Earlier this year, the Forte Foundation released survey results reporting that a pay gap continues to exist, even after an MBA, between non-minorities and minorities and men and women. The survey, which included 900 men and women who graduated from MBA programs between 2005 and 2017, collected respondents’ pre-MBA salaries as well as their salaries from their first post-MBA position and currently.
Between non-minority and minority graduates, the pay gap improves somewhat over time, decreasing from 24 percent to 16 percent between pre- and post-MBA salaries, and then continuing to decrease to 12 percent on average for the reported current salary. Minority students, identifying as black, Hispanic, or Native-American, did see the largest return on investment from the MBA with an average pay increase of 76 percent. Minority men reported an 84 percent increase between their pre-MBA salary and their first job after graduation and minority women gained a 70 percent increase on average.
Conversely, the pay gap between men and women appears to increase over time. Pre-MBA, women were paid 3 percent less than men, this gap increases to 10 percent for the post-MBA salary, and widens to 28 percent among the current salaries. The pay differential between white men and minority women is the largest with a difference of 52 percent. Both genders reported a positive return on investment from the MBA with women gaining a 63 percent salary bump after graduation and men seeing a larger increase of 76 percent.
The gender differential may be explained, partly, by a tendency for men and women to gravitate towards different job functions. Women enter marketing and human resources at higher rates than men, while men are more likely to pursue finance, general management, consulting and IT careers. The study shows that finance and operations are the job functions which contribute most to the gender pay gap, with men earning 60 percent and 48 percent more than women, respectively. Marketing is the only job function where women reported earning more than men (2 percent).
Forte Foundation CEO, Elissa Sangster, warned against attributing the entire gap to job functions. “While some salary disparity can be explained by the job functions women choose, there is likely unconscious bias and other factors at play,” Sangster added. "When we asked women MBAs how they intend to address the gender pay gap they’ve experienced, it’s more common for them to leave the company rather than speak about it with their manager, human resources, or company leadership. This is a wake-up call -- companies need to take proactive steps to lessen the pay gap, or risk losing highly skilled women employees."
While there is a tendency to assume that the differences in men and women’s salaries are related to women’s presumed unwillingness to negotiate, research is now showing that this is not the case. Berkeley Haas Professor, Laura Kray says, “We know that people who negotiate get more than those who don’t, but that’s not a ‘women’s issue’—two-thirds of men don’t negotiate. Women are asking, but they’re not always getting what they ask for, and they’re more likely to be told things that aren’t true.”
Kray recently published research with Margaret Lee, a postdoctoral research fellow, sponsored by the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership, showing that the differentials in total compensation are even more exaggerated than those spotlighted using salary data. The two reviewed surveys from Berkeley Haas alumni who graduated between 1994 and 2014 and work full-time. The data showed that “while men’s base salaries were on average about 8 percent higher than women’s, it’s in the bonuses, share values, and options—which tend to not be tracked as publicly as salaries—where the men’s salaries outpaced women’s. Overall compensation for Haas women MBAs averaged about $290,000, or about 66 percent of men’s $439,000 average. Kray and Lee also linked part of the pay gap to the fact that men manage larger teams than equally qualified women.”
The Forte Foundation study also included career advancement statistics and found that men on average have garnered more promotions (2.3 vs. 1.8), have more direct reports (3.3 vs 1.8), and have achieved higher organizational rankings (Director level vs. Senior Manager) when compared with women. There were no statistically significant differences in career advancement for minorities versus non-minorities. Just as Sangster suggested, it appears that bias is at play, whether consciously or unconsciously, which contributes to men receiving management and leadership opportunities, earlier than women, with greater associated pay.