Research Forum

Salary and negotiation practices in school psychology faculty and practitioners

The purpose of this study was to examine and compare the practices, perceptions and outcomes of the salary negotiation process with special consideration to the impact of gender

A trend in the field of psychology as a whole, and in school psychology in particular, is the increase in women populating the profession. Rosenfield (2004) describes this as the “feminization of school psychology.” Data from numerous studies (Curtis, 2002; Little, Akin-Little, & Tingstrom, 2004) document the steady increase of women in practitioner roles and academia since the early 1970s (18 percent; Farling & Hoedt, 1971; 50 percent; Reschly, 2000; respectively) to 74 percent of practitioners (Curtis, Lopez, Batsche, & Smith, 2006) and 51.8 percent of the school psychology professorate in 2004.

This data suggest that despite the number of women enrolled in school psychology graduate study (80 percent of all students; Thomas, 1998), most women entering the profession of school psychology assume practitioner roles. Additionally, for women who do choose a career in academia, there is a tendency to occupy positions in non-doctoralgranting institutions (Akin-Little, Bray, Eckert, & Kehle, 2004; Fouad et al., 2000). Of additional interest, numerous studies (Akin-Little et al., 2004; Levinson, Rafoth, & Sanders, 1994; Reschly, 2000; Wilson & Reschly, 1995) suggest that gender differences exist in employment conditions such as salary, with men receiving compensation packages that are significantly greater than those received by their female peers.

In an investigation by Curtis, Hunley, and Grier (2002), data from a national survey of practicing school psychologists revealed that differences in salary existed between men and women regardless of level of training and amount of experience. These authors suggest that this issue should be investigated further because of its potential relationship to job satisfaction and “conclusions regarding motivation to stay in the field and ultimately to decisions regarding choices for professional practice activities” (Curtis et al., 2002, p. 39).

In response to this suggestion of Curtis and colleagues (2002), Crothers, Schmitt, Hughes, Theodore, and Lipinski (2009) gathered qualitative data to provide current information of the employment characteristics and conditions of U.S. university school psychology trainers with regard to potential differences between males and females. Participants responded to qualitative prompts regarding their: 1) preparations for negotiating for salary and promotion, 2) perceptions of likelihood to engage in future negotiation, 3) perceived impact of gender upon salary and promotion negotiation and, 4) general impressions of negotiation and their negotiation outcomes.

The researchers then replicated this study with school psychology practitioners to compare the findings from the sample of school psychology university trainers with that of school psychologists. The purpose of the present study, therefore,is to determine if common themes of responses were present within items and between samples and to explore: 1) if these themes may be used to understand gender disparity with respect to salary and 2) themes regarding gender differences in perceptions of the salary and promotion negotiation process. Because of space constraints, data from the first two research questions will be reviewed here, and a subsequent article will present data from the second two research questions.

For the sample of university trainers, all graduate school psychology programs in the U.S. listed in "Best Practices in School Psychology" (5th edition; Thomas & Grimes, 2008) were identified and all associated full-time faculty were considered potential participants. Through the website of each school psychology program, the email address of each potential participant was obtained. Of the 1026 identified trainers, 353 acted on an email recruiting participation in this study (34 percent response rate). The responses of each respondent were reviewed to verify full time employment as a school psychology faculty trainer. As a result of this process, the responses of 306 participants were appropriate for analysis (31 percent overall response rate). Table 1 includes the demographic characteristics of the faculty trainer participants.

Prospective participants in the first sample received an e-mail solicitation inviting the individual to access a web address linked to SurveyMonkey. Three reminder e-mails were also sent to the American Psychological Association Division 16: School Psychology listserv. Upon completion of the online survey, data from each participant were transmitted to an encrypted and secure, online database. Each participant could elect to provide contact information to be entered into a drawing for a $50, $75 or $100 Barnes and Noble gift card. These data were transmitted to a separate, encrypted and secure, online database to further ensure anonymity.

School psychology practitioners who were members of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) comprised the second sample. Prior to the solicitation of participants to contribute to this study, NASP Institutional Review Board approval was received and a list of names and contact information for 1,000 randomly selected practitioners were obtained. Of the 1,000 practitioners who were identified, 63 were eliminated because they were not presently practicing. One hundred twenty-eight responded to the first postcard request and 76 responded  to the second postcard request soliciting their participation for the study (22 percent response rate). See Table 1 for a demographic description of the practitioner sample.

Prospective school psychology practitioner participants received a postcard in the mail inviting each to complete a survey regarding the salary and negotiation practices of currently employed school psychologists. The postcard briefly explained the purpose of the study and included a web address that directed the participant to the survey, which was posted on SurveyMonkey. After three weeks, a reminder postcard solicitation was mailed to maximize the response rate.

Participants completed the online survey and the data were transmitted to an encrypted and secure, online database. Only the researchers could access the collected data. Participants could choose to enter a drawing for a $50, $75 or $100 Barnes and Noble gift card. The participants that elected to enter the drawing provided contact information that was also transmitted to an encrypted and secure, online database to ensure anonymity. The school psychology faculty trainer survey used in the present study was also used in Crothers et al. (2009, 2010) to examine the salary and negotiation practices of school psychology faculty. As such, items directly referenced negotiation practices as a university faculty member. The practitioner survey was modified from the aforementioned instrument in that items asked participants to report on various demographic characteristics and information regarding their position as a practicing school psychologist. Other questions on both surveys were designed to assess issues such as job satisfaction and job negotiation procedures, outcomes, and perceptions of the experience. The number, content, and order of survey items were identical between the trainer and practitioner surveys. As differences in responses by gender were anticipated, (e.g., Akin- Little et al., 2004, Crothers et al., 2010), participants were provided text boxes to supply elaborative details. The survey was reviewed for content pertinence, word specificity, and readability (Flesch-KinkaidGrade Level = 12.4) by six school psychology university trainers.

Table 1 depicts the data compiled relevant to gender, ethnicity, highest earned degree, credentials and years in position of the responding school psychology practitioners and university faculty. As reported in Crothers et al. (2010), male faculty were found to earn higher salaries than female faculty, even when controlling for the effects of years employed in the position. Furthermore, these findings were also observed among school psychology practitioners.

When the effects of years in position were statistically controlled, male school psychologists earned significantly more than did their female peers. Additional analyses revealed that contract length and educational attainment did not explain this disparity. Based on this and previous research (Akin-Little et al., 2004; Levinson et al., 1994; Reschly, 2000; Wilson & Reschly, 1995), we hypothesized that school psychologists would find negotiation skills an essential tool for navigating employment conditions and outcomes. As such, the survey afforded participants the opportunity to provide elaborative responses to questionnaire items.

Overall, the findings of this research show that salary negotiation is not expected, nor is it an option for practitioners seeking employment in school systems. In this sample of school psychology practitioners, 29.9 percent of females and 35.7 percent of males reported engaging in salary negotiations, and 4.2 percent of females and 5.5 percent of males indicated that they had negotiated for a promotion, with no differences by gender found for either salary or promotion negotiations. Practitioner remarks suggested that both males and females reported that unions or other bargaining units were responsible for the salary negotiation process.

In contrast, Crothers et al. (2009, 2010) found that salary negotiations were expected, and for males encouraged, when seeking academic positions. For example, 65 percent of female and 68 percent of male faculty negotiated for salary increases, although males (27 percent) are significantly more likely than females (17 percent) to negotiate for promotion (Crothers et al., 2009, 2010). Because there were no significant differences between male and female practitioners’ salary or promotion negotiation initiatives and male and female faculty members’ salary negotiation attempts, it is unlikely that the willingness to engage in salary or promotion negotiation explains the salary differences reported.

The data support that salary negotiation is a common practice and necessary skill for trainers and but has less value for practitioners. The majority of practitioners did not engage in any negotiation activities due to the responsibilities of unions and bargaining units for salary negotiation in their work settings. However, a majority of university school psychology faculty did negotiate salary. Interestingly, despite the recognition that salary negation is part of the job-seeking process, most school psychology faculty members do not prepare nor do they consult with colleagues regarding how effectively to ask for a salary increase. Moreover, few faculty trainers (13 percent) interview with other academic institutions to negotiate a more advantageous compensation package in their current place of employment (Crothers et al., 2009, 2010). As in the previous study, neither gender differences nor clear themes were found to elucidate the lack of preparation for bargaining.

As mentioned previously, given the unions and bargaining associations affiliated with public school systems, it is less likely that school psychologists applying for employment in the schools would individually negotiate for salary increases. However, of those individuals who did negotiate, there was evidence of frustration regarding the process. For instance, one practitioner stated, “I was told upon hire that I would be placed on a particular ‘step’ on the salary guide, but after hire, discovered that I was on a different step and could not be on the one I was told I would have due to union issues,” while another stated that she “was given explanation of ‘district policy’ and the impression that ‘no one’ could change it,” and yet another practitioner reported, “The district did not recognize that my specialist level degree equaled (at minimum) a masters plus 30 semester credits. I currently have over 130 semester credits, as I am working toward my Ph.D. In addition, I am bilingual Spanish/English (none of this helped me).” Interestingly, practitioners seemed disappointed in union and bargaining groups’ attempts at negotiation, as indicated by comments such as, “[The] union negotiated [an] increase in salary by less than 2 percent” and “Overall, it was the right thing to do for the group, but it was very stressful.”

Similarly, in the Crothers et al. (2009) investigation, discontentment was found for both male and female faculty trainers in the negotiation process. With respect to faculty, the dissatisfaction was found to be attributed to several issues. First was the perception of preferential treatment for members of the opposite sex, race, ethnicity, and color. Comments included, “In my initial negotiations I was compared to a non-tenure track white male. I was informed through another person that I should not be making more than that person. I am a tenured full professor and that did not help me either. I was also denied the raise that accompanies the full professor rank because of my negotiations. I believe my sex and ethnicity impactedmy negotiations. The worst part is the HR person making the final decision was a Latina” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60) and “I am quite sure that gender influenced my first appointment level salary, which has driven all future ‘raises’” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60).

Second is the issue of marital status. Both men and women made comments suggesting that marriage and focus on external work-related issues such as raising a family lent themselves to problems for women. For instance, “The university blatantly discriminated [against] married women as ‘not needing as much’ as men; I suggested this was not a good idea AT ALL…” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60), “I was told informally that since I had a husband, my needs were not the same as the man who was trying to support a wife and new baby (I have no children)” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60), “My marital status may have played a role,” and “I feel that my salary is too low, but family circumstances were a factor in my taking this job, and my employer was aware of that” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60).

Finally, weak negotiation skills due to a lack of assertiveness evidenced by female applicants played a role in their frustration with the negotiation process. The stereotypical characteristic of avoiding confrontation and wanting to be liked by colleagues negatively impacted females in their salary negotiations. For example, women faculty reported, “I really don’t know how to negotiate at all” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60), and “It is a very uncomfortable process and it seldom has a positive outcome” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60). The inability or lack of desire to negotiate for what a female believes her value to the university would be worth has resulted in uneven workload distributions and the perception that female faculty are less productive than their male colleagues (Crothers et al., 2009).

Despite reports of adverse treatment for engaging in salary negotiations that will be discussed in the subsequent article, two-thirds of female practitioners and 90 percent of female faculty reported that they would engage in future negotiations. This is particularly surprising because, for the vast majority of male and female practitioners, there was no opportunity to negotiate for salary, benefits, or time off. While male respondents overwhelmingly indicated that negotiation is not possible due to unions and bargaining units, female school psychologist practitioners commented, “I would try to negotiate my salary, since this is the only avenue for increasing one’s compensation package;” “Negotiation is the only way to advance one’s salary;” “You have more to gain by negotiation than not questioning or asking;” and, “If at first you fail, try, try again.”

Most academics reported that learning about and engaging in the negotiation process was an essential aspect of career maintenance. Along these lines, one respondent noted, “Yes, I believe you don’t get rewarded for good work without advocating for yourself, [and] you have to ‘play the system’ to get ahead” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 59). Another faculty member reported that she would negotiate for better benefits, commenting, “I might negotiate for other things, but probably not for salary, at least not at this institution.This is based on the fact that I did not receive much of a salary increase when I initially negotiated, and based on the fact that pay increases are determined based on a merit/equity system that I think works reasonably well…” (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 59).

Female faculty members acknowledged their need for skill improvement in the area of negotiation, citing their lack of knowledge in the area, discomfort with the process, and low levels of assertiveness. Additionally, the lack of preparation school psychologists reported prior to salary negotiations may suggest that such individuals believe they should instinctively possess bargaining skills or that they do not know how to acquire this knowledge. This finding highlights the need for training of school psychologists in negotiations skills, especially for those who will work in academic settings. For female school psychologists, it is particularly important that training includes skill development in managing real or perceived relational aggression.

The purpose of this study was to examine and compare the practices, perceptions, and outcomes of the salary negotiation process among school psychology trainers and practitioners with special consideration of the impact of gender on the negotiation process. Interestingly, the need  to engage in salary negotiation seems to be a critical skill for academics and of less value for practitioners. Overall, the vast majority of practitioners did not participate in any type of negotiation, whereas a large majority of university school psychology faculty did negotiate their salaries. For most practitioners and academics, gender did not impact negotiation outcomes.

This data highlights the ongoing complexity of training school psychologists who will find themselves in a variety of work settings. For example, the importance of learning salary negotiation skills seems to be critical for those school psychologists who will work in academic settings. However, there seems to be less of a need of negotiation skills for school practitioners who report that they do not have the opportunity to increase their salaries outside of an agreement made by a union or collective bargaining unit.


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