Evelyn Murphy Introducing the WPG

Introducing the Women’s Power Gap (WPG) in Massachusetts Higher Education

This week, the Eos Foundation, led by Andrea Silbert, introduced an essential measure of women’s equality at work: The Women’s Power Gap (WPG). For decades, the Gender Wage Gap (GWG) has served as a proxy for women’s power in the American workplace. The data defining the GWG comes from women and men reporting their earnings to the US Department of Labor. So historically, prescriptions for eliminating the gender wage gap focused on ‘fixing’ women, i.e., women acquiring characteristics similar to men. Women needed to be better educated. Did that. Women needed to work longer, harder. Checked that box. Yet, even after the characteristics of working men and women became much alike, a significant gender wage gap persisted. And that gap has barely budged in recent decades.

Now we have the Women’s Power Gap defined by data from employers, not employees.  It’s an index concentrated on fixing the workplace, not women. It reports gender power inequity in a direct, forthright fashion, comparing the proportion of women to men heading companies and institutions. It doesn’t take a degree in statistics to grasp this concept: if 30% of the CEOs in a particular industry are women and 70% are men, the power gap in that industry is 40% (70%-30%).

But measures like this are only consequential when prescriptions are aligned.

In this instance, that means, prescriptions have to be rooted in institutional change. This is where the first report “Women’s Power Gap in Higher Education: Study and Rankings” provides the roadmap for impacting the WPG in higher education in Massachusetts.

The study delves deeper into the three power centers in the workplaces of 93 academic institutions—the “CEO” typically called the President, or Chancellor; the chair of the board of directors; and the senior leadership team–reporting how many women compared to men hold these positions. What impresses me about the granular data gathering is that differences in institutional roots are also acknowledged. For example, one college requires the President to be a priest. No wonder this institution has never had a woman president.

Within this massive, impressive amount of data, nonetheless, key findings jump off the pages. Overall, Massachusetts higher education institutions are far from gender parity at the top. Both large private universities and the public university system face challenges. The bright spots are the community colleges. The disturbing note is the huge power gap for women of color.

The force of this study and the WPG is in recommendations that challenge both individual institutions and public leadership. Steps that each institution can take to the reduce and eliminate their gender power gap are clearly presented for each one. They don’t need further studies. Action steps for them to take jump off the page. The real challenge is the recommendation to consolidate appointing authority in public institutions. Unless and until a governor has more appointing authority, he or she cannot be held accountable for closing the women’s power gap in public higher education in Massachusetts. The decentralized public institutions won’t like giving up power. The Governor won’t like taking responsibility and being accountable.

Legislative leadership will be essential.

The most responsible –and bold—aspect of this study is the author’s commitment to update this report next year. A study of this depth involves a lot of work; but the promise to hold everyone accountable in an annual progress report is a powerful weapon for change.

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