2014 Salary Survey: Why Do Washington’s Women Leaders Make Less?

What National Journal’s 2014 salary survey says about the pay gap.

National Journal
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Shane Goldmacher
April 10, 2014, 5 p.m.

This past Tues­day marked a re­union of sorts at the White House as Pres­id­ent Obama brought back Lilly Led­bet­ter, whose fight for equal pay has made her a fem­in­ist icon. Led­bet­ter, the name­sake of the first bill Obama signed in­to law, looked on as the pres­id­ent inked two ex­ec­ut­ive or­ders in­ten­ded to pro­mote wo­men’s pay equity. Obama re­peated, as he has all year, the much-de­bated stat­ist­ic that Amer­ic­an wo­men make 77 cents for every dol­lar earned by men.

Yet even as the gov­ern­ment takes steps to re­duce the pay dis­par­ity na­tion­wide, the gender gap re­mains a real­ity at the highest-pay­ing jobs at Wash­ing­ton’s top trade as­so­ci­ations, pro­fes­sion­al so­ci­et­ies, think tanks, labor uni­ons, and pub­lic-in­terest groups. Men over­whelm­ingly hold more of the top jobs — and they’re bet­ter paid for their ef­forts.

Those are the find­ings of Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s latest bi­en­ni­al salary sur­vey of the CEOs who run non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tions with a foot­print in Wash­ing­ton. Wo­men made up just 22 per­cent of the 644 cur­rent and former CEOs in the sur­vey. And those fe­male ex­ec­ut­ives were gen­er­ally paid less than their male coun­ter­parts. No wo­men were among the 25 highest-paid ex­ec­ut­ives on the list; only five wo­men landed in the top 50; and just 13 wo­men were in the top 100. Over­all, the me­di­an com­pens­a­tion of fe­male CEOs with a full year of earn­ings was 15 per­cent lower and $59,063 less than that of their male coun­ter­parts. (The earn­ings fig­ures in­clude ex­ec­ut­ives’ base pay, bo­nuses, and oth­er com­pens­a­tion for the 2012 tax year.) 

With their siz­able salar­ies, these CEOs don’t ne­ces­sar­ily make for the most sym­path­et­ic fig­ures in the pay-equity fight. (The highest-paid wo­man on the list, Pamela Bailey, who is CEO of the Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­ation, made $2.06 mil­lion.) But the gap is non­ethe­less in­struct­ive, as it shows how Amer­ica’s lack of pay equity per­meates in­to the highest-pay­ing jobs — in­clud­ing those with links to the na­tion’s cap­it­al.

The share of wo­men in charge of as­so­ci­ations, think tanks, uni­ons, and oth­er non­profits does ex­ceed — by a few per­cent­age points — their ra­tios on Cap­it­ol Hill. (Wo­men hold 18 per­cent of seats in the House and 20 per­cent in the Sen­ate.) An Amer­ic­an En­ter­prise In­sti­tute ana­lys­is earli­er this year found near-par­ity in the num­ber of em­ploy­ees in­side the White House — 229 wo­men to 232 men — but it also showed that wo­men there earned 88 cents for every dol­lar men were paid. Wash­ing­ton non­profits, mean­while, ap­pear to be per­form­ing far bet­ter than their cor­por­ate cous­ins when it comes to gender equity: At For­tune 500 com­pan­ies, the per­cent­age of wo­men chief ex­ec­ut­ives still hov­ers be­low 5 per­cent.

The pace of pro­gress at D.C.-linked or­gan­iz­a­tions has been mixed. In the 2004 Na­tion­al Journ­al sur­vey, wo­men ran 16 per­cent of the or­gan­iz­a­tions; that num­ber has inched up to 22 per­cent in the dec­ade since. “God, it’s still low. Ten years. That’s not a lot of pro­gress,” says Pamela Kaul, who helps place CEOs in jobs as pres­id­ent of an ex­ec­ut­ive head-hunt­ing com­pany, As­so­ci­ation Strategies, which she foun­ded 27 years ago. “I’m sur­prised it has not ris­en faster.”

In the 2008 sur­vey, me­di­an com­pens­a­tion for male CEOs was $338,678 com­pared with $260,064 for wo­men — a 30 per­cent dis­par­ity. Now the gap is 15 per­cent. In 2008, only four wo­men were among the 68 CEOs who topped the $1 mil­lion com­pens­a­tion mark. That num­ber has tripled to 12, out of 91 who were paid for a full year’s work.

Yet ma­jor dis­par­it­ies per­sist. The ques­tion is why. Why are so many few­er wo­men oc­cupy­ing lead­er­ship po­s­i­tions at ma­jor Wash­ing­ton or­gan­iz­a­tions? And why are those wo­men who do get to the corner of­fice gen­er­ally mak­ing less than their male peers?


Lisa Rick­ard has been pres­id­ent of the U.S. Cham­ber In­sti­tute for Leg­al Re­form for more than a dec­ade and is among Wash­ing­ton’s highest-com­pensated fe­male ex­ec­ut­ives. Her $1.6 mil­lion in 2012 com­pens­a­tion ranked fourth-highest among wo­men. She is op­tim­ist­ic that more wo­men will be join­ing her on the CEO list. “With­in the next, say, 10 to 15 years, we’ll prob­ably — hope­fully — be look­ing at 50 per­cent rep­res­ent­a­tion,” Rick­ard says.

She is bullish be­cause she says the biggest stum­bling block for wo­men be­com­ing CEOs has been the lack of fe­male vice pres­id­ents, dir­ect­ors, and oth­er lower-level or­gan­iz­a­tion­al lead­ers. As she sees it, wo­men have been ab­sent from many rungs of the lead­er­ship lad­der that pre­pare people to be­come CEOs. “You do have to move through a tal­ent pipeline in or­der to ac­cu­mu­late the ex­per­i­ence that qual­i­fies you for these jobs,” she says.

One chal­lenge that could be pre­vent­ing wo­men from reach­ing the CEO level is that some wo­men opt out of the work­force for a time to raise chil­dren. A 2013 study from Vander­bilt eco­nom­ics pro­fess­or Joni Her­sch found that wo­men M.B.A. gradu­ates from top schools were more likely than wo­men from less com­pet­it­ive schools to take time away from work — which, Her­sch spec­u­lated, could have “a dir­ect ef­fect on the num­ber of wo­men reach­ing high­er-level cor­por­ate po­s­i­tions as well as an in­dir­ect ef­fect due to a smal­ler pipeline of wo­men avail­able to ad­vance through the cor­por­ate hier­archy.”

Wo­men are now in that pipeline, Rick­ard says, tick­ing off all the power­ful fe­male ex­ec­ut­ives at the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce (where she’s also an ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent) — the gen­er­al coun­sel, the chief of staff, the chief ad­min­is­trat­ive of­ficer. “The seni­or level, just here with­in the cham­ber, is full of high-rank­ing, ser­i­ous, ex­per­i­enced, well-com­pensated wo­men pro­fes­sion­als,” she says. (The cham­ber’s long­time CEO re­mains Tom Dono­hue, who, at $5.45 mil­lion, had the second-highest haul of any ex­ec­ut­ive on the list.)

Den­ise Grant, a CEO headhunter who is the man­aging part­ner of the Wash­ing­ton of­fice of the ex­ec­ut­ive search firm Rus­sell Reyn­olds As­so­ci­ates, speaks sim­il­arly of a wo­men’s “tal­ent pipeline” that is far fuller than a dec­ade ago. Today, “more wo­men get more ex­per­i­ence that is rel­ev­ant to these roles,” Grant says.

Plus, those do­ing the hir­ing in­creas­ingly want someone oth­er than an older white man. “Every slate we pre­pare for our cli­ents has di­versity in it,” Grant says. “It’s not just the same old, same old in the can­did­ate pool.”


The small share of fe­male ex­ec­ut­ives is only part of the gender gap, however. The oth­er ele­ment is their lag­ging pay. One factor may be that wo­men are lead­ing smal­ler or­gan­iz­a­tions. Roughly 44 per­cent of groups headed by wo­men had rev­en­ue of less than $20 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al Journ­al sur­vey, com­pared with about 33 per­cent of those headed by men. Mean­while, men more of­ten run the largest groups: 34 per­cent of men headed groups that col­lec­ted more than $50 mil­lion, versus only 23 per­cent of wo­men who ran groups of that size.

But even among sim­il­ar-sized or­gan­iz­a­tions, there is of­ten a pay gap. Wo­men CEOs of groups with less than $20 mil­lion in rev­en­ue earned $76,147 less than men, at the me­di­an. And the gender gap was even big­ger — $206,856 — among groups with more than $100 mil­lion in rev­en­ues. (Pay was nearly equit­able among the 268 or­gan­iz­a­tions that fell in between, with less than $4,000 sep­ar­at­ing men’s and wo­men’s com­pens­a­tion.)

Per­haps more in­ter­est­ing than size are the types of groups that wo­men lead. Wo­men held only four of the 26 top spots (15 per­cent) in the bank­ing and fin­ance realm — the highest-paid sec­tor, be­sides sports and in­sur­ance. In con­trast, wo­men ran more than 25 per­cent of pub­lic-in­terest groups and more than 34 per­cent of those in edu­ca­tion, arts, and sci­ence — both among the low­est-pay­ing sec­tors.

“You see wo­men in the causes — in the hu­man ser­vices and so­cial ser­vices — and the pay can be lower,” says Kaul, the vet­er­an ex­ec­ut­ive headhunter. Wendy Pang­burn, who spe­cial­izes in pla­cing top loc­al ex­ec­ut­ives at as­so­ci­ations and non­profits as ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent of DHR In­ter­na­tion­al’s Wash­ing­ton of­fice, agrees. “In gen­er­al terms, you tend to see wo­men ex­ec­ut­ives more to­ward mis­sion-ori­ented or­gan­iz­a­tions,” she says.

Is that by choice, or the res­ult of gender typecast­ing? “I think wo­men have had more of an in­terest in join­ing or­gan­iz­a­tions where they really feel a con­nec­tion to the mis­sion and the cause,” Kaul says.

An­oth­er pos­sible factor lead­ing to the CEO pay gap is that wo­men may be get­ting locked in­to lower salar­ies at earli­er points in their ca­reers — and are nev­er able to make up the dif­fer­ence, even as they climb to­ward lead­er­ship po­s­i­tions. As a re­cruit­er who rep­res­ents em­ploy­ers, Pang­burn is privy to the salar­ies of those seek­ing top posts. She says wo­men of­ten ar­rive earn­ing less than men. “It starts from re­cep­tion­ist to re­search­er to an ana­lyst to a ju­ni­or VP to a seni­or VP,” she says. “At all steps of the salary-com­pens­a­tion lad­der, you gen­er­ally see wo­men paid less.”


Car­o­lyn Miles runs what was a $576 mil­lion or­gan­iz­a­tion in 2012. She is CEO of Save the Chil­dren, a non­profit that ranked in the top 10 for rev­en­ues of all groups in Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s sur­vey. But when it comes to Miles’s com­pens­a­tion pack­age — she pulled in $403,857 in 2012 — she is de­cidedly middle of the pack. She ranked 320th of the 560 CEOs paid for a full year’s work. Miles is aware of her re­l­at­ive rank­ings and doesn’t care. “That’s not why I do what I do,” she says.

“Could I ask my board to pay me more? I guess I could,” Miles says. “But I don’t. I do think there’s something about men and money — and wo­men and money — that’s dif­fer­ent.”

Call it the Lean In factor, after Face­book ex­ec­ut­ive Sheryl Sand­berg’s best-selling book. Sand­berg set off a na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion last year about wheth­er wo­men are less ag­gress­ive than men in seek­ing high­er pay and op­por­tun­ity in the work­place. “If we want a world with great­er equal­ity, we need to ac­know­ledge that wo­men are less likely to keep their hands up,” she wrote in one oft-quoted pas­sage.

Could that ap­ply to CEO pay too? Pang­burn thinks so. She’s been at the ne­go­ti­at­ing table on be­half of as­so­ci­ations and non­profits and has seen wo­men ex­ec­ut­ives take less than they could have got­ten. “We blink when we shouldn’t,” she says. “I can say this as a fe­male be­cause we don’t rep­res­ent ourselves as well as we should. We should draw a line in the sand.”

To be sure, the sec­tors that have drawn more wo­men — more char­ity-fo­cused groups such as Save the Chil­dren — are also a factor in how hard a bar­gain a can­did­ate might drive. De­mand­ing more money from an as­so­ci­ation rep­res­ent­ing Wall Street banks is dif­fer­ent than do­ing the same from a group that serves de­vel­op­ing-world chil­dren. (Of the five or­gan­iz­a­tion­al cat­egor­ies in the sur­vey — as­so­ci­ations, pro­fes­sion­al so­ci­et­ies, pub­lic-in­terest groups, think tanks, and labor uni­ons — wo­men had high­er me­di­an earn­ings than men in only one: pub­lic-in­terest groups, by 5 per­cent.)

“You go in­to the non­profit sec­tor, and the ex­pect­a­tion should be that you’re not go­ing to be paid like you’re work­ing in the cor­por­ate sec­tor, and I think that’s OK,” says Miles, who years ago worked at Amer­ic­an Ex­press. “To me, it also has something to do with the work that we do. I’m paid a very fair salary.”¦ It’s as­tro­nom­ic­al com­pared to the people we serve.”


The wo­men in­ter­viewed agreed on one thing: Times are im­prov­ing. “It’s got­ten a lot bet­ter,” says Grant, one of the headhunters. Kaul, an­oth­er re­cruit­er, pre­dicts “a big jump” in the next two to five years, as wo­men have ris­en to vice pres­id­en­cies and are on the pre­cip­ice of the big chair.

Wo­men are tak­ing lead­er­ship roles in tra­di­tion­ally male-dom­in­ated sec­tors, such as en­ergy, where 15 of the 17 CEOs in our sur­vey were men. In Decem­ber 2012, less than a month after Rep. Jo Ann Emer­son won reelec­tion to her Mis­souri seat, she an­nounced un­ex­pec­tedly that she would resign to be­come CEO of the Na­tion­al Rur­al Elec­tric Co­oper­at­ive As­so­ci­ation. If Emer­son is paid the same as her male pre­de­cessor, former Rep. Glenn Eng­lish ($1.89 mil­lion), it would put her in the up­per ech­el­on of ex­ec­ut­ive earners. And just this month, Sue Kelly took the helm of the Amer­ic­an Pub­lic Power As­so­ci­ation. Her pre­de­cessor, Mark Cris­son, col­lec­ted $705,412 in 2012.

Of course, ground is lost as it is gained. The two in­cum­bent wo­men CEOs in the en­ergy sec­tor in 2012 — Re­gina Hop­per of Amer­ica’s Nat­ur­al Gas Al­li­ance ($885,313) and Den­ise Bode of the Amer­ic­an Wind En­ergy As­so­ci­ation ($589,964) — have both since de­par­ted.

In­deed, there’s a long way to go to achieve full equal­ity. If the pace at which the per­cent­age of wo­men CEOs has in­creased in the past 10 years holds steady, then equal rep­res­ent­a­tion would still be dec­ades away.

Contributions by Peter Bell

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