What are these women losing? It isn’t just cash in hand. It is equity. Perhaps it’s equity in a home, or the ability to pay a mortgage, to consider buying a home, or even their ability to pay rent. This money represents the money to be able to pay for health insurance, for one’s self and one’s family, for life-saving treatments, or for unforeseen medical bills. It represents the money that might be used, someday, for a college or graduate education—the chance to grow through learning. This money could be used to enable a woman to be financially secure enough to get a divorce and to keep a woman safe by leaving an abusive spouse. And it can be used for caregiving, to take care of children (paying for the high costs of daycare) or parents and other family members (the also high costs of long-term care, caregivers, and nursing homes). And do not forget some of the other things that an extra half a million or million dollars might pay for, what is taboo, too: the chance to have children, to harvesting one’s eggs or for fertility treatments, or to take time off with a financial cushion while having small children, or the choice to not have children, too, who might be able to thus offer financial support as one ages.
Hand in hand with the closing of the wage gap are the important steps that many of our states are taking to address the issue of salary or pay transparency so that negotiation becomes easier. States like New York, California, Colorado, and Washington have made it possible for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and others from historically marginalized communities to know exactly what salary ranges are for open positions so that they can negotiate more effectively and eliminate the ask gap. Women who work in nonprofits in these states and other localities that have embraced this meaningful step toward equity can benefit from some elimination of biases and barriers in their job search and hiring processes, leveling the playing field, and remedying pay inequities from the outset. And still, nonprofits are often reluctant to embrace salary transparency when they are not forced to do so by law; it feels hard to narrow that frugality-morality gap, and many are eager to take advantage of loopholes afforded them by religious exemptions, not yet convinced that the trust and transparency that they are offering to their employees might be a valuable benefit.
Closing the wage gap from the very beginning of her career means that a woman just beginning her career in 2023 stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars between now and her retirement, preventing her from caring for herself, providing for her family, and undermining her long-term financial security as well as those who depend on her. This devalues women, in their own eyes, in the eyes of their colleagues, and in the eyes of our society. The nonprofit sector penalizes its female-identifying employees, the huge number of women who make up the vast number of employees working in this space, by preventing them from earning thriving wages. The effect then trickles down and out to affect not just these women but all who depend on them, thus creating a vicious cycle where the women who serve these nonprofits then are potentially positioned to be in need themselves.
It’s time to end the frugality versus morality debate and start to invest in the people who make nonprofits possible. Labor protections like the National Labor Relations Act are often unknown to employees of nonprofits, and many are deeply influenced by their employers, who suggest both subtly and not-so-subtly that their employees are forbidden to talk about salaries, forbidden to ask colleagues how much they make, and forbidden to unionize. If nonprofits want to truly strive for the integrity afforded to them (and demanded of them) by law, and the integrity that will make them most appealing to donors and constituents alike, ethical behavior that enriches their communities as a whole will have a most profound impact. Values-driven organizations are guided not just by their mission and vision statements but out of a very real desire to change the world around them. It is time to begin working with true integrity, from the inside out.