In partnership with the Justice Media Computational Journalism co-Lab at Boston University. By Suzanne Crow, Conor Kelley, Jeffrey Emmons, Matteo David, Wenyan Zhang, and Phillip Huynh
BOSTON - Three years after University of Massachusetts officials were alerted to significant gender pay gaps — especially in some of the top positions — the inequity has only gotten worse, an examination of state payroll data shows. In 2021 women made up significantly less than half of the top 10 highest paid individuals at nearly every UMass campus. At two campuses that year, there was only one woman among the highest earners.
When shown the state payroll data of non-union employees, which CBS examined in partnership with the Justice Media Computational Journalism co-Lab at Boston University, UMass Boston Professor of Economics Marlene Kim said she was surprised and confused by how two people holding the same positions could have such different pay. She called upon her employer to look into it.
"Having such a disparate gender wage-gap not only necessitates, but I think obligates, the system to investigate to make sure there isn't gender wage discrimination here," Kim said.
Throughout the entire UMass system between 2017 and 2021 — looking at jobs held by both men and women making between $25,000 and $150,000 — women made an average of nearly 2.5% more. Yet when you look at the jobs held by both men and women making between $150,000 and $1 million during the same time frame, men made an average of nearly 29% more.
Agreeing only to talk on the condition of anonymity, one female faculty member described how taking on a high-level administrative role at UMass Boston and being paid around 40% less than her male counterpart left her feeling "severely undervalued," "underappreciated," and "demoralized."
When shown the co-Lab's findings, she said "it's shocking to know that this kind of discrepancy is something that our system allows."
"As a woman in science, I value being a part of training a next generation of scientists who are representative of our city, state and country," she said. "But I would also value working for an institution that pays me and my colleagues equitably for our work."
Payroll data also showed that between 2020 and 2021 the number of women working in high paying positions decreased at every UMass campus. We did ask UMass for its employment data and for a comment, but it did not provide either.
A spokesperson for the UMass Amherst campus told CBS Boston in a statement that "UMass is committed to gender pay equity. A 2017 study, commissioned by UMass Amherst itself, found there is no evidence of salary discrimination against women faculty within academic disciplines." [Read full statement below]
In a 2019 Eos Foundation study, Women's Power Gap In Higher Education, the UMass system's achievement of gender parity was rated among the public universities in the state, and the UMass campuses validated their data. Specifically, the study cited UMass Amherst and UMass Medical School as "unsatisfactory" and UMass Lowell as a "model of gender parity."
The co-Lab's examination of payroll data shows since 2017 at UMass Amherst, there has been, at most, one woman among the top ten highest paid individuals; in 2018 and 2019 there were none. At the UMass Medical School, there was only one woman among the top ten highest paid individuals each year. In fact, between 2020 and 2021, the number of women among these highest paid individuals decreased at every UMass campus.
When shown the compensation data, National Women's Law Center Director of State Policy, Workplace Justice & Cross-Cutting Initiatives Andrea Johnson said it didn't surprise her.
"We see this in a lot of employers," Johnson said.
Lots of information surrounding employee pay tends to be hidden in "black boxes," Johnson said, which she said makes it easy to sweep pay discrimination under the rug. There is little incentive for employers to look at their payrolls to see how they're paying employees, she said.
Johnson said the NWLC often sees employers ruling out a wage gap after claiming they've run data on their employee payroll.
"But they're not acknowledging the fact that all the highest paid positions at the organization are men, and all the lowest paid are women," Johnson said. "And that is a wage gap as well."
Many states are working to bring more transparency to employee compensation, including Massachusetts. Pending legislation would require employers in the commonwealth to share pay-scale information for prospective and current employees upon request.
Johnson said an employee filing for pay discrimination at a university would likely compare themselves with one or more faculty members with similar workloads, employment timelines, and levels of responsibility — but difference in taught subject matter could complicate the case.
"A court could focus on that subject matter difference, even though everything else is really the same about the job and throw the case out on that basis," Johnson said. "So, it's hard to prove equal work and the evidence to show that you're being discriminated against."
The female faculty member who earned 40% less than her male counterpart said she hopes these findings will provoke change.
"I think if the administration sees these data, the right thing to do is to make these salaries equitable," she said.
Full UMass Amherst statement:
"UMass is committed to gender pay equity.
"A 2017 study, commissioned by UMass Amherst itself, found there is no evidence of salary discrimination against women faculty within academic disciplines.
"The study found was that there are more men than women at the rank of full professor in higher paid disciplines such as business, computer science, and engineering. Conversely, women make up a greater percentage of faculty in lower paid disciplines such as the humanities, the arts and education. The smaller number of female faculty at the rank of full professor—especially in the four colleges where salaries tend to be highest (Information and Computer Sciences, Engineering, Natural Sciences, and Management) —results in higher pay for men than for women when all faculty are considered in aggregate but does not suggest that women are paid less than men when they hold comparable positions.
"The report found that measures put in place years ago have produced equity between men and women at hiring and in the assistant and associate professor ranks. The report notes, "Over time gains have been made so that women now comprise over half of all assistant professors and nearly half of all associate professors. However, women still hold only 29 percent of all full professorships." Also, over time, many of our junior faculty may rise to full the rank of full professor.
"Meanwhile, it's also valuable to know that according to the EOS Foundation's Women's Power Gap report, UMass Amherst has the highest percentage of women academic deans of any Research-1 University. See page 30 of the report. Notably, the university has women deans in three out of the four highest-paying colleges."
To produce this story, CBS Boston partnered with Boston University's Justice Media Computational Journalism co-Lab, a collaboration between the Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences' BU Spark! program, the College of Communication, and the BU Hub Cross-College Challenge. With assistance from professors Osama Alshaykh and Brooke Williams.
We obtained state payroll data from the State Office of the Comptroller and used Namsor, an algorithm trained on verified name statistics from several countries, to assign probable gender for each individual employee. A 2018 study found the algorithm assigns the wrong gender at most about 2% percent of the time. The co-Lab also conducted tests on the accuracy of the algorithm on the payroll data and estimated about 3% of the names in the dataset used for this investigation were assigned the incorrect gender. This methodology does not include non-binary individuals.
In order to examine positions with potential pay gaps, we included only non-unionized individuals in our data analysis. Specifically, we included individuals listed as "Non-Unit Professional," "Non-Unit Classified," "Non-Benefited," "Non-Benefitted," and those who had no bargaining group.
To confirm the gender algorithm results, we ran tests using a dataset of athletes from the United States, Canada and Mexico who participated in the 2016 Olympics. In total, there were 916 athletes in the test including 423 males and 493 females. This test showed Namsor assigned the wrong gender to 3.28% of the names.
We also manually checked the self-identified genders of a sample of 102 individuals in the payroll data. This search showed Namsor assigned the wrong gender to 2.94% of the names.
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