Women outnumber men in HR, but a new survey suggests a gender pay gap still exists

An exclusive Qualtrics survey for HR Brew has a number of interesting findings for HR professionals.
article cover

Francis Scialabba

5 min read

*In our best Beyoncé voice*: Who run the (HR) world? Girls—sort of. The trouble is, they’re not being paid for it.

It’s no secret that the HR industry is generally a girls’ club: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held over 80% of HR management positions in 2021.

But when it comes to compensation, women in HR are still paid less than men. In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women human resource managers nationwide made 91 cents to every dollar earned by men. The trend is moving in the right direction—the pay gap had narrowed by five cents since 2011—but as pointed out by Narrow the Gap, a website that displays pay discrepancies between men and women by occupation based on US Department of Labor data, female human resource managers earned $7,748 less than their male colleagues in 2020.

HR is far from alone in reporting a gender pay gap. In 2020, the national gap across industries was nine cents wider than HR’s pay gap, with full-time female workers making 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.

In the US, “occupational segregation” can contribute to the gender pay gap, according to the AAUW.

Maria Colacurcio, the CEO of Syndio, a pay-equity technology platform, told HR Brew that attributing the pay gap to gender in occupation “isn’t an issue of self-selection into lower paying jobs. That’s looking at the effect and calling it the cause.”

Colacurcio pointed to a 2009 peer-reviewed study conducted by Asaf Levanon, Paula England, and Paul Allison to make her case. The research team reviewed 50 years of census pay data and found that jobs with more women paid less on average than jobs with more men.

“What [the study] found was that as men flowed into jobs in greater numbers, the pay increased, and for the very same jobs, as women flowed into those fields, the pay literally dropped,” Colacurcio explained. “If pay goes up when men arrive, and the opposite occurs when women arrive, do we value work differently depending on who’s doing it?…And the answer for now appears to be yes.”

New data, who dis?

In December, HR Brew partnered with experience management software company Qualtrics to check in on the state of pay in the HR industry and glean updated insights into the problem. The HR Brew/Qualtrics survey of over 500 HR professionals (260 men, 275 women, 13 non-binary individuals, and three who declined to specify) found, at least for these professionals, the compensation gap still exists, and HR professionals don’t see data analytics being used to investigate the problem: Less than 30% of respondents said their organization currently audits or has plans to audit starting salary, bonus, or promotions for race or gender bias.

Female respondents surveyed over 10 days in December 2021 were more likely than male respondents to take home smaller paychecks. Twenty-six percent of male respondents and 38% of female respondents reported earning $40k–$60k per year. At the top,10% of men and only 4.4% of women reported earning more than $150k per year.

HR teams are critical to investigating pay discrepancies, but Ben Granger, head of employee experience advisory service at Qualtrics, told HR Brew that the field itself grapples with improving equity.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.

“There’s still very much a gender equity gap when it comes to pay,” Granger said. He says this survey data from HR professionals is not a one-off, but “absolutely consistent with what we’re seeing” in employee experience trends.

Investigating equity.

Granger said analyzing analytics like starting salary, promotion, and compensation is “one of the most obvious places” to begin looking for inequity.

Yet, the majority of respondents do not currently or plan to audit starting salaries, promotions, bonuses, or performance reviews for potential race- or-gender bias. According to the survey, only 46% of the respondents’ organizations track retention by race, gender, or level. This finding is lower than from recent reported trends; this fall, SHRM reported 58% of companies perform proactive compensation analyses.

Granger called the figures reported by HR Brew/Qualtrics “really, really low.”

“What concerns me is the possibility that you have leaders who are saying, ‘Yes, [DE&I] is really important. Let’s go do it.’...But we’re bypassing a lot of the really basic stuff to determine, well, what exactly do we need to ‘go do?’”

Granger hypothesized that one reason for bypassing these processes could be a misguided attempt to minimize legal risk. “The skeptical side of me thinks that when you go and audit it and you look at it, then I believe that a lot of that becomes discoverable [in the event of a lawsuit],” Granger said. “You don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer.”

That approach could backfire. Recent research from Qualtrics found a 20-point difference between leadership and workers’ perceptions of organizational commitments to DE&I. This could be a retention problem if not corrected, as recent research from Deloitte found 40% of workers said they would consider leaving if they don’t trust their organizations to fulfill DE&I promises, and 56% would feel uncomfortable recommending the organization as a place for friends or family to work.

“The issue if we can’t track [diversity analytics], if we don’t link that information, if we don’t know who our people are, and how they identify themselves, then it’s gonna be difficult to retain that talent, because we don’t know who that talent is,” Granger said.—SV

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SusannaVogel1 on Twitter. For confidential conversations, ask Susanna for her number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.