Women and nonprofit wages

I’m giving a talk tomorrow night at a networking event about women and the nonprofit sector, particularly some studies that have found that a) women are the majority of workers in nonprofits but b) women still earn less than men.  Most of the attendees are likely to be in their early to mid 20s, without kids. 

I’ll talk about how women are less likely to negotiate, more likely to expect (wrongly) that hard work will be noticed and rewarded even if they don’t.  But I also want to talk about the work-family stuff that I cover here.  I’m going to say that I think women are more likely to choose jobs based on satisfaction, less on an expectation that they’ll be supporting a family.   And that by accepting less money, they’re also reducing their bargaining power in relationships down the road.  And I also want to mention the roles of unpaid internships and student loans in affecting the options that are open to you.

Any suggestions?  Good stories that I can use?  Advice that you wish someone had told you?

28 Responses to “Women and nonprofit wages”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Great topic. I’ve thought a lot about how we are taught to choose work we love, and women more than men seem to take this advice to heart. In my circle of friends, most people are SAHMs who used to have “helping” jobs. While we frame staying at home with the kids as a choice, the fact that we weren’t making enough money to clear much after childcare was a huge factor. I am returning to teaching, and it fits our current situation (I can work part-time at night) but I sometimes (okay, often) wish I had chosen a better-paying field. Job satisfaction is important, but it’s sort of naive to think that’s the only thing we should consider, and that’s what I intend to tell my daughter when the time comes.

  2. Andrea Says:

    Oh, that was me, 15 years ago. I had a great, interesting non-profit job. I did excellent work and was pretty well rewarded. I think one of my weaknesses, which seems to be shared by some in that arena, was a failure to set goals and figure out ways to reach them. Maybe even more than people in industry do, non-profit staffers need to think about where they are going and how to get there– into non-profit administration? into the private sector? to grad school, and then???? It is easy to get sucked into a daily routine and not think about the next step, but it’s even more important to network, hone skills and develop an image when you’re working in this area than in a corporation, because getting to where you want to be next can be complicated. It is also easy in a non-profit to miss out on trends in the for-profit world– my non-profit was very slow to adopt new computer software (I was the last person in town to get e-mail) and you tend to lose track of salary trends and working conditions and buzzwords, so you have to make an effort to stay in touch with people in that world. At a non-profit, you often have to push hard to get training and higher profile assignments, because budgets are tight and letting you do something different means someone else has to cover your old workload. Also, I found it to be critical to keep an eye on the non-profit’s bottom line. The most valuable employees find ways to save their organizations money, learn about the fund-raising or grant writing side of the business, and are very budget-conscious. You also need to agressively negotiate salary and other benefit issues; just because the organization is a non-profit does not mean you should never get a raise, your performance review can be skipped, or your health insurance should be the most bare-bones policy out there.
    Additionally, I think people at non-profits don’t always handle personal finance as well as they could. Maybe because salaries are lower we just throw our hands into the air, and say, oh, well, I’ll deal with it later? But it’s critical in your 20’s to fund your retirement plans, pay off student loans, and save, so that when you’re ready to buy the house, have the kids, etc., you can. As you noted, it will have an perhaps-unexpected effect on your choices about work and family later.
    I’d be interested in hearing more about how this goes for you.

  3. jen Says:

    To me this is all about giving up the ability to choose before you realize its worth. Ask any college student, is it a good idea to keep your options open? And of course they agree with that. What they do not see is how their student loans are actively closing doors for them; how their choice of early job is cutting off experiences they might have had.
    And this is not just about the sorts of consumerist things many non-profit types are willing to forego. We’re not just talking about having a swanky car. Imagine the shock a person feels when they realize, I’ve just fallen in love with my colleague at this non-profit. But I need to get over it because if I marry him I’ll never get to stay home with my kids. (Ouch.)

  4. reuben Says:

    I’m a male who has worked in non-profits in the UK (London), and I imagine that it’s very much similar to the US. My female colleagues tended to be bright, intelligent, passionate, committed – and married to bankers. There was a very glaring disconnect, which they were aware of, about being low paid do-gooders, but still able to live a lovely middle class lifestyle because they were partnered up with very highly paid men who weren’t exactly making the world a better place from 9 to 5.
    In terms of current or future bargaining power in these relationships, my observation was that women were aware of the pitfalls, but were willing to take the risk because their priorities were to have a satisfying career, be great mothers if they had kids, and to live middle class lives. (I’m using the British sense of middle class here: well-paid professional households.) If they instead prioritised personal economic autonomy, they would have had to give up the meaningful careers, they felt, and they weren’t prepared to do that. And they would have been in jobs that required an “ideal worker” mentality completely at odds with notions of being both a good worker and a good carer, which is what all of them were aiming for.
    One of these women, my lovely boss, was 40, had two kids, and felt that she was getting a far better deal out of life then her husband was. It’s only because he was willing to work a job that he didn’t find as satisfying as hers that they were able to have the lifestyle they wanted, she said; they could not have done so on the equivalent of two of her salaries, and she would not have wanted, while the kids were not yet in their teens, to work the long hours required to earn his salary. So in the short and medium-term, she was definitely getting the better deal (and had been doing so for about 10 years at this point). So long as they stay together, she won’t pay for this in the long run. Her husband, on the other hand, was sacrificing the chance for a more personally meaningful career. On the flip side, should they divorce, he’ll be better off financially – but she’ll get the kids, so he’ll be worse off emotionally.
    As for me, I followed their model and am now with a woman who earns much more than I do, and my lifestyle is far better than when I was dependent on my lowly charity salary. Of course I didn’t “choose” my partner because of this, but then I’m sure that none of my female colleagues chose their partners because of their income as well. It just… helps.

  5. bj Says:

    Can I say something for the other side? I still still believe that one should choose the work for its value to you, and then adjust one’s lifestyle to live within the compensation offerred.
    Of course, that’s easy for me to say. First, the work I do is adequately compensated. It’s not well compensated, and others feel crimped by the pressure to live a certain lifestyle in it, but the lifestyle you do get contains the world’s necessities, in my view, and most people’s. Second, my spouse happens to have fallen into work he does because he enjoys it, but which is extremely well compensated. But, I see what it does to the people who chose the job for the compensation, rather than for the work. They are embittered and unhappy.
    Choosing the work for the love of it is harder when the compensation doesn’t offer one basic necessities (and I know non-profits can be guilty of this). And, many of us can love more than one thing, and in that case, picking the one that’s more likely to offer you a living seems like a good choice. Finally, there’s a real societal problem that certain functions in society seem to rely on people giving “voluntary” labor. We want good teachers, but we don’t want to pay them for their good work. We want good social workers, but we only notice them when they do a bad job. We want good public defenders, but it’s only when they show up drunk in court that anyone cares. If you want to do those things, it’s important that you don’t let your love of what you do forget that you have a _right_ to be adequately compensated for your work (in spite of the love).
    PS: Frankly, I’m seeing analogies to the statement that it’s “just as easy to love a rich man as a poor one.” Aren’t mothers supposed to have said that when guiding their daughters away from the poor men? I don’t want to tell our daughters (or sons) that it’s “just as easy to love the rich job.” It all depends on the job and the person. Thinking through long term consequences of any of theses choices is a worthwhile piece of advice in any case, though.

  6. jen Says:

    bj, I think it’s noble to say “choose the work you love.” And I do actually do work that I really enjoy. But I have plenty of daily contact with extremely bitter former musicians, former opera singers, former restauranteurs who went into the computer industry when doing what they loved bankrupted them and in some cases ruined their marriages.
    It is very corrosive to tell people to do work they do not love. But let’s face it: some people don’t love any work that pays the bills. It seems to me like those people end up bitter either way, screwed either by their hatred for their boss or their hatred for their student loans (or whatever other form of entanglement their attempt to do what they loved left them with).

  7. Shandra Says:

    I just wanted to add to the discussion that while we women in Canada face many of the same choices, socialized medicine really does make it somewhat easier to change jobs. That’s a minor point in the whole discussion but I think it is important as many people may stay for benefits even when it is not good for their careers.

  8. Carrie Says:

    I like the fact you will be addressing unpaid internships. I am currently a MA student studying International Relations and Law, and I cannot tell you how many non-profit organizations want you to first take an unpaid internship, work for 3 to 6 months on a given project and then possibly transition into a full time paid position. I don’t know about other people, but there is no way my student loans could sustain me for another 3 months (or maybe 6) into an unpaid positions. Of course I could work a night job, to pay rent, start paying loans back etc – but I wonder if that is really doable? My options have become extremely limited and I hate that! I have had to dimiss several great opportunites simply because I could not afford to live in the town where the internship was located. To add to the injury I am having trouble getting a regular position because I don’t have the ‘experience’ an internship would offer. Heheh, suggestions anyone?

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    Carrie, that’s a real dilemma, without an easy answer. My advice is try to think of other ways to get/demonstrate the expertise that you could get with an internship. Can you write an article for a journal put out by your school? Or co-author one with one of your professors? Can you start a blog that shows your expertise? Volunteer to put on a conference while you’re a student?
    Or you could check out The Four Hour Workweek and come up with some sort of internet-based business that will be a source of revenue without taking up too much of your time.

  10. Megan Says:

    Another non-profit worker chiming in here.
    Elizabeth, in your talk you might also make reference to the earnings cap that choosing non-profit employment brings on. The *highest* salary one can make after years and years of rising through the non-profit ranks is laughably low compared to the highest potential compensation in the for-profit world.
    Of course, that earnings cap affects everything from one’s choice of how many children to have or not have, to how much Social Security one may be eligible for after retirement.

  11. bj Says:

    Hi Jen:
    I’m not trying to be noble (or to tell other people to be noble). I agree with you that people can become embittered trying to do the work they love (as well as trying to do the work they hate, for the money). And, I guess, if you’re going to be embittered, it’s better to be embittered with money in the bank, than not.
    Maybe the right way to think of this question (and the questions that Elizabeth is being asked to discuss) is “how to do the work you “love” (or enjoy, or value), and still live the lfie you want.” The answer to that question depends both on the work you want to do and the life you want to live.
    And, as you mentioned, an important part of answering this question is not just how you want to live today, but how you want live 10, 20, 30 years down the road.
    The unpaid internships (and banker-bankrolled lifestyles) brings up the reason why folks in not-for-profits have to fight for pay (even when their prime motivation driving them to the work is not money). I feel for you Carrie. Of course, the answer is most folks are bankrolled by others during their internships.

  12. Christine Says:

    I don’t work in non-profit, but in the low-paying field of education. One of the reasons I dropped out of graduate education was due to the non-paying student teaching requirement. How is someone expected to student teach everyday, take classes and support oneself simultaneously????!!!! I dropped it and started teaching college, which in my region is lower paying than K-12.
    One thing that might be helpful to discuss is how to decide between non-profit sectors and/or jobs. Right now I have to decide between two adjunct positions where one can offer me less pay with great health benefits and the other with more than double the pay and no health benefits. Commute, curricula and student profiles are also involved in my decision. There is some diversity in the same department within college, so I was wondering whether that applies to non-profit jobs as well.
    I was fortunate to complete an unpaid (subway fare and $5 for lunch were included) internship in college in film and am so glad I did. I found out that I did not want a career in film. I always tell my college students to do at least 2 internships if they can afford it; one to see what they don’t want to do for a living, but are curious and the other to get some real experience. In the arts, the reality is not as good as the glamour and my students need to see the business and technical side in the industry. The only internships that are usually paid are in high salaried fields such as business and medicine.

  13. Carrie Says:

    Elizabeth: Yes, I have in fact published two articles, ‘worked’ for a professor as a research assistant and was a representative for student government. But these NGOs want “field experience.” *Sigh* I know it is always tuff to get that first job, but I just didn’t think it would be this tuff! At this point I have moved in with my boyfriend to save money since in two months time after graduation there is no way I will be able to support myself.

  14. Lynne Says:

    This is too late for your talk, but perhaps you can keep this story for the future? I was a hiring manager in the late 1990s with two open positions that were exactly the same with the same [low] salary. On Tuesday, I interviewed a woman who performed wonderfully well on our skills test who I knew would fit well with my group. I made her an offer–embarrassingly low, but that’s what my company paid–which she accepted. On Thursday, I interviewed a man for my second position. He didn’t perform as well; I did feel like he was teachable, but that he wouldn’t stay around like the woman I interviewed. I made the same offer, he countered for more money. I took his counter-offer to my boss (the head of my division), with my concerns about his skills and longterm plans. My boss immediately said yes to paying the counter-offer. I asked if I could retroactively offer my first candidate the higher amount as well–it didn’t seem right to hire two people in the same week and pay them different amounts. But you can imagine what his response was! Anyway, I’ve taken away this lesson that no one will give you more money unless you ask. (And yes, true to my instincts…he was gone within six months, and she stayed until she moved away.)

  15. Mrs. Ewer Says:

    The best of both worlds is to do as I did, and get a job at a for-profit agency that works exclusively with non-profit clients and political candidates. I get to help organizations that are working to end abortion, mentor young conservative students, and lower taxes –- all ideas I’m passionate about. But I also get paid a normal salary, have fabulous benefits, and get to work on an interesting variety of topics instead of the same, narrow issue.
    My favorite truth about young people should be taught in every public school: If you graduate from high school, avoid getting pregnant out of wedlock, and wait to marry until age 20 or later, your chances of ever being in poverty are down to 8%.
    Other keys for success:
    1. Marry young (but not before 20!) and wisely.
    2. Consider skipping grad school and graduating from college early. Not only will you save thousands in college loans, but you’ll be working and saving at age 20 instead of 25+, and benefit from the miracle of compounding interest.
    3. You don’t want a support position. Seek the positions that drive company profits.
    4. Expect to work hard and live frugally.
    5. Never neglect your personal life, your faith, or your health and physical fitness. These are the factors that enable your success in the corporate arena.

  16. jen Says:

    Mrs. Ewer, I’m fascinated by your 8% number. Where are you getting that?
    In your “other keys” comment you talk about many things that I have found to be true — for example the benefits of skipping graduate school, and the hard reality of what it means to work in a support position. However the “marry young but not too young” point leaves me scratching my head. I’ve always heard that marrying after age 28 greatly lessens your chances of getting divorced, and that divorce is so financially destructive that its risk outweighs the benefits of marrying young. Or is that old data?

  17. Elizabeth Says:

    I can hunt for the study, but I’ve seen the 8 percent figure, and I’m pretty sure that it’s actually your odds of being poor at a point in time, not of ever being poor in your lifetime. I know someone else has claimed that 50 percent of Americans will be poor at some point in their lives.
    I’ve been meaning to write a post about the whole divorce issue, and how much less common divorce is among college-educated individuals than is generally believed.

  18. Mrs. Ewer Says:

    Jen, the 8% figure comes from The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook. The exact excerpt is here: http://people.etango.com/~markm/archives/2004/11/12/avoiding_poverty.html.
    The “marry young” advice is based on personal experience. I married two weeks before my 21st birthday and have watched friends flounder in the drama and expensive of dating while trying to launch their careers. Others will get sucked in by work and find themselves unhappily single and childless in their 30’s and 40s — see the Sylvia Ann Hewlett book claiming 50% of female executives over 40 are childless, and not because they want to be. Marriage provides goals, focus, a support system, and financial flexibility should one of you fall ill, lose a job, or decide to take time off for more schooling or to raise children. See also this letter about early marriage penned by Benjamin Franklin: http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/bookmarks/franklin/frnktext.html.
    Elizabeth, I’m looking forward to the divorce post.

  19. Shannon Says:

    Excellent topic. I am always trying to remind Cole not to “be a girl” when it comes to negotiating and advocating for herself. She can look up the salaries of her male colleagues–all considerably higher paid than she is–and I will remind her of them to motivate her.
    Of course, I do not take my own advice, and am a TOTAL girl, what with the $100K in student loans, no retirement savings and the housewife/home schooling life plan, so what do I know? And I seem constitutionally incapable of making any money or keeping it for myself if I ever do make it. At least, however, my partner is A) aware of the value of my contributions to the family (and even to her career) and B) willing to fork over cash for a maximum contribution to my IRA since I don’t have a penny to contribute to it, myself. Well, and then there are the wills, etc.

  20. amy Says:

    I’d add another one to the “how not to be poor” list: Marry someone who understands the difference between business and personal. Divorce can be a short-term financial disaster if you’re both non-vindictive and understand that the legal part divorce is business, not therapy, or a forum for self-expression, or a way to duck difficult personal responsibilities. But if you have children, a divorcing spouse or ex who uses the courts as a way of working out emotional business can cost you thousands at unpredictable intervals until the children are grown.
    Elizabeth, I’m not sure that the correlation is so much between education and divorce as it is between “takes numbers and planning seriously” and divorce.

  21. Moderate Says:

    Not that this would be particularly helpful for your talk, even if I had commented in time, but the elements relating to negotiation and belief that hard work will cause accelerated raises later seem far more relevent to causes of gender wage gap. I used to believe that the gap was driven primarily by the fact that a larger number of women take time off for family reasons during their careers. However, I am concerned by the studies showing that the wage gap exists between men and women right out of college and within common profesions. (I went back and dug around, but I was only able to find this particular url: http://money.cnn.com/2007/04/23/news/economy/gender_gap/index.htm?eref=rss_t) Yes, career choice does affect pay rate, but even adjusting for that, women are still paid less than men when making the same choices.
    Leaving the workforce to return to school does offer a way to take another pay jump, because a lot of employers make salary decisions for those coming out of a program without regard to salary history, but of course the way people negotiate an offer can immediately re-create wage disparity. Plus that runs afoul of the student loan trap you already mentioned…

  22. amy Says:

    Also it might be useful to talk about negotiation in terms of recovering from “no”. If you push too hard, you’ll get “no”, and that’s what we fear — that we’ve really screwed up the relationship right away, or looked greedy, or some such. Which is partly a sense of dependency — you have to keep this one particular boss liking you, so don’t ask for too much. But it’s not how things work in business unless you’re being ridiculous, I think. The worst that’s going to happen is they’ll say ‘no’ or counteroffer and you’ll go on.
    The thing is that women do negotiate; we do it all the time. We just do it in a different context for different things & are accustomed to going for crumbs & using strategies that involve helplessness. Even with each other we do this. “Could you take my kid for the afternoon, I’m so overwhelmed with other stuff that’s not about me, please be my sister/hero.” I think the problem is that we don’t negotiate like men, but that’s what you have to do when it comes to pay.

  23. jen Says:

    There used to be a sense in the business world that negotiating was not welcome from a woman, it was a sign of too much aggression, and was not tolerated.
    Do you think this is changing? I sense that it is, although as always a woman has to be very careful not to display too much emotion.

  24. Lisa V Says:

    What a great discussion. I work for a non-profit educational organization. I like my work, they are very flexible and it’s meaningful. My pay is fine for now, because as others here have talked about, my husband has a job that has good benefits and makes a decent salary.
    However, he is deeply unhappy with his job. He has been looking and has found a possiblity that looks good at a non-profit. Everything about this job is great but pay and benefits. It pays less than half of what he makes now. And the insurance is bad, and we would pay for it.
    We are really struggling with this. We have children. We are willing to scale back our lifestyle, but our biggest splurge is music lessons and cable. We aren’t living high on the hog here. We are hoping that he could move up quickly in this organization, which would help some with the salary, but not much.
    I think some of the low pay of non-profits is because the work is undervalued by the corporate world, and the funding for the organizations themselves is low. Then add issue of women as primary employees and you have a recipe of low wages as an expectation.

  25. amy Says:

    I think the low pay in nonprofits has largely to do with the fact that they’re not making a saleable product. A not-unreasonable response from people who’re in business to make money might be, “Why should I spend my life making widgets, which isn’t pleasant or socially terrific but pays well, and then hand over a large chunk of the money to you, just so that you can do rewarding work and be paid well? Why wouldn’t I quit my job, in that case, and try to find a rewarding, well-paid job like yours?”
    And — not that I’d meant to be pointed about it, but — that seems to be the circumstance your family is in now.
    Maybe it could be your turn in corporateland? You’d get the resume and salary history, and he’d get to do something he likes better. In any case, personally, I find making money to support my daughter very meaningful indeed.

  26. Moderate Says:

    Lisa V.,
    I think you have hit on the larger issue. If your work is less valued by society, then you will be compensated at a lower value. I say that as someone who agrees with Amy both that better paid jobs are not inherently unsatisfying and that I personally find being the breadwinner in my family meaningful. However, no matter how much I enjoy watching sports, I have trouble believing that Barry Bonds delivers greater value to our society than the hundreds of high school teachers whose combined annual salary doesn’t match his compensation. That problem is far worse for stay-at-home parents whose contributions are far more frequently devalued within our economy.
    The key piece from my perspective is for each individual and family to know what they want in life and understand the trade-offs needed to get there. If you and a partner are raising a family, you need to understand what you value in terms of time, money, lifestyle, job satisfaction (whether that is a paying job or staying at home). If you value having items or services, including lessons, more than you value job satisfaction, it may make sense for at least one partner to take a higher paying job even if you enjoy it less. If you value leisure time or time with your family more than money, then a lower paying job with flexible hours may be the better route.
    None of this is black and white. It is really about determining the balance that offers the best fit for an individual’s situation. This in turn can help with planning a job negotiation. If you need a certain salary level to be willing to consider a job, then it makes a lot of sense to push hard for that dollar value. If you need to know that you will get off at 5 pm every day, then that becomes the strong demand. (If you are willing to do work after the kids are alseep, then you have more options to put on the table.) On the other hand, if a job offer meets your hard requirements, it is far easier to take a less aggressive approach to your “nice-to-haves.”

  27. jen Says:

    Some of this conversation is starting to remind me of those who work in the arts. I remember when I was living in California, and there were so many people interested in working in the film industry that film projects literally did not have to pay people much of the time. And people did it — they knew that there were dozens of folks lining up to do this sort of work, in no small part because it generates so much personal satisfaction. They were directly trading off personal satisfaction for income. It sounds like the same sort of dynamic.
    I’m not sure if non-profit work is undervalued by the corporate world or not. If the jobs are more desirable for whatever reason — flexibility of hours, personal satisfaction, what have you — that will be enough to drive increased competition over those slots, which will in turn drive down salaries. That could explain the whole thing right there.

  28. Barbara Saunders Says:

    Divorce is less common among higher educated people; however, late marriage is also common among higher educated people ESPECIALLY women. My grandmother, born in 1901, married in 1929 and had my mother (her first child) in 1934. My paternal grandmother, born in 1911, got married in 1934 — after graduate school — and had her first child in 1935.

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