Understanding the Wage Gap in Academia and America


It has been almost 100 years since the 19th Amendment was passed, allowing women to vote, and almost 50 years since the Equal Rights Amendment was passed, stating that civil rights may not be denied on the basis of one’s sex.

America has progressed in many ways, yet wages are still unequal; one of the most commonly cited facts on this issue is that for every dollar a man makes, a woman only makes 77 cents.

At Manhattan College, faculty and administration have been consistently working to terminate this issue, where wage issues go beyond sex.

Shawn Ladda, Ph.D., is a professor of the Kinesiology and in charge of the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC), a subdivision of the Faculty Welfare Committee (FWC).   

According to Ladda, the faculty salary system should be composed of three components, the first being a method of determining competitive entry-level salaries for new faculty.

Following this, a method should be in place for overcoming disparities in entry-level salaries as continuing faculty advance in rank.

Ladda explains this from her own experience: “This is my 22nd year here, so when we hire a new faculty member in education, it’s a lot higher today than it was 22 years ago – so you end up with some compression issues.”


Essentially, someone who is hired today as a new faculty member can be making more in five years than someone who has been working at Manhattan College for over 20 years.

The third component, Ladda continues, is a method for determining annual increments that would also tend, over time, “to lessen disparities in entry-level salaries and increase average salaries by rank” while also “awarding uniform dollar amount increments to faculty below the average salary at each rank.”

Last year, MC hired a consultant to alleviate these disparities. For comparison, administration and the FWC have also been creating a benchmark list of other colleges that are relatively similar to MC.

This process is difficult, however, as the college is very heterogenous: different schools of different sizes and accreditation should technically provide the same, or at least a somewhat similar base salary for faculty.

“There hasn’t been a total conclusion, it’s still in the process,” Ladda said. “The next step is to run data analysis on gender, ethnicity, discipline – all those different factors – and come up with conclusions that, going forward, the administration as well as the faculty feel good about goals being set and actions matching these goals.”

Ladda believes that in general, faculty wages at MC are average in most areas compared to other schools, and maybe in other areas below average, given that we are located in NYC.

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Daniel Molina/The Quadrangle

To pinpoint these imbalances is the entire point of this study, and ultimately to come up with solutions.

“Going forward, we will try to come out with a system that is as fair as possible, and being reflective and open to various solutions,” Ladda said.

Ladda also addresses the absurdity of the gender wage gap.

“If we looked at the world at large, there are gender gaps. We can’t even pass a law: equal pay for equal work, which to me is ridiculous,” she said.

“I think we need to respect our Lasallian tradition, which ties in with fairness and social justice. And I think that faculty, administration, staff… we need to work together.”

Roksana Badruddoja, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and Chair of the Women and Gender studies department. Of the many factors that perpetuate the wage gap, she focuses on the “motherhood penalty.”

“In the past two decades, we have not passed any major federal policies to help any human being accommodate family and work responsibilities. Stephanie Coontz, spokesperson of Council on Contemporary Families finds that we Americans express the highest level of work-family conflicts compared to our European counterparts,” Badruddoja said.

She argues that companies can step up by providing working parents a way to balance home and work life – which is something that impacts women far more than men – in ways a variety of ways: livable wage, affordable childcare, flexible work hours, robust maternity and paternity leave, unemployment insurance, and uncovering implicit biases/discrimination of women.

“Here, we must focus on the structural inequalities that are embedded in our culture. We simply do not have social policies and working conditions in place that fully support women’s employment at large in any field.”

“We are not only grappling with the glass ceiling but we are also dealing with a crumbling bottom as low-income women face a myriad of obstacles at home and work,” Badruddoja said.

Age by Gender Wage Gap Chart.jpg

She explains that female progress in the workforce has gone to women who don’t have children.

“Sociologist Dr. Joya Misra finds that motherhood is a more potent predictor of wage inequality compared to gender. What we need is robust maternity leave and childcare policies,” she said.

While it may appear that gender-neutral work practices and policies are impartial, Badruddoja also argues that gender-neutral models are informed by masculinity, suggesting the issue here is not gender equality, it is gender equity.

“Gender equity serves the interest of both women and men. If we paid women the same wage as men for comparable work, then we would cut the poverty rate in our families by half,” she said.

Thom Gencarelli, Ph.D, Chair of the Communication Department, feels similarly to Badruddoja about the motherhood penalty, and explains this from a historical lens.

“The wage gap exists from a time when men were breadwinners and women stayed home and brought up their children and kept their house.”

“In the second half of the twentieth century, we moved into an age where women started going for higher education for reasons other than a ‘Mrs. Degree’ to meet a guy who was going to be successful and marry him,” Gencarelli said.

“Women students these days don’t have an appreciation of this history and how short a history this is – we’re talking the second half of the twentieth century – women started getting an education and started having careers.”

“And isn’t it interesting that at the same time, the cost of living became such that a double income family was necessary to a basic middle class life, that a single breadwinner, in the metropolitan area at least, is hardpressed to provide for his family in the traditional motive, unless he’s making upwards of 150 to 200k a year,” he continued.

He compares the women’s rights movement to the civil rights movement; both are a work in progress.

“We’re nowhere near done. But in this short history, in this short period of time, there’s still the idea that ‘Oh well women are gonna wanna have a family and so they’re gonna leave the workforce anyway, so why are we making an investment into these people who are not career minded like us guys have always been?’ And then there is, atop that, institutionalized sexism,”Gencarelli said.

He brings up the current presidential election and the rampant sexism that has exposed itself in American culture.

“How much of the vituperation against Hillary Clinton is not that she’s untrustworthy or part of a political system that keeps on perpetuating itself and not necessarily representing we the people.”

“What people are hiding is that they don’t want to come out and say ‘Well, she’s a woman’. And they do in ways: ‘she’s not capable of doing the job for the reasons that a woman can’t do the job’ – that kind of sexist talk and the words we use reflect our beliefs,” he said.

Gencarelli speculates that we are still living this history, this shift away from male breadwinner, to the world of a double income family, and in his words, “to the justice of women being seen and treated and paid fairly.”

Like all other department heads, Gencarelli has nothing to do with setting wages for faculty in his department.

“As far as I have always understood, no matter who we hire, the offer made–with the exception of certain issues of prior experience–the offer made to an incoming tenure track assistant professor is the same regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman,” he said.

He is also temporarily a member of the Faculty Welfare Committee.

“I’m learning about the larger state of things here at the college, and there is, in that conversation, a very serious concern and set of considerations about the fact that there is not equal pay. And I hope to learn more about that, but I would love to learn more about how it’s rearing it’s head. Because it makes no sense,” he said.

In 2014, Senate Democrats could not get a single vote from their Republican counterparts in their third attempt to pass wage equality legislation. It fell six votes short.

While laws are necessary for ending issues like the wage gap, Gencarelli believes it is a humane endeavor as well.

“It is absurd that there has to be legislation about this to make it happen. As  human beings, why do we need federal or state legislation to do what is right?”