Note from the Editor: The Intersectionality of Gender and Race on Wage Disparities in Research Administration

by on Thursday, July 26, 2018

Authored by:
Seema Dhindaw
Co-editor, Catalyst
New York University Langone Medical Center



In the May 2018 edition of the Catalyst, we took a close look at women in research administration (RA) and how they balance their roles as care givers/mothers with their work in RA. It is strikingly unfair that in 2018, women and ethnic minorities are still at a disadvantage in both representation and pay in the research administration workforce. The combined effects of discrimination or bias experienced by individuals with overlapping identities, each of which is independently associated with discrimination on its own is an example of “intersectionality.” For example, women experience certain biases in the workplace, as do Asians; therefore, an Asian woman may experience both or a more extreme form of bias. With respect to income, there is intersectionality of gender and race, which allows for White women to have an advantage over non-White women. Among women, race influences both employment and wage, as White women are employed more and have higher salaries compared to non-White women (Patten, 2016). Collins (2015) explains intersectionality as means to determine how factors such as gender, race, class, or sexuality result in inequalities (e.g. wage disparities).

Historically, gender discrimination in the workplace can be attributed in part to a lack of laws to enforce policy and unfair wage practices. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 rendered it illegal for an employer to pay a woman less than a man doing the same work. Women have made many advances with the help of legislation however; women continue to lag behind men and are paid on average 15% less than their male counterpart performing similar work (Patten, 2016). In higher education administration, for every dollar a male administrator makes, women administrators make 80 cents (Seltzer, R. 2017). Research done by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, known as CUPA-HR, shows that the gender pay gap at top levels of higher education leadership has remained the same for the past 15 years.

While there are laws in place for the prevention of racial discrimination, racial discrimination in hiring is particularly difficult to detect and measure (Benedick et al.,1992). Labor reporting by the Women’s Bureau of United States Department of Labor from 1979 to 2012 shows that median wages increased for White women by 31 percent, but only 20 percent for Black women. Over the past 30 years, American women have risen in both educational attainment and into higher paying jobs. As of 2016, the gender wage gap is the narrowest it’s ever been, but it’s still 2.5 times the size of other industrialized countries (Lam, 2016). The Obama administration began legislation called the Equal Pay Rule, which would require large companies to report how much they pay workers, by race and gender. This would have helped to make it a fair playing field for women and people from non-white racial groups. However, in August 2017, the Trump administration halted this. Unless the federal government takes action, it will be difficult to end both the gender and racial workplace inequality without massive amounts of financial aid from private donations and company sponsors.

CUPA-HR found through their research that individuals in two under-privileged classes face greater inequities than individuals in only one class in RA. Both minority men and White women are under-paid in comparison to White men, and women of color are paid the least equitably of all — only 67 cents on the dollar. Research administrative positions show unequal wage, with White women, women of color, and men of color paid less than White men. Pay is, however, close to equitable for Black and Hispanic men in administrative positions. When considering the position level (staff, professional, or administrator) wage, two different trends are observed: for men of color, pay equity broadly increases with position level; whereas for White women, pay equity declines. Regardless of minority status, women are less represented in faculty and administrative positions than men.

So, what does all this mean and how do we change the situation for research administration?

  1. Inequity in the higher education/research administration workforce is persistent for women but especially women of color. They are paid less than their White counterparts.
  2. Women of color thus experience the intersection of two challenges, one owing to their gender and the other.

It is my opinion that  equity issues must address under-representation independently of pay equity, because they are intertwined. We also cannot advance equity by targeting just one group at a time. Additionally, the answer does not lie in targeting and promoting one group at a time. For example, efforts designed to aid women may unintentionally target just White women. Since they are currently very well represented across higher education employees we must address challenges faced by women of color and subsequently men of color.

Gandhi is credited with saying “be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you make an effort to promote equality, the hope is that others will follow to create a fair environment for all involved.

Benedick, Marc, Jr., Charles W. Jackson, Victor A. Reinoso, and Laura E. Hodges. (1992). Discrimination Against Latino Job Applicants: A Controlled Experiment. Washington,  DC: Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington.

Collins, P.H. (2015). Intersectionality’s definitional dilemmas. Annual Review of Sociology, 41(1), 1-20.

Lam, B. (2016 March 8). How do we close the wage gap in the US? Retrieved from

McChesney, Jasper (May 2018). Representation and Pay of Women of Color in the Higher Education Workforce (Research report). CUPA-HR. Available from:

Patten, E. (2016, July 1). Racial gender wage gaps persist in US despite some progress. Retrieved from

Seltzer, R.