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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

New Analysis Finds There May Be A Big Gender Gap at the Top of U.S. Non-Profits Working in Global Development

Press Release – Washington – A review of publicly available data on the top employees and salaries of 30 U.S non-profits working in global development found that the gender gap at the highest levels may be wide, including when it comes to pay.

“Many nonprofits working in global development advocate for women’s empowerment and gender equality, but do they follow through when it comes to their own staff and management? That’s what we set out to find out,“ said Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a co-author of the preliminary study.

A review of a randomized sample of 30 U.S. organizations (ten each from foundations, think tanks, and NGOs) that work on global development found:

  • Less than a third of key/high paid employees at the sampled U.S. think tanks are women although in the sample of foundations there was parity between the number of men and women.
  • Key/high paid women appear to be paid less than key/high-paid men in all three of the sample groups, and very few of the highest-paid employees in organizations connected to global development are women – a total of five out of thirty across the three groups.
  • Looking across the organizations, it is impressive that six out of ten of the foundations sampled list more than or equal numbers of high-paid or key women as they do men and four out of ten foundations pay more or the same on average to listed women as to men. But only two out of ten think tanks and the same proportion of the ten NGOs pay more or the same on average to listed women as to men.
  • The data tells a similar story to the non-profit sector as a whole, where women make up 75 percent of the nonprofit workforce, but just 18 percent of the largest nonprofits’ CEOs are women, and they earn up to 8 percent less than their male peers.

 Percentage of Women amongst High Paid EmployeesPercentage of Women amongst Highest Paid EmployeesAverage Women's Pay (as a percent of average men's pay amongst high paid)Percentage of Organizations with >49% Women in High Paid GroupPercentage of Organizations with Average Women's Pay >= Men's (amongst high paid)
NGO4520843020
Think Tank3010752020
Foundation5230706040

How they did it: The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny and Tanvi Jaluka compiled a database of organizations and employees in international development using Inside Philanthropy list of global development funders, the 2016 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report list of “Top International Development Think Tanks,” and the membership list of Interaction, an alliance organization of international development NGOs. They randomized the organizations and worked off 10 sample organizations from each source – considering the most recent available data from each (2016 for most, and 2015 for others). The researchers extracted data from the IRS Form 990 to find the organization’s total revenue, and the gender and pay of the listed employees who worked at least 30 hours a week (which excluded most board and trustee members). Not every organization was eligible for analysis, and the study excluded from the sample organizations with no available tax form and/or fewer than five salaried and full time, and for think tanks list, it excluded non-U.S. organizations which would not have 990s available.

The resulting database covers 110 NGO employees, 151 think tank employees, and 64 foundation employees (an average of 10.8 per institution). The researchers note that this data is self-reported, the sample size is small and so the estimates should be used with care as a reflection of all non-profits in the international development field. On the question of ‘what percentage of best paid employees are women,’ for example, we can only be 90 percent confident that the mean answer of the full group of foundations listed by Inside Philanthropy is within about 25 percentage points of the mean they report from the study sample, and the pool of organizations includes nonprofits that only work on development issues as one part of a much broader portfolio of activities.

“These are preliminary findings, but they suggest that U.S. institutions involved in international development may not be sufficiently practicing what they preach when it comes to gender equality,” said Kenny.

Looking ahead, the researchers hope to acquire resources to take on a more extensive study with a larger sample, looking at trends over time, expanding the analysis to leadership positions and board membership, and also looking through the lens of racial diversity (while women make up 48% of board members in nonprofits, only 20 percent of board members are people of color – compared to 38 percent population share in the U.S. as a whole).

“This is a very important issue, and having more data could help drive change in how these organizations work,” said Kenny.


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