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AVIXA POV: What You Need to Know About the Gender Pay Gap in Pro AV

It’s more than just money.

Women in pro AV earn 79 percent of what men do. Women in pro AV earn 83 percent of what men do. Women in pro AV earn 89 percent of what men do. All these statements are true, and each is incomplete. Combined, they create a useful picture of the relative earnings of women in our industry, and one thing is clear: Women are not as well compensated as men.

Measuring the pay gap between men and women seems easy at first. What do women earn? What do men earn? Thanks to AVIXA’s extensive compensation and benefits survey in which we collected data from about 2,500 U.S. pro AV professionals, we know that women in our industry earn $70,500 on average, while men earn $89,700. That calculates out to women earning 79 percent of what men do. That’s a disappointingly large gap, though it lacks context. The women in pro AV are different from the men, and that affects the gap.

U.S. Department of Labor Statistics

U.S. department of labor statistic on Percent distribution of workers employed full- and part-time by sex
Percent distribution of workers employed full-time and part-time by sex in 2020
Source: The U.S. Department of Labor

U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that women are more likely to work part time, due in large part to the extra responsibility they take for child and home care.  Our pro AV compensation survey tells us women are nearly twice as likely to hold part-time jobs as men (6.1 percent vs. 3.3 percent). In the wider economy, perhaps the most widely cited income gap is the one focusing only on full-time workers. It is the number that defines Equal Pay Day, the day that represents how far into the next year a woman would have to work to earn as much as a man did the previous—March 24 for this year. In the U.S., that gap, calculated from the weekly earnings of full-time workers, is 82 percent (via the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics). In pro AV, that gap is 83 percent.

At first glance, the 83 percent vs 82 percent comparison makes it seem like pro AV is doing similarly to or perhaps a touch better than the wider economy. But when we focus on the pro AV pay gap, we introduce an important control: industry. Research by lead gender pay gap experts Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn has found that part of the pay gap is driven by the fact that women are overrepresented in lower-paying industries. Given that the pro AV is calculated from just one industry, it’s actually a little disappointing that it remains essentially equal to the 82 percent gap in the wider economy.

Comparing The Pay Gap In AV Against The Wider U.S. Economy

So industry can explain part of a pay gap. What about other important traits—education, experience, and occupation? When we follow well-established economic research and adjust for human capital traits such as education, experience, occupation, and CTS, we find that a woman with the same background and job as a man earns on average 89 percent of what he does. In other words, moving from the 83 percent gap for full time workers, about one third of the deficit is explained by traits while two-thirds remains unexplained. For comparison, the comparable figure in the wider U.S. economy is 92 percent, meaning pro AV is doing slightly worse than the overall economy.

The 89 percent figure is disappointing. That a substantial percent of the pay difference remains unexplained after controlling for so much of what defines a worker’s value shows that our industry is substantially undervaluing women. And truthfully, the 89 percent figure is a trap. It seems like it’s the most apples-to-apples comparison, but it ignores the context. The difference in traits don’t happen in a vacuum; they stem—at least in part—from headwinds that blow stronger against women than men.

The Impact Of Societal Gender Differences

U.S. Census data on women in STEM
Women in 2019 made up nearly half of all U.S. workers in math (47 percent) and life and physical science (45 percent) occupations.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Women and men face different challenges in working in pro AV. One challenge that is particularly stark in our industry is that pro AV women do not have much company. In our pay survey, just 9 percent of respondents were women. This is similar to our InfoComm attendance, where the percent of women has risen but was still only about 14 percent in recent  years1. This infrequency means that it’s more challenging for some women to find role models and mentors, that some women feel like a less-welcome presence in a boys’ club. The result can be turnover and movement out of our industry.

An economy-wide challenge is aligning work with non-work responsibility, a challenge that McKinsey data shows has worsened with the pandemic. With the responsibility for home and family care that women take on more often than men, schedule inflexibility, long hours, and irregular hours are generally harder for women to manage. Then, if a company considers time spent in office during performance evaluation, women can get overlooked for promotion. Challenges such as the infrequency of women and extra non-work responsibilities are a part of the story of women in our industry, and they exemplify why it is inaccurate to look only at the “apples-to-apples” 89 percent comparison.

Closing The Pay Gap In AV

There are key takeaways here for our industry. One is that we need to take a hard look at our space: Why are women so uncommon? What barriers have we set up, generally without even realizing? How can we evolve our recruitment to avoid overlooking so many talented individuals? In an industry where talent is at a premium, companies cannot afford to simply ignore the gender gap.

Another takeaway is that there is untapped business potential in part-time workers. As we covered in a recent Macroeconomic Trends Analysis report, our industry is struggling to find enough skilled workers. Perhaps the best way to add to your workforce is to simply get more out of your existing employees and moving someone from part-time to full-time is a great way to do this. It’s adding someone who already knows the role, your company, and your clients. It’s the perfect hire! And if you understand the barriers to full-time work, you may be able to help some workers transition. Remote work and flexibility on hours help workers manage their home responsibilities while still completing their work (though such measures can be a challenge in pro AV when space access is time-limited and events have fixed schedules). Childcare benefits are useful as well.

A third takeaway is the importance of bringing women into decision-making roles. Creating a company culture that is unbiased to between women and men is seriously difficult if all input is from men. Diversifying your leadership team can help you connect with more clients and work more creatively as well.  Also, McKinsey data shows companies with stronger female representation in leadership are almost 50 percent more likely to outperform peer companies than those with male-only leadership.

A Need For Change

Women in pro AV earn less than men do, with U.S. women in our salary survey earning just 79 percent of what men do. Traits such as hours worked and experience account for some of the difference, but the gap only closes to 89 percent after controlling for all relevant and available traits. Women are simply not financially valued equally to men. Our industry can improve, and it should improve. Bringing pay equality for women in pro AV will benefit the companies who do it. And more importantly: It’s the right thing to do.

Endnotes

1 United States census research has found women make up 15 percent of those in engineering occupations.

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S&C august 2021 digital edition
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