits.

Fast forward many years of working as a nonprofit manager, director, and vice president, during which I learned much more about the intricacies of compensation, to my current role of President and CEO of EngenderHealth. EngenderHealth is committed to gender equality, and we are working very hard to walk the talk. This manifests in many ways: we have gender-neutral parental leave in the US, we stopped asking job candidates about their salary history (which disadvantages women, people of color, and other minorities), and we consider gender balance in our representation at conferences, as just a few examples.

We have also taken the step of conducting our first gender pay gap analysis. As explained in the report, a gender pay gap analysis is not the same as assessing whether we offer equal pay for equal work. A pay gap analysis simply looks at the average pay of women as compared to the average pay of men*. (For a more detailed explanation of the difference, see my piece in Forbes.)

While data point to gaps in women in leadership in the global health sector, our internal analysis showed EngenderHealth has strong representation of women in leadership (EngenderHealth has had women in the CEO position since 1990, and we have many country leaders who are women). We also have a number of roles – for example, drivers in our program offices – that are typically low on our payscales and traditionally held by men**. Because of this, we have what is called a negative pay gap, or a reverse pay gap, which means that women average higher pay than men, in the organization as a whole, and in five of the six countries we analyzed.

So, if we want gender equality, do we worry about having a negative pay gap? Should we be aiming for no gap – 50/50 representation at all levels? At this point, I believe that for an organization that focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality, in a global health and development sector that overall sees women underrepresented in leadership roles, having more women in leadership roles at EngenderHealth is appropriate. Additionally, there are traditional (men being paid more) pay gaps at the national level in every country where we work; if we have a negative pay gap, we are helping pull a broader community toward balance. However, we conducted this analysis so we could learn, both about our staffing structures and about how to think about gender equality in our staffing. We remain eager to discuss and debate this issue both internally and externally. We are committed to continuing to challenge ourselves to strive for gender equality, to ask the tough questions, to measure and share our progress, and to hold honest discussions on the very issues that animate our commitment to our mission and vision.

* EngenderHealth does not ascribe to a binary definition of gender; however, pay gap analysis is structured to compare pay of women and men.
** After we did this analysis we hired our first woman driver, in Tanzania!