No Equal Pay in PR: Today’s Gender Pay Gap of 14% Can Be Blamed on Discrimination
No topic generates as much heat and as little light as does the gendered pay gap for public relations practitioners.
One fact can’t be denied: Women in public relations are paid significantly less than men. The argument becomes heated when we ask the reasons why. Most of my colleagues see gender discrimination, in one form or another, as a key explanation. Others, like my colleague Jim Hutton at Fairleigh Dickinson University, consider that explanation a myth.
As a white male who can collect Social Security, my biases might swing in Jim Hutton’s direction. As a father of two women, both successful biologists, I think my daughters ought to have equal professional opportunities with their male colleagues, including pay.
My accidental interest in the gendered pay gap dates back to 1982. Sharon Chapo, then a student at San Diego State, assisted me in crunching numbers from a PRSA membership survey, collected for other purposes. Sharon asked if women earned lower salaries than men. On a whim, we decided to find out.
Fortunately, we had collected the necessary data. Indeed, men practitioners earned $43,220 annually. Women earned $27,820, significantly lower than men. At the time, women earned 64 cents for every dollar earned by men, an intuitive inequity ratio that allows comparisons over time. This was the first of nearly a dozen studies, papers, and articles I have authored or co-authored on the gendered pay gap in public relations.
Fast-forward 28 years. Led by Dr. Bey-Ling Sha at San Diego State, researchers on the PRSA’s National Committee on Work, Life & Gender recently completed another survey of members. Good news first: Women have closed the gap somewhat. Women now make 78 cents on the dollar, when compared to men. The bad news: Women still earn (at $73,544 on average) significantly less than men (averaging $94,697 annually).
Scientific research on gender salary discrimination is difficult. Because such discrimination is illegal, only the foolish manager would “strongly agree” to a survey item: “In making salary decisions, I systematically pay women less.”
Discrimination is what’s left over, after all other reasonable explanations have been discarded. One reasonable explanation is that women have fewer years of professional experience than men. People with less experience are paid less, regardless of gender.
We don’t know why women in PR have fewer years of professional experience. Like the gendered pay gap, the gendered experience gap has also persisted over the decades.
Our most recent research shows that professional experience does contribute to the gendered pay gap. Through the power of multivariate statistics, however, we were able to remove the contribution of professional experience to the gendered pay gap. In other words, we statistically “equalized” men and women in terms of professional experience, and then computed their adjusted incomes.
We found men’s adjusted income was $87,360, once years of professional experience were equalized. Women earned $75,504, once years of professional experience were equalized. This bumps the inequity ratio from $.78 to $.86 on the dollar, but the difference still remains significant. This means we’re confident our results apply to all PRSA members, not just those in our sample.
Put another way, there’s a 22-cent gap between men and women for very dollar they earn as practitioners. Of the 22 cents, 8 cents is due to differences in professional experience between men and women. The remaining 14-cent gendered pay gap is due to something besides professional experience.
That “14 cents on the dollar” is what’s left over, after the most plausible explanation has been accounted for. My colleagues and I have looked at organizational roles, participation in management decision-making, education, and a host of other explanations for the gendered pay gap. No combination of these factors has been able to close the gendered pay gap.
My best professional judgment is that much of that 14-cent gendered inequity ratio is due to gender discrimination.
David M. Dozier, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, is a scholar of public relations and communication management, and a member of the public relations faculty at San Diego State University’s School of Communication. He was the 2008 recipient of PRSA’s Outstanding Educator Award.
Published: April 18, 2011 By: