Inspired by President Barack Obama's call for gender pay equity in the workplace, I conducted a systematic analysis - something non-social scientists refer to as counting - to test whether a prominent nonprofit organization practices gender equity.
Much to my horror, the answer appears to be no.
This is a prestigious and high-paying organization, known for employing annoying type-A executives who spend a few years in public service before going on to great riches in the private sector. Within the CEO's own office, 468 employees earn a combined pay of $37.8 million. Of these, 139 earn more than $100,000 and the median salary is $65,667. Nice pay even in the high-cost city where the organization operates.
Here is why Obama and gender equity groups should put this organization in their sights. Under its current leadership, this organization is known for its tough, macho workplace, with preference given to those who play sports with the CEO. It goes without saying that the CEO is male; so is his No. 2. Twelve of the organization's 15 division leaders, referred to informally as cabinet secretaries, are male.
Judging by the apparent gender of their names, 14 of the 20 highest-paid employees in the office of the CEO are male. They make a hefty $172,200 or more. Ten of 17 employees making from $150,000 to $170,000 are male. Yet 58 of the 105 lowest-paid employees, those making less than $50,000 annually, are women.
Promoting and paying people based on their gender or sexual orientation rather than their performance may explain why this organization has failed to balance the books for years and has lost confidence among roughly half of its funders.
In the data are a number of names whose gender I did not code, Leslie and Takesha among the 52 highly paid employees and Ximena, Namrata, Jordan, London, Roque, Nijah, and Jesse among the 105 lowest-paid.
Perhaps the CEO discriminates against those with gender neutral or "ethnic" names. After all, until recently he opposed same-sex marriage, suggesting that he holds a traditional, bigoted approach to issues of inclusion. (For the record, I've long supported same-sex marriage, but I am reluctant to judge those who disagree with me, particularly if they do so out of deeply held religious convictions rather than mere fashion.) The CEO talks a lot about values and hard work, so he is probably a social conservative.
On the other hand, it could just be that given changing naming norms, younger employees are more likely to have gender neutral names and also to work further down in the hierarchy, since they lack experience.
Just in case you haven't guessed, the CEO is Obama, and the organization is his White House and cabinet. Since social science is all about replications, I would urge others to try their own calculations. The Los Angeles Times (http://spreadsheets.latimes.com/
white-house-salaries-2012/) lets you check out who gets what in the Obama White House.
My main point is that if you want to "get" someone on charges of discrimination, you nearly always can. For a wide range of reasons, usually having nothing to do with discrimination, no workplace ever perfectly resembles America.
I would like to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and presume that he does not discriminate against women - or even against those with androgynous names. I would like to presume that the president simply responds to the market - which job-seekers apply for and earn jobs. I have no desire to dispatch litigators, regulators and officers to make the president squirm over every hiring decision.
I just wish the president would grant other employers the same courtesy.
Robert Maranto is the 21st century chair in leadership at the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. With collaborators, he has produced two books on the Obama presidency. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.