By Natasha Lindstrom
Tuesday, April 14, 2015, 11:36 p.m.
It’s a phrase that tends to stir heated debate about this time of year: the gender pay gap.
More than five decades after Congress signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a law barring wage discrimination based on sex, public debate persists over the extent to which employers continue to foster unequal pay for women.
The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, based at Robert Morris University, hosted about 140 people at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland on Tuesday night for “The Great Debate” as part of the center’s 74 Percent Project, which studies women’s pay issues in the nonprofit sector.
Five panelists from nonprofit, for-profit, government and media organizations debated the merits of the following statement: “Nonprofits have more important priorities than addressing pay equity.”
Two panelists agreed, along with 36 percent of the audience, which voted on the question through mobile devices moments before the debate began.
“We absolutely do — we’re saving lives,” said Sara Davis Buss, board chair of the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. “We’ve got to work with women who are in desperate situations who don’t know anything about the existence of a wage gap.”
Buss added, however, that the Bayer Center’s research into gender wage differences prompted her board to re-evaluate several years ago what it was paying its executive director, to ensure her salary was in line with male peers at similar organizations.
The center’s latest wage survey of 151 nonprofit groups in Southwestern Pennsylvania found that female leaders at nonprofit groups make an average of 75 cents per dollar earned by their male counterparts. 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.
“I’m a little bit concerned that women think that this battle is already over. … I’m here to tell you that it isn’t,” said panelist Erin Molchany, director of Gov. Tom Wolf’s local office and a former nonprofit director and state lawmaker. “I can assure you from my experience working in government, nonprofit and business leadership that without choosing to make equal pay a priority and fighting for it, it will never be addressed.”
Tuesday marked national Equal Pay Day, a date symbolizing how far the average woman must continue working into 2015 to earn what her average male counterpart did in 2014.
Ruth Ann Dailey, a newspaper columnist with experience in nonprofit community revitalization, argued that many pay data studies she has reviewed do not appropriately “compare apples to apples.”
She emphasized the importance of controlling factors such as organizational size, education and time away from work to raise children. With “statistical evidence, you can do a slight hand whip to forward an agenda,” said Dailey, another member of the panel.
“If we don’t identify the right problem,” she said, “we won’t identify the right solution.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.