Exploring gender gap in Arizona’s college leadership

An Arizona Sonora News analysis of salary data for leadership positions, such as deans and directors, at Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona found that the average salary of women in those leadership roles at ASU and UA were lower than men.

All three colleges have experienced an increase in the average salary of female leaders over time. However, the University of Arizona’s male averages for deans and directors continued to increase at a slightly higher rate. Female average salaries for deans and directors roles rose about 30 percent over the last five years, while men’s average salaries in those roles rose about 33 percent.

In an effort to address equal pay at the UA, college leaders hope to perform an independent study, according to Lynn Nadel, chair of the faculty senate. Though the study is in a developmental stage, Nadel said UA President Robert Robbins has begun to look at national firms for a pay equity evaluation.

“I don’t expect to hear anything other than there are gender inequities,” said Nadel. “But we need to know the extent of them, where they are situated, some areas more than others, at some levels of the system more than others, and we need to have good data.”

Nadel said gender pay gap issues have not been a major concern of faculty, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

“In my time as chair of faculty this has not been one of the things that the faculty care about … they care about the daca students or they care about the scandals in athletics. … Those are things I hear about on a regular basis,” he said. “I’ve almost never heard about pay equity in the same way, but that might be because of the nature of the problem more than anything else.”

Right on trend

Jacqueline Bichsel of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, a nonprofit human resources in higher education organization, said the university’s trend of lower salaries for women in leadership roles reflects the findings of one of their latest studies.

“There’s definitely a wage gap between men and women, and there’s also a representation gap in leadership positions,” she said. “Bias against women occurs on a daily basis and academia is no exception.”

Looking at data from 2001 to 2016, the study found that men occupied the majority of executive positions in higher education.

The UA’s demographics for 2016 to 2017 reveal disparities in particular positions of power. Out of 85 department heads, including directors, 63 were men and 22 were women. The number of male deans, 14, also far outweighs the number of female deans, four.

ASU’s most recent demographics show that male and female administrators are almost 50/50, and NAU has more women in administrative positions that fall under “Business and Financial Operations,” 340 to 121.

The UA is currently facing a lawsuit from former Honors college Dean Patricia MacCorquodale who alleged that she and other female deans at the UA are underpaid.

Citing the current lawsuit, the university refused to comment on this story.

The lawsuit is the type of situation the UA’s Commission on the Status for Women took notice of. The group of female and male faculty and staff works to advocate for equality on campus, and it wrote an open letter offering support to MacCorquodale and other women on campus in January.

“We know this is an issue that’s happening at industries across the nation,” said Cheree Meeks, chair of the commission. “So, we would be silly to pretend that this isn’t happening in higher education as well.”

Gender equality is one topic that the commission is interested in addressing on campus through advocacy on campus policy and through workshops aimed at empowering all faculty and staff.

“We recently went to a symposium and we were able to host a session and sort of listen to people about hiring and pay disparity and campus climate,” said co-chair Holly Brown. “Its something that’s on our radar as we listen to faculty and staff.”

Tenured professors

One of the positions with the largest difference in the number of male to females at all three state colleges are that of tenured professors. The most recent demographic data shows that at NAU, women make up 40 percent of tenured professors and men make up 60 percent. At ASU, about 37 percent are women and 63 percent are male, and at UA, it’s about 35 percent of tenured professors who are female and 65 percent are men.

Jennifer Jenkins, a full tenured professor of the UA’s English Department, has been a part of the university since 1997. While she said that the path to tenure status was clearly outlined and she has no complaints about the process, she knows she makes less than her male counterparts.

“I am paid fully 25 percent below the male full professor average in the English department,” she said. “Indeed, my salary falls below the salaries of three male associate professors in the department.”


Jenkins said that she has raised the issue with the college repeatedly, and has received little or no response.

“ I’ve been continually put off and told to wait for college-wide salary reviews,” she said. “While I did receive some money in an equity raise, it still leaves me below male associate professors and far behind other full professors in my unit.”

Jenkins has been told in the past that she is a victim of a “loyalty tax,” or unable to make as much money as faculty who move around because she has stayed at one institution, she said.

“As a first-generation college student and a graduate of an Arizona high school and the UA, I believe in giving back to Arizona students like me in terms of mentoring and creating a welcoming pathway to success,” Jenkins said. “That is work that is undervalued, particularly when done by women.”

Jessica Summers, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies, was voted in to replace Nadel as faculty senate chair starting June 1. She said tenure status is a challenge for women to achieve.

“If tenure is a barrier and promotion is a barrier, that makes leadership a difficult barrier,” Summers  said.

The way women think about salaries

Gender equity and diversity in hiring changes the climate of an industry.

“It’s not surprising that when you have diversity around any table you make better decisions you have better input, and that’s becoming evident everywhere,” said Gloria Feldt, an ASU professor and former CEO of Planned Parenthood.

Feldt teaches a class at ASU called Women, Power and Leadership, which is offered in partnership by the business school and has 25 percent male students. She recently completed research for her book, “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power,” exploring how women think about the gender gap and equal pay.

“What the research found is that the pay gap is very much related to the question of how much women ask for in the first place, what we expect for ourselves,” she said. “Now this is not to say there is anything wrong with women and how women think because in fact those barriers in our heads are partially caused by the implicit bias that remains socially learned in our lives.”

Feldt believes the biggest barriers to gender equity in any industry, including academia, is the way women value their own work and their negotiation skills. She sees better training as a solution.

She likes to use an analogy about a women she met in a conference who said her male counterparts in her department never invite her to coffee.

“You invite the group to coffee, invite them to your office, do something where you are setting the table and dont wait to be asked,” Feldt said. “I know thats hard and it’s annoying to be left out, but the only way you can get yourself into the circle is get yourself into the circle.”

The solution is to close those gaps

Salary and promotions in the university system are made of many moving parts, and evaluating gender equity and equal pay can be complex. There are many factors that go into a person’s pay, including their performance, length of time in their position, the size of the school or department they work in and their department’s budget.

When it comes to the reasons gender inequalities still exist, Bischell and her study place the blame on discrimination plain and simple.

“The evidence is there that the bias exists, that the wage gap exists, the representation gap exists and there is no reason to explore the factors underlying them,” she said. “What institutions need to do is start looking at the wage gap not just a moral issue that is something nice to have fixed but it needs to be looked at as risk management ..they need to work to close those gaps or they risk being sued.”

Bichsel said the gap overall hasn’t narrowed much over the last 15 years. If nothing is done, she said the gender wage gap will only increase.

At NAU, women in leadership roles actually average higher than male counterparts, making about 4 percent more than men in the last fiscal year. The college also has a female president, a position Bichsel said predominantly goes to men.

Institutionally, Feldt said that colleges should strive for gender-blind hiring practices, not ask new hires for previous salaries and perform independent studies to ensure gender equity and equal pay. She believes great strides forward are in store for the future.

“First, women are just better prepared and secondly, it’s now clear that having gender parity in leadership makes for better leadership overall,” she said. “The third factor is let us thank the Me Too and Times Up movements because now there is really a growing structure where women are really finding their voices more strongly.”

The UA’s Commission on the Status of Women is hopeful that President Robbins will work to address these issues.

“Robbins is very new, so we are sitting and watching and seeing what he’s working on,” Brown said. “We know there’s this career architecture project this has been ongoing and we are hoping that that will result in looking at how people are hired, and so we are eager to see results of this project too in regards to hiring and pay disparity.”

The commission hopes to bring in workshops to help women and minorities better prepare to ask for raises or face equity obstacles.

“This is not something that’s a one-off, every few years this happens,” Meeks said. “… I believe this is a systemic issue, so we need to be looking at what is it about our system that creates these disparities and what creates them and allows them to be maintained over such a long periods of time.

“As institutions of higher education where we prepare students for their first job, we need to preparing professionals for next step as well.”

According to Nadel, the UA does a good job of ensuring equal salaries coming in the door, but issues of gender equity take constant vigilance.

“We should be leaning over backward to change the diversity of the profile, but you can’t lean over backward at the cost of quality because then you sacrifice what you are trying to do,” he said. “We need to make sure equality and diversity are actually being maintained every day, day in and day out, decision by decision and it comes down to people and accountability.”

As Summers prepares to take over the faculty senate this summer, she is confident Robbins is aware of the disparities and on board to move forward with a task force.

“I think he will do the right thing, so we are counting on him to do that,” Summers said.

As for women in higher education, she said they should stick together and speak up.

“Maybe it’s time,” Summers said, “to change our tact and become better negotiators and better enablers of each other.

“We don’t have to fight these battles alone.”

Jamie Verwys is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at jverwys@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high resolution photos.

Learn more about our investigation

With a gender discrimination lawsuit underway at the University of Arizona, the Arizona Sonora News decided to look at salaries and gender at all three state colleges. This project began by compiling salary information for the last five years at the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University.

The most recent salary databases are public record, and can found here:

University of Arizona

Northern Arizona University

Arizona State University

We encourage you to take a look at this information for yourself.

This project deals only with “leadership” roles. We looked at the combined average salaries of male and female deans and directors over the last five years and saw that all three state colleges are seeing a climb in those averages for women. Men’s averages in these positions are increasing as well.

We also took a look at demographic information on faculty and staff from each college, available in each college’s factbook online. This is when the disparity between male and female tenured professors at each college appeared.

Salary information and rates are complex, involving many factors, some of which could not be obtained by the time we published this story. When looking at salary data in higher education, it’s important to keep the following things in mind.

  • Though we found a pay gap in the salary data that echos other studies, we can not conclusively say this is caused by gender discrimination.
  • To make that conclusion would require looking at performance information, raises and promotions and the number of years in service.
  • Different departments and schools within a college have different budgets, based on their sizes. For deans in particular, this affects salary in a big way.
  • Jacqueline Bichsel’s study found that in roles where women are most underrepresented, like president, women tend to make more than their male counterparts.

To achieve true diversity and equity in higher education also takes looking at representation of minorities. This information can be seen in the college’s factbooks.

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