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Women struggle to break through top pay ranks at UMass Amherst

UMass Amherst's campus. The university fared worse in achieving gender equity among its top earners than many of the country’s 130 public and private research institutions surveyed in the report released Wednesday.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe/file

No women were represented among the top 10 earners at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2019, pointing to a formidable pay ceiling at the state’s flagship public campus, according to a new report.

The following year it did only slightly better — adding one woman to the ranks.

UMass Amherst fared worse in achieving gender equity among its top earners than many of the country’s 130 public and private research institutions surveyed in the report released Wednesday by the Eos Foundation, a Massachusetts nonprofit group that focuses on women’s pay and power gaps.

“It’s a glass ceiling of money,” said Andrea Silbert, president of Eos. “Women have great degree attainment. … But they just can’t climb. The institutional barriers are so high, that they just don’t make it to the top.”


The report, based on publicly available compensation data from 2019, says the UMass Amherst chancellor, a provost, the top fund-raiser, and several business and sciences professors — all men — took home the most money that year (between $349,680 and $637,360 each in total compensation).

After Eos completed its data collection, Massachusetts updated its payroll database for 2020 to reflect that Anne P. Massey, the dean of UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, was among the top paid employees on campus. In her first full year in the position, she earned $454,220.

UMass Amherst officials disputed some of the report’s conclusions and said it failed to accurately portray the university’s efforts to increase female leadership. Universities report compensation differently, even on state payroll databases, across the country and comparing the pay can be be complicated, UMass officials said.

The Eos report found that using the recent publicly available data, UMass Amherst was one of only eight institutions nationwide with no women in its top salary ranks, when athletic department employees and medical faculty were excluded.


“While we applaud the Eos Foundation for exploring the power gap at leading universities, the report, due to its methodology, does not recognize UMass Amherst’s strong commitment to gender equality,” Ed Blaguszewski, a university spokesman, said in a statement.

Many of the top paid employees at UMass Amherst are professors who are supplementing their base salary with additional income from federal research grants or online teaching duties, Blaguszewski said.

Further work needs to be done to ensure that women have more opportunities to increase their pay through grants and other funding sources, he acknowledged.

But UMass Amherst has expanded leadership roles on the campus for women, with more than half of the dean and vice chancellor positions being held by women and many of them paid competitively, Blaguszewski said. They aren’t included in the report, however, because they don’t earn additional money from major sponsored research, he added.

“UMass Amherst recognizes the importance of addressing the systemic gender pay gap in higher education, and that includes our commitment to hiring senior women in leadership roles and also expanding opportunities for compensation in areas such as sponsored research and online education instruction,” he said.

According to the Eos survey, other Massachusetts colleges, including Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Brandeis University, and Northeastern University reported about 30 percent of their top paid employees were women, while at Tufts University it was 20 percent and at Boston College 10 percent.

Some institutions, including the University of Nevada Las Vegas and Brown University, have reported that half or more of earners at the very top are women, according to the Eos report.


The Eos Foundation found that across the country’s top research universities, women are represented in greater numbers in a college’s president’s cabinet, but that’s not always where the money is, Silbert said.

University faculty made up one-fifth of all top earners across the 130 institutions; they were overwhelming male, according to the report.

Many of the top-paid faculty are in science and technology or business, fields that are rich in research funding and command high salaries but traditionally include fewer women. If institutions want to close the gender pay gap, they have to attack these underlying problems, Silbert said.

Eos also found that women of color are “grossly underrepresented” among the most highly paid employees at top research institutions.

Black, Asian, and Hispanic women make up just 2 percent of the more than 2,000 most highly paid employees that Eos reviewed. White women made up about 22 percent of the top employee tier.

Women of color were “all but invisible,” said Kim Churches, chief executive of the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit that advised Eos on the report. “There’s clearly some barriers and biases that are keeping women back.”

Even though Black and Latino men are under-represented among top university earners, there are still significantly more of them than women from those groups, despite the fact that women are twice as likely to earn doctoral degrees.


In these situations, women are securing the degrees needed to advance in an academic workplace, but they are not getting promoted and moving up the pay ladder the way men are, Churches said.

The pandemic, which has put more caregiving responsibilities on women and forced many of them to reduce hours or leave the workforce, is likely to make the gender pay gap even wider, Churches said.

Universities need to do more frequent pay audits to ensure that gender equity remains a priority, evaluate whether their tenure and promotion process disadvantages women, and be more transparent about their data, Churches said.

Several institutions surveyed by Eos, for example, declined to provide percentages of top earners by race, citing privacy issues.

“Every college says it values diversity and inclusion, but it has to move beyond hashtags and requires bold action,” Churches said. “We give higher education a hall pass because they’re doing great mission-backed work. ... When you follow the money we don’t see where their values are being put into practice.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.