Women CEOs Earn Less Than Male Counterparts in Associations

Graham-Equal Pay Day March 11, 2024 By: Mark R. Graham

New research from ASAE shows that at associations, salaries for women CEOs continue to lag behind men’s. However, nuanced analysis exposes unexpected twists—like women outearning men in certain scenarios. On this Equal Pay Day, we dive into association executive compensation.

March 12, 2024, is Equal Pay Day, the point on the calendar, according to the National Committee for Pay Equity, that symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

And When It Comes to Associations …

ASAE’s executive compensation team, which consults with associations and boards of directors to benchmark salaries in associations, analyzed data from 2,868 national associations that had paid a full-time CEO.

They found that women association chief executives continue to earn less than men in the same positions in nearly every organizational category. In trade groups, women earn a median of 12 percent less. In professional societies, it is 10 percent less.

A surface look at the data reveals female leaders earn 27 percent less than their male counterparts—though that figure doesn’t tell the full story. Due to what’s called an “uncontrolled pay gap,” it doesn’t account for the complexity and variety of associations or the backgrounds of the executives. It also overlooks the factors that influence CEO pay in associations.

While no two organizations are identical, certain organizational characteristics have a predictable influence on salaries, including the sector represented, member type, geography, and the group’s major activities.

Annual revenue in particular, consistently has the most significant influence on CEO pay because revenue is a proxy for complexity. Organizations with higher revenue generally employ more staff and have more programs and activities. Filtering analysis through that lens allows for a more controlled, accurate compensation analysis.

Doing so showed that men lead many more large organizations than women, which contributes to the big uncontrolled gender pay gap. In the dataset, men lead associations with a median $5 million in annual revenue, where median revenue of organization’s that women lead is $3.1 million.

Organizing CEO salaries by annual revenue helps identify gender differences in compensation at similar organizations more accurately.

In nine distinct revenue categories—ranging from associations under $500,000 in annual revenue to those with more than $25 million—women CEOs earned less in each category. In the $5 million to $7.5 million revenue category, women earned 13 percent less than their male counterparts. And the biggest gap is found in $25-million-plus revenue associations, where women earned 30 percent less.

Trade Versus Professional

In professional societies, women lead nearly as many associations as men. In fact, among professional societies with revenue under $7.5 million, women hold 56 percent of all chief executive positions.

As revenue goes up, men steadily occupy more corner offices topping out at 68 percent of CEOs in the largest associations.

The pay gap in professional societies ranges from a 5-percent gap in the $1 million to $2.5 million revenue category to a 28-point difference in pay at groups with more than $25 million in revenue.

In trade groups, women CEOs are a minority at every revenue category. Overall, women hold one-third of trade association CEO roles. Female CEO compensation trends in trade groups followed the same trends as every other area analyzed, except in two cases.

Pay gaps generally grow larger with annual revenue, except it reverses course among groups with more than $25 million in annual revenue. At these groups, women earn 85% of the median men’s salary. That’s half as much as the wage gap in professional societies in the same revenue category.

Another curious anomaly occurs among CEOs leading trade groups with revenue between $7.5 million and $10 million, where 69 of the CEOs are men and 22 are women. In those organizations, the median salary for women was 13 percent higher than their male counterparts. This is the only category of 42 analyzed to show women with higher median pay.

Researchers carefully analyzed that group to identify contributing factors. Among the 91 groups in this category, women were more likely to lead slightly larger associations. But that alone is not enough to explain the difference. Women lead more groups that are public policy focused, which is a factor that contributes to higher wages. Additionally, a larger percentage of male-led groups were outside areas with a high cost of living, like Washington, Chicago, and New York City.

While all three characteristics contribute to higher median salary for women in this category, the biggest factor may be that smaller datasets produce less predictable results. Salary analysis can only drill down so far before limited data results in anomalies.

About the Data

The ASAE compensation team looked at 2,868 national or international-focused organizations based in the U.S. that had a full-time paid CEO. Because executive compensation disclosure occurs at a different cadence among tax-exempt groups and can lag by more than 12 months, the compensation team normalized the data to ensure accurate comparison.

First, the research team used proven algorithms to address part-year salaries and missing data, which is a common occurrence with the IRS Form 990. Then, when needed, the compensation was aged to reflect the same reporting year.

Mark R. Graham

Mark R. Graham is vice president of association solutions at ASAE and leads the Executive Compensation Study team.