This study shows that documented gender disparities in salary can be reduced. The process entailed researching faculty salaries using institutional databases rather than self report; verifying the information with the departments; identifying individual women who appeared to be paid less than a comparable man in the department; reporting the results to the Dean, and incorporating the information into the department head’s annual evaluation with the Dean. These efforts resulted in a demonstrable improvement in gender equity, with women’s compensation increasing from 89% of compensation for men before the intervention to 93% after it was completed. Simultaneously, women’s representation in leadership roles increased.
There were a number of false starts in developing a workable intervention. In the first pass, aggregate figures were provided to department heads without the data on which they were based. Further, both data on the faculty members’ specialty and percent time, key predictors of salary, were unavailable for FY2000. These problems were corrected in later iterations. Having the departments review the data for accuracy has substantially increased the credibility of the process. The process will be improved in the future by including data on clinical and research revenues, which will provide more quantifiable measures of productivity.
Interventions proposed to remedy documented disparities can be categorized as either identity-blind or identity-conscious14,16
. Most organizations try to ameliorate disparities using identity-blind practices, such as formal mentoring programs or flexible work schedules14,17,18
, which are available to all employees16
, practices consistent with policies that seek to ensure nondiscrimination by prohibiting consideration of race and gender in decisions regarding pay, promotion, and hiring17
. While most employees prefer identity-blind practices19
, which they perceive as being “more fair,” research has shown that these practices are often ineffective in remedying discrimination14
In contrast, identity-conscious solutions recognize that individuals are perceived differently depending on their race and gender, and purposefully incorporate this fact into their solutions14,16,17,19
. Thus, identity-conscious approaches recognize that, since reward systems consistently (if unconsciously) take group membership into account, interventions designed to increase equity must also consider group membership. These practices are exemplified by programs that establish a women’s interest group in the workplace, target women for management training, and examine salary and bonuses for discrepancies in pay. Organizations that used identity-conscious practices have been shown to have significantly more female employees and managers, and more employees of color than organizations that exclusively used identity-blind approaches14
Several factors likely contributed to the success of the GRACE project. First, as a public university, salaries are public which fosters a tradition of openness about salaries that might not exist in a private CoM. Second, we used identity-conscious practices in our intervention. Since analyses at the group level documented gender differences in salaries1
after controlling for other predictors, the salaries of individual women in the CoM were compared with those of men in the same department with comparable rank, track, etc. This provided a more focused solution than, for example, designing comprehensive compensation policies that prohibit use of gender as a criterion for determining salary, an identity-blind approach.
A third factor that undoubtedly contributed to the success of the project was that the administrations for both the CoM and the University were committed to working with advocacy groups to address gender disparities. Our intervention coincided with the campus-wide Millennium Project, an initiative to support women in higher education, which generated a great deal of attention and discussion locally. The President of the University was known for his commitment to diversity and equity. At the college level, support for the project took the form of salary for the research assistants hired each year and material support. Perhaps most important was the administration’s willingness to provide the political will to make department heads accountable for disparities. Other research has documented that buy-in from the highest levels of administration is crucial in implementing policies that seek to eliminate disparities between the sexes, particularly when identity-conscious approaches are used14
Some previous researchers have suggested that the “moderate” amount of discrimination between male and female employees may be due to measurement error20
and is of little consequence. However, this research, which demonstrates that implementing identity-conscious strategies can reduce gender disparities in compensation, suggests that measurement error is not the primary determinant of the disparities observed. The sheer magnitude of the adjustments, which averaged more than $17,000, indicates that the disparities are hardly inconsequential. We would also argue that the impact of even smaller disparities is huge because disadvantage is often cumulative21
. For example, using FY2000 figures1
, a female faculty member’s lifetime salary deficit compared to a male faculty member (assuming 6, 6 and 13 years, respectively, as assistant, associate and full professor) would be $571,000 and $330,000, for clinical and basic science faculty, respectively.
It must be acknowledged that the progress toward salary equity may not be definitively attributed to the intervention. First, the change may have been due to chance. For example, one study of income among primary care physicians noted that the gender disparity declined over time8
in the absence of any intervention. However, after 10 years, women in that study were earning only 78% of what men earned, a much greater difference than existed after our intervention. Local publicity plus discussions of salary equity at department head meetings may have contributed to increases in some women’s salaries. Third, some clinical departments initiated incentive plans that linked bonuses to clinical productivity, which may have improved some of the disparities. However, the disparities were most clearly reduced in the basic science departments, which did not have formalized incentive plans. Future research should follow faculty members longitudinally, to assess the effect of differences in starting salaries, childbearing, use of parental leave, and targeted interventions on gender differences in compensation.
Persistent disparities in salary not only affect women currently employed in academic medicine. They also influence perceptions of the desirability of a career in academic medicine among the next generation of women faculty. Women now comprise almost 50% of medical school graduates22
, and yet only 38% of assistant professors are women. There may be multiple reasons for this “leak” in the pipeline, such as the availability of more flexible and lucrative options in private practice, but paying women less for comparable work can only exacerbate the leak. Salary disparities may also contribute to the higher attrition rates among women13
, who comprise only 28% of associate professors and 16% of full professors. These concerns are even more pronounced when one considers that a substantial shortage of physicians is anticipated in the next few decades23
, which means that academia will need to compete even harder for women physicians who will have multiple career opportunities. Of course, salary equity is only one factor that needs to be addressed to attract women to academic medicine. Other measures, such as providing flexibility in tenure clocks, facilitating part-time work, and other family friendly policies, may be critical to the advancement and retention of women faculty24
. Beyond the issues of justice, academic medicine simply cannot afford the potential loss of talent, productivity and leadership that will result from continuing gender disparities in faculty rewards.