$2905 raise for women profs at Waterloo

On Thursday, University of Waterloo (Canada) – my university – made the national news when it announced that it was giving a $2905 raise to every woman faculty member who had been employed by the University by April 30, 2015. The reason for the raise was the discovery of a campus-wide salary anomaly – on average, women faculty members make $2905 less per year than men in their cohort.

You can read what the press said about it here and here (and in a bunch of other places if you care to Google them).

The anomaly was discovered by a university working group struck in 2015 and charged with the following:

  • to investigate all cases where faculty salary inequities, including but not limited to gender-based inequities, may exist and recommend how such cases should be resolved using the Faculties’ existing anomaly funds;
  • to review the processes by which salary anomalies are currently identified and resolved in each Faculty;
  • to establish a standardized university-wide process for the detection and resolution of all faculty salary anomalies that may arise in future, wherever they may occur.

Here’s the report of the working group, and here’s a useful FAQ.

This is a good news/bad news story.

The good news:

  • The working group was struck because, in its last round of salary negotations, the faculty association asked for it. Yay! Unions work!
  • When the faculty association asked for the working group to be struck, the university agreed, with little or no resistance. Yay! Lots of university administrators are great!
  • When the working group discovered the anomaly – the correction to which would far outstrip the individual deans’ salary anomaly budgets – Waterloo VP Academic and Provost Ian Orchard volunteered without prodding to use his discretionary budget to make the adjustment right away because it’s the right thing to do. Yay! Lots of university administrators are great (redux)!
  • The working group recommended, and the senior administration has already agreed, that similar reviews occur every five years to catch any future anomalies and fix them as soon as possible if they emerge. Yay! We can learn from the past and try to do better!

Here’s some of the bad news:

  • Some women faculty think they should get back-pay too, and are disappointed that they won’t.
  • Some women hired since April 30, 2015 are frustrated that they are not included in the raise.
  • Lots of folks are frustrated that the working group just did statistical analysis without digging in to investigate the causes of any inequities.
  • And of course, many of the 326 women on campus who will receive the raise are disappointed (but probably not very surprised) to learn that they have been underpaid relative to their male colleagues.
  • The review only concerned faculty salaries; so we don’t know whether staff members (administrative support staff, food services staff, etc., etc.) are subject to a similar anomaly.

Understanding why the working group didn’t look at underlying causes helps to make sense of why it didn’t recommend back pay or redress for newer hires. Put simply, this review was a first step. It was pure statistical work to establish whether a gap exists. It was not a pay equity review per se. Indeed, while the working group was charged with checking for gendered anomalies, it was also responsible for finding individual anomalies (It found 59 individual anomalies, and another 12 cases that require further investigation by the relevant deans.). What the committee had to work with was six years of salary, demographic and annual review score data for a period ending April 30, 2015. Since the working group did not have the mandate or the expertise to investigate causes of any (then-hypothetical) gendered pay gap, it did not produce any evidential basis for back pay or for pay adjustments for faculty whose salaries were not (by reason of their start date) included in the data. (Of course, this doesn’t make the news less disappointing to women who started after April 30, 2015, some of whom by virtue of their lack of seniority are among the lowest paid faculty at the university.)

But now that we have statistically significant evidence of a gendered pay gap at Waterloo, the next step is to assemble the right team to begin to dig in and investigate causes. What are those causes likely to be? The best guess so far is that a confluence of small things add up to the nearly $3000 per faculty member gap the committee discovered. A starting pay of $500 less doesn’t take long to become a $3000 gap. Unpaid leaves of various kinds can chip away at one’s pay increases. And, due to a big shift in data management at Waterloo six years ago, we don’t have any information about faculty members’ pre-2009 salary and merit score trajectories. Surprisingly, merit scores seem to have been more or less fairly allocated (across gender, at least) for the period covered by the study. The working group found no statistically significant differences in merit scores for men and women at any rank.

So, what are the next steps?

At Waterloo, the plan is to keep doing anomaly investigations (and, if necessary, corrections) every five years, and to strike a separate working group to investigate causes. The end goal is to be in the enviable position of University of Windsor, which yesterday announced that for the first time it has no gendered wage gap.

A separate challenge, at Waterloo and elsewhere, will be to undertake similar work to ensure that non-faculty employees are also paid fairly. Most of the recent high profile cases of Canadian universities addressing gendered wage gaps have focused only on faculty wages. There is good reason to expect that the same small, subtle, unconscious forces that likely produced the Waterloo wage gap are at play among staff as well as faculty. Indeed, faculty women arguably benefit from the fact that the job of professor is typically marked as masculine whereas support staff often work jobs marked as feminine, and are hence comparatively poorly compensated. And, of course, faculty members have a lot more clout at universities and in the media than most staff members do. So it’s harder for the latter to get a hearing. It is especially good news then that in a television interview yesterday, University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur said that if the staff association asks for a similar review, they will get one.

Another big challenge relevant to many of our readers is that Waterloo’s willingness to look for and then correct a gendered pay gap is extremely rare. While stories like this one are not unheard-of at Canadian universities, there seems to be much less willingness (or capacity?) in, for instance, the U.S. college and university sector to address the pay gap. There is probably even less willingness outside of the post-secondary sector.

One lesson that folks in other places might take away from the Waterloo experience is the role that the faculty association played. Getting the university to enshrine the working group in our last faculty contract was instrumental in producing this week’s result. If you are lucky enough to work in a union workplace (or something unionesque, as we have at Waterloo), lobby your union to get the wage gap on the agenda for your next round of contract negotiations.

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