First-Ever Study of Top Earners At America’S Elite Universities Shows Women of Color Almost Nonexistent

Research examines top 10 earners at 130 schools: Women are 24%, women of color just 2.5%

When it comes to narrowing the power and pay gaps by improving diversity among top-compensated employees, the nation’s elite universities have a lot of work to do, as women make up less than a quarter of top earners at these institutions and women of color are nearly nonexistent. That is according to a first-of-its kind study by the Women’s Power Gap Initiative (WPG) at the Eos Foundation, and the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

The study, The Power Gap among Top Earners at America’s Elite Universities, examines gender, race, and ethnicity among ten most highly compensated employees at each of the nation’s 130 major research institutions. The report found only 11 colleges and universities (8.4%) have gender parity when it comes to top earners while just two institutions have attained racial/ethnic parity. Eight schools have no women among their top earners. The report is available via this link on the Women’s Power Gap Initiative’s website.

Key findings include:

  • While women of color receive 16% of all PhDs, medical, and law degrees, they comprise just 2.5% of the top earners. Black and Hispanic men are also underrepresented at approximately 3% each.

  • Fewer than a quarter of top earners are women.
    • Overall, women account for only 24% of the most highly compensated core employees (administrators and faculty) among our nation’s top research universities.
  • Lack of transparency impedes accountability and progress.
    • While most public universities are required by state law to make compensation data available publicly, they do not have to provide diversity data with respect to compensation, even in aggregate percentages. Private university information is even harder to come by.

“Money equates to power,” said Andrea Silbert, President of Eos and lead author of the report. “This is not a pay gap study, this is about who is making the big money at the top, and ultimately, who has the power. It’s highly disturbing that so few women, and almost no women of color, are represented among the highest earners, which of course is where the power lies.”

“Academic leadership pays so much lip service to the importance of diversity and inclusion, so it’s especially disheartening to look at this data and realize how far we still have to go,” says Kimberly Churches, CEO of AAUW.  “This report is a sharp reminder that it will take proactive and intentional steps to improve this dismal representation of women and people of color in hiring, promotion and retention practices. We need action, we need accountability, and we need more than hashtags about equity, diversity and inclusion.”

While much effort has been on equal pay for equal work in higher education, this first-ever examination of top earners pulls back the curtain on the massive pay disparity between men and women while providing a different focus for change efforts.

The Power Gap among Top Earners at America’s Elite Universities outlines solutions, including urging state and federal leaders to push for greater transparency of diversity data at the university level.

“We think of education as a great equalizer, and we look to our elite universities to provide moral leadership and to model best practices,” Silbert continued. “Higher ed should and could be the first industry in the country to hit gender parity. What kind of example would that send to Corporate America if half of all university presidents were women? We could hit that goal within the next 5-10 years.”


About the Women’s Power Gap Initiative: The Women’s Power Gap Initiative aims to dramatically increase the number of women from diverse backgrounds among CEO and C-suite leaders nationally. We conduct and commission actionable research on prominent sectors of the economy and measure the extent of the power and pay gaps at the company or institutional level to highlight those making fast progress, and those falling behind. The second report in this series Women’s Power Gap in America’s Elite Universities: Study and Rankings will be released in the Fall of 2021.


About the American Association of University Women: Founded in 1881, AAUW is a leading non-profit that advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research. AAUW’s main goals include closing the gender pay gap, promoting women’s leadership, opening more pathways for girls and women of color and ensuring equal access to affordable education, especially in the STEM fields. AAUW is one of the world’s leading supporters of graduate women’s education, having awarded more than $115 million in fellowships, grants and awards to 13,000 recipients from 145 countries. The organization has a nationwide network of 170,000 members and supporters, 1,000 local branches and 800 college and university partners.


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