The American Elephant: Women’s Continued Segregation and Underpayment

The primary question on my mind as I sit down to write this article is if I will cash-purchase a small manufactured house in the coming couple of months with my savings to fully concentrate on running my publishing business, so that I don’t need to continue relying on teaching as a secondary source of income (as the rent tends to take up the bulk of my spending). I am compelled to leave academia because every one of my academic positions has necessitated a move across state lines, so that I taught in PA, GA, TX, AZ, OH, and for a semester in China, each time on a year or semester contracts. The bulk of my salaries was swallowed up in the cost of the moves and higher living expenses in the regions around the schools. So, for over eight years now, my real source of income has been publishing. The blame might be with the untenured and otherwise unsecure state of academic employment. But being a woman in academia is especially disabling.

Most studies show continuing salary discrimination against women in academia and in administrative roles. One of the only segments of women who are gaining in the income game are self-employed women: “women’s segmentation and segregation implies that women may often hit the ‘glass ceiling’ in their careers, which in turn might become the motivation for a woman to start a business” (Hackler 10). Across the four years I was teaching full-time, my salary has actually fallen this past year from my start rate (if travel funding or lack thereof is accounted for). I have hit the ceiling. Women who fail to start a business of their own cannot object to continued lack of job security and lower pay in contrast with male counterparts; they have to accept whatever terms they’re offered.

In this hiring cycle, I had a dozen interviews for tenure-track, high paying jobs and lost all of them, despite making this video to assist a teaching demonstration for one of them. Nearly all of these schools are state universities and colleges that receive government funding, and yet they never provide an explanation for their hiring decision or justifications for salary underpayments. The exact salaries for all faculty making over $40,000 is listed online publicly for all state institutions, such as UTRGV. A glance at these numbers proves that female faculty of equal education and experience are usually paid less than their male counterparts.

Two Ivy League educated professors from the University of Virginia, Sarah Turner and Kerry Abrams, published a study on the $3,638 gap in salaries for female employees in academia after toiling in this system for a couple of decades. In another study of UC Berkeley, the scholars even exclaimed there was “nothing new here” as they reported that “white women and people of color” earned less in 2015.

The Association of American University Professors (AAUP) published a study that women “lag in tenure” and “salary.” The most disenfranchised category are tenured women in “doctoral institutions,” making up only 25% of the faculty. This is the category I am competing in after publishing a couple of scholarly books. I am thus over-qualified to teach at community colleges, where there’s relative pay equality, but hardly any professors with PhDs. The key point in the AAUP article is one that echoes through many others: “across all ranks and all institutions, the average salary for women faculty was 81 percent of the amount earned by men..., which has remained unchanged since the 1970s” (Banerji 27).

Sara Zeigler explains the problem from a litigatory perspective. She references a tool on the AFL-CIO website that can calculate “the economic cost of being female,” which for academic women averages at well over $1 million across a lifetime. Despite the blatant losses, most lawsuits fail or never launch. Zeigler blames this on the gaps in the Equal Pay Act (1963). She explains that the Act specifies that it is only illegal to pay women less if “seniority, merit systems, and incentive systems” are absent; thus, “signaling to the unscrupulous employer how one might justify or rationalize a discriminatory practice” (201-2). Academia is entirely shaped around these three components, as the tenure track is a seniority system. There are too many gaps for a university’s lawyer to object that a female faculty member was refused promotion or a salary increase because of some merit or seniority classification. Even if her merits and seniority are superior, the presence of these systems excludes her hypothetical case from litigation under EPA.

I researched one case that was filed under EPA for my forthcoming novel, The Burden of Persuasion. This case is called Carolee Koster, Plaintiff, v. The Chase Manhattan Bank and Allan Ross, Defendants: No. 81 CV 5018 (RJD): 687 F.Supp. 848 (1988): United States District Court, S.D. New York. Carolee Koster attempted every available appeal for over eight years. Her continuing losses drove her father (an ex-NYPD cop) to assassinate the last federal judge on the case who rejected a new appeal, District Judge Richard Daronco, on May 19, 1988. The judges had been poking fun at Carolee and her father (forcing him out of the courtroom) during the trial, while making her relive the sexual harassment as well as sex-based pay discrimination she suffered at the hands of her supervisor who forced her into an affair and then fired her when she refused him. The law and the way sex-based discrimination cases are prosecuted has not changed since the 70s, so women are still going through this torturous process (even if few have fathers that assassinate the judge). Zeigler observes that on average and in the present day: “The relief available to litigants is limited, seldom reaching six figures, and sometimes languishing in the mere thousands” (204). If you read my previous article on my attempt at pro se litigation, it might be easier to see how after eight years of continuously spending money on travel, finding evidence, and other expenses, winning a few thousand would not cover expenses of the lawsuit, and this is only if you file pro se, whereas filing with a lawyer would leave a woman six figures in debt. Carolee was blacklisted during this ordeal and could not find new work in the financial industry. Thus, without support from donors, family, friends or other income means, no truly disenfranchised woman can survive this fiscal trial. Thus, every component of this system is designed to continue the bias against women in the workforce. In Carolee’s case, her harassing manager filed negative performance evaluations for her after she ceased sexual relations with him, and these were used as evidence of her lack of “merit.” In her final year at the bank, she was also not allowed nor offered a chance to perform the type of functions that might have proved her “productivity.” Any woman that works in America should be familiar with these tricks as they are the norm rather than exceptions.

Another popular category of study in this field is evaluating potential reasons for the gap other than blatant and illegal sexual discrimination. One study by Melissa Williams and others concluded that women earn less because of the “male-wealth stereotype,” wherein hiring managers expect that men are supposed to be wealthy, while women are associated with vulnerability and impoverishment. The existence of the publicized wage gap might be the excuse employers use to continue the gap in their organizations, but the study found that few employers were willing to admit that they were biased by the gap or otherwise in their salary setting decision. Obviously, who would confess to bias in such a study when sex-based discrimination is in a way illegal in the US?

Jeffrey R. Lax proposes an alternative explanation for the gender gap: requests for salary history are used to justify paying women less. Under EPA, salary history is considered a “factor other than sex,” which is used by employers to explain the gap in pay as not falling under the Act’s scope. This explains why my academic salary has not changed since 2010: I keep offering my past salary history, and new employers adopt it as a rate I should re-accept. He also points out that males’ salaries are 7.6% higher than females, and that this percentage mirrors the 7.4% pay increase that is present only if a candidate negotiates, instead of simply accepting the first offer. Of course, this logic is easily disrupted when one remembers that women make 81% of men’s salaries, and not 93%. Lax argues that men “tend to negotiate… while women are far more likely to accept a firm offer without even attempting to negotiate” (50). In reality, I’ve tried to negotiate my offered salary every time, and no school has ever offered even a $1 increase; I was always told the offer would be dropped if I did not accept it as-is. This refusal to negotiate might have been because of my gender on the part of the schools, but I certainly am not less willing to object to lower pay because I am a woman.

The idea that women don’t negotiate is propagated by other questionable studies, such as the “Large-Scale natural Field Experiment” (of 2,500 job seekers) performed by Andreas Leibbrandt and John A. List, who conclude that if the offer’s negotiability isn’t explained, women are more likely to accept the first proposal. Past experiences of being refused salary increases in negotiations might have conditioned women into this response, and there might be other biases that skew these results. There are a lot of men that profit from these types of findings, so I would need to see a similar study performed by female researchers, but no female academic would propose such an imaginative excuse for sex discrimination.

I conceived an idea to write about sex salary discrimination when I read about the Department of Labor’s April 7, 2017 filing against Google for “burying the fact that it pays its female employees less than their male counterparts.” The Economist’s article offers shocking statistics about the majority of women in Silicon Valley being excluded from networking, being sexually harassed, and being on the verge of quitting. The problem DoL is focusing on is that Google is refusing to offer data on how much the women in its organization are paid comparative to the men. Such statistics are frequently lacking when women attempt to take their employers to court, and in this case even the federal government can’t get the info from a single corporation it’s focusing on. Acknowledging this void, like the Economist’s writer, I also opted to look at the bigger picture.

I previously published a book on this topic: Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing: Mimicking Masculinity and Femininity. Here are a couple of tables from it that explain this problem. The first table shows that women score better than men in analytic writing and around the same in verbal and quantitative skills on the GRE, and in parallel complete equivalent or higher education levels then men in many fields.


Figure 1. GRE Scores for Men and Women in 2013

If women are as smart as men according to standardized tests, then only sex discrimination can explain these statistics from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research:


Figure 2. State Indicators of Social and Economic Status for Men and Women

I’ve felt compelled to leave the American salaried workforce since my first jobs back in 1996. There’s always some sexual harassment, intimidation, insults, devaluing, and general ill will directed at me when I work for anybody else. There might be some women who never experience these problems, but all women who withdraw into self-employment probably have. There’s a chance I’ll continue attempting to break the ceiling within the academia, but my head is really aching from trying. 


Works Cited


Banerji, Shilpa. “AAUP: Women Professors Lag in Tenure, Salary.” Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 16 Nov. 2006, p. 27. General OneFile. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017.

“Google Is Accused of Underpaying Women: The Allegation Inflames a Debate About Sexism in Silicon Valley.” San Francisco: The Economist, 12 April 2017. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017.

Hackler, Darrene, Ellen Harpel, and Heike Mayer. “Human Capital and Women’s Business Ownership.” Arlington (VA): Small Business Association: Office of Advocacy. SemanticScholar. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017.

Lax, Jeffrey. “Do Employer Requests for Salary History Discriminate against Women?” Labor Law Journal, vol. 58, no. 1, Spring 2007, pp. 47-52. EBSCOhost. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017.

Leibbrandt, Andreas and John A. List. “Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations? Evidence from a Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment.” Management Science. Volume 61, Issue 9. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017

“Report Finds a Significant Gender Gap in Faculty Salaries at the University of Virginia.” Bartonsville: BruCon Publishing Company, 2014. GenderWatch. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017.

“A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE® revised General Test: 2011-2012.” Washington DC: Educational Testing Service, 2013. Web.

“State-by-State Rankings and Data on Indicators of Social and Economic Status, 2011.” Washington DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2011. Web. 

“Study: Lower Salaries in Academia for White Women and People of Color at UC Berkeley.” Women in Higher Education, Apr. 2015, p. 4. General OneFile. Accessed 13 May 2017.

Williams, Melissa J., Levy Paluck Elizabeth, and Julie Spencer-Rodgers. “The Masculinity of Money: Automatic Stereotypes Predict Gender Differences in Estimated Salaries.” Psychology of Women Quarterly. Vol 34, Issue 1, pp. 7-20. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017.

Zeigler, Sara L. “Litigating Equality.” Review of Public Personnel Administration. Vol 26, Issue 3, pp. 199-215. 1 August 2016. Web. Accessed: 13 May 2017.


Anna Faktorovich

Anna Faktorovich, Ph.D.: is the Founder, Director, Designer and Editor-in-Chief of the Anaphora Literary Press, which has published over 300 titles in non-fiction, fiction and poetry.

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