NJ conducted its own salary survey of the heads of more than 500 Washington-based associations, which found a pay gap of 10 to 20 percent between men and women. The difference between the median annual compensation of female and male leaders of trade groups is on the 10 percent side, with women earning about $433,000 and men earning $483,000. Averaging the compensation, however, reveals a gap closer to 20 percent. A few unusually high compensation packages for men in the lobbying community, such as the $11.6 million for Billy Tauzin, former president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, helps to skew that figure.
NJ’s survey clearly illustrates the scarcity of women in top lobbying and trade-group posts. Four times as many men than women hold these leadership positions. Anecdotally, it is easy to point to the seven prominent female association presidents who make more than $1 million a year. But it is worth noting that the lowest annual compensation in the survey, at $93,757, also belongs to a woman—Margaret Baptiste, formerly of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.
Outside of government jobs, the situation for women in political Washington isn’t far off the national picture. Full-time working women across the country earn about 82 cents on the dollar compared with men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
OPTIONS MAKE THE WOMAN
Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis started working in D.C. as a litigator in 1979, when few women were lawyers and even fewer were partners. Like every professional in the city, she has war stories. A college professor threatened to flunk her because she was a woman. She had to finish a Supreme Court brief hours after giving birth to her third child. Her struggle to balance work and family (she has four children) peaked during an unpleasant legal dispute over a landfill in Islip, N.Y., which required her to be away every weekend. “At the end of that I said, ‘There is more to life than garbage.’ ”
Washington can offer a rare gift to professionals like Mohrman-Gillis who are coping with family and work conflicts— it gives them the chance to reboot their vocations without losing ground. When litigating became untenable, Mohrman-Gillis took a job at the Federal Communications Commission. “Washington in general is just very wide open in giving opportunities for talented professionals, whether they are men or women, to redirect their careers,” she said. “It is unlike other cities where the economy is more based on for-profit companies.”
Mohrman-Gillis is now the managing director of public policy and communications for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, and she has spent the past several years making sure that the financial-planning community has a seat at the regulatory table, especially now, in the wake of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law. The effort has put the group on the public-policy map.
Decades of life experience separate Mohrman-Gillis and O’Leary of the Public Leadership Education Network, but they and the other professionals who spoke to NJ share the same impression about women in Washington: Although career barriers still exist, they far are less daunting than they once were.
A woman may be alone in a boardroom full of men, but now nobody questions her right to be there or her ability to run the meeting. A hidden expectation of underperformance may still dog women professionals, particularly younger ones. Those biases can be overcome, however.
To succeed, women have to be at the top of their game. To survive, they have to know when to alter their career path to accommodate their rest of their life. The benefits of working in the political class in Washington lie in the rich array of career options it offers. The government will always be here, along with the businesses and interest groups that deal with it. And those organizations will always need women.
Catherine Hollander contributed
This article appears in the July 14, 2012, edition of National Journal.