Perceptions of gender inequity in salary and negotiation practices of school psychology faculty and practitioners

Adding to the complexity of shortages in school psychology, men and women may have different trajectories and demographic expectations in their career paths in school psychology

By Laura M. Crothers, Ara J. Schmitt, PhD, Tammy L. Hughes, PhD, Kisha Radliff, Lea A. Theodore, Sandra B. Ward, and John Lipinski

Shortages of school psychology faculty trainers and practitioners have been documented since the Thayer Conference in 1954 (Little, Akin-Little, & Tingstrom, 2004). One contributing feature to this dilemma is the aging of the profession, seen in increasing age trends in both practitioners and faculty (Reschly & Wilson, 1995). Additionally, Little et al. (2004) discuss possible reasons for the reluctance to pursue an academic position in school psychology, including the misperception that faculty salaries are lower than that of practitioners (Reschly & Wilson, 1995), perceived difficulty in achieving a work-life balance, and lack of confidence in researching and writing skills. The latter concern appears to be particularly salient for women, who have, in previous research, reported the experience of not as much mentoring as men received in these activities (Wilson & Reschly, 1995). Also present may be a disinclination to either pursue or remain in a practitioner role as a school psychologist. Reschly (2000) points out that because there has been no systematic study of attrition, "the number of school psychologists who leave public school positions for other settings or for professional careers in other fields or who discontinue employment temporarily or permanently," it is difficult to understand whether such a problem may contribute to the aforementioned shortages (p. 511).

Adding to the complexity of shortages in school psychology, men and women may have different trajectories and demographic expectations in their career paths in school psychology. Although men have historically exceeded the number of women in the field (Reschly, 2000), demographic shifts within the last thirty years have occurred. Women now comprise the majority of practitioners (74 percent) and academics (51.8 percent) in the field of school psychology (Curtis, Lopez, Batsche, & Smith, 2006). Despite their majority, however, numerous studies have documented that men receive higher salary packages than do women, regardless of employment setting (Akin-Little, Bray, Eckert, & Kehle, 2004; Crothers, Schmitt, Hughes, Theodore, & Lipinski, 2009; Crothers et al., 2009; Crothers et al., 2010; Curtis, Hunley, & Grier, 2002; Levinson, Rafoth, & Sanders, 1994; Reschly, 2000; Wilson & Reschly, 1995).

In a previous study (Crothers, Schmitt, Hughes, Theodore, & Lipinski, 2009), qualitative data were gathered in order 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. Individuals 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. This study was then replicated with school psychology practitioners to compare the findings from the sample of school psychology university trainers with that of school psychologists. Because of space constraints, data from the first two research questions were discussed in the first article in this series. This article will focus upon the data obtained from the second two research questions. The purpose of the present study, therefore, was to determine if common themes of responses were present within items and between samples and to explore if these themes may be used to understand gender disparity with respect to salary and to identify themes regarding gender differences in perceptions of the salary and promotion negotiation process.

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 e-mail 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 and data from 306 participants were appropriate for analysis (31 percent overall response rate). Table 1 includes the demographic characteristics of the full-time, school psychology faculty trainers.

Prospective school psychology faculty participants received an email solicitation inviting the individual to access a web address linked to SurveyMonkey. Three reminder emails were also sent to the American Psychological Association Division 16 listserv. Upon completion of the online survey, data from each participant were transmitted to an encrypted and secure, online database. If desired, each participant could 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 online database to further ensure anonymity.

Participants for the sample of school psychology practitioners were drawn from the membership of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). 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.

Table 1: Demographic characteristics of the survey respondents 

Demographic characteristics of the survey respondents

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 response rate. Participants completed the online survey and the data were transmitted to an encrypted and secure, online database accessible only by the researchers. After completing the survey, each participant could choose to enter a drawing for a $50, $75 or $100 Barnes and Noble gift card. If the participant chose to enter the drawing and provide his or her contact information, these data were also transmitted to an encrypted and secure 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. The practitioner survey was modified from the original instrument to speak to their employment 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-Kinkaid Grade Level = 12.4) by six school psychology university trainers.

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. Similarly, when the effects of years in position were statistically controlled, male school psychologists continued to earn significantly more than 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, and gave participants the opportunity, through open-ended prompts on the survey, to provide elaborative responses to questionnaire items.

In the sample of university faculty, most men and women faculty felt positively regarding the salary negotiation process and the majority was able to increase their salary. Interestingly, taken as a whole, there were no negative reports of penalty for initiating or participating in salary negotiations by male practitioners or academics or female practitioners. However, for a minority of faculty women engaged in the negotiation process, their gender was perceived to have a negative effect. Fifteen percent of faculty women reported ongoing negative sentiments, such as reporting repeat references to the salary request as "inappropriate," accompanied by reminders that colleagues "won't like you," and admonishments that they had "singled [themselves] out." As reported in Crothers et al. (2009), comments included, "I felt undervalued because I was told initially that it [my salary] was not negotiable. Had I not had the knowledge that new faculty had been hired at the salary I was requesting, I would have been shut out of any negotiation. I had to really push hard;" "I would really have to say [I feel] 'neutral' [about my salary negotiations] (neither positive nor negative). I was only able to negotiate a $500 salary increase. I had hoped for about $2,000 more…;" and "[I felt] positive that my compensation package was increased, but dissatisfied with the extent to which it was increased" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 59).

Overall, gender did not impact participation in the negotiation process for practitioners or trainers. Most men and women faculty expressed positive feelings about the salary negotiation process, and 90 percent or more of the faculty and practitioner respondents did not believe they were penalized for engaging in such negotiations. Although male practitioners and academics reported no penalty for negotiating, a small group of women expressed that gender had a negative impact on the negotiation process, and they suffered negative outcomes. For example, female school psychology practitioners indicated, "Yes, [my gender had a negative impact on the negotiation process] in that I feel my status as a young woman was significantly diminished in comparison to my more seasoned, male colleague," "I think that my negotiation attempt appeared as unseemly for a woman," and "The male colleague who was given the leadership position didn't come close to me in experience, credentials or even popularity among our staff." In the Crothers et al. (2009) study, female faculty were more likely to believe that they were penalized for negotiation attempts, reporting clear, consistent and negative treatment by colleagues and administrators regardless of employment setting.

In essence, what these female faculty members described as experiencing was relational aggression in the workplace. Relational aggression is a form of bullying that is distinguished by the manipulation of social relationships and includes ostracizing, gossiping, and diminishing another individual's status. For instance, comments included, "The Provost was my enemy after I tried unsuccessfully to negotiate. He singled me out for unfair treatment" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60) and "The dean repeatedly made comments about my attempts to negotiate when I was first hired" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60). One female faculty noted that she "received [a] poor evaluation by [my] supervisor" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 60) when she attempted to negotiate an increase in salary. Significantly, female school psychology faculty reported receiving negative comments regarding engaging in the negotiation process, with statements indicating that this type of behavior is inappropriate, selfish, and disrespectful of other faculty.

In the sample of school psychology practitioners, no gender differences were found in the role of gender in perceived penalization in the sample of school psychology practitioners, with 100 percent of the male school psychologists and 86.7 percent of the female school psychologists reporting that their gender did not impact their promotion negotiation outcomes. However, a few women did report their gender negatively affected their promotion negotiations. For instance, one female practitioner commented, "I applied for the lead psychologist position. The only other applicant was a male with a clinical PsyD, less experience in public schools, not a member of NASP or an NCSP, didn't have an administrator certificate (I hold a principal certificate in addition to my School Psych credentials and an MS in Special Ed). When I protested when he got the job that I was better qualified I was cut out of opportunities to supervise interns and contribute to our staff with presentations etc. I fondly refer to myself as 'Dr Pariah.'"

Likewise, the majority of the faculty participants in the Crothers et al. (2009) study did not indicate receiving any penalties for promotion negotiation (females = 95.7 percent; males = 96.9 percent) and gender differences were not found. It is plausible that this is the result of university and/or union decrees regarding promotion. However, of the participants who did indicate that they negotiated for promotion, they reported that they were admonished for their behavior. Comments included, "The associate dean was scolding and seemed 'put out' by having to speak with me. She indicated that I was asking for more than other faculty members made, which may be true, but I also was aware of what new hire professors made and was asking for that salary. I [was] initially told a negotiation was not possible but I pushed forward anyway. My negotiation when I was hired was more favorable and met with appropriate professional behavior from the dean" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 61), and another female faculty reported that she was "scolded, [and] told I was unprofessional" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 61).

In the current investigation, the penalties that the female negotiators reported to suffer, in addition to salary disparity in favor of males, were characterized by victimization associated with relational aggression. The responses of women, both practitioners and trainers, who reported to receive negative treatment for engaging in salary negotiations suggest that they were targets of relational aggression. In some cases, female respondents referenced an unsupportive work culture for women where they were perceived to be distracted by personal responsibilities. In other instances, female negotiators reported to be labeled as "callous" or "selfish." Women complained of being admonished by supervisors for making salary requests. In such situations, supervisors communicated to the female negotiators that their requests were inappropriate and/or their colleagues would not like them as a result of engaging in such behaviors. For example, one respondent indicated, "I believe that it was seen as unseemly for a woman to be complaining about salary" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 61). Another practitioner commented, "I think I could have pushed for more money but I was too self-conscious to do so" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 61).

The impact of relational aggression on the worker and organization can be profound. With respect to the consequences of relational aggression upon employees, relational aggression has been linked to increased emotional dysregulation, increased depressive affect, lower self-esteem, increased physical complaints, greater alcohol use, distress in friendships and decrease in friendship quality (Hickman, 2006). Relational aggression also has effects upon the workplace, including distressed supervisor relationships, decreased job satisfaction, increased job stress, less adaptive responses to problems, and increased organizational aggression (Crothers, Lipinski, & Minutolo, 2009; Hickman, 2006). The findings of the current study suggest that the women practitioners and trainers who perceive the salary negotiation process and outcomes as negative are often victims of relational aggression. Thus, they may be more likely to suffer further interpersonal consequences in the workplace.

In the Crothers et al. (2009) study, 64 percent of respondents indicated that gender did not impact the outcome of the negotiation process. However, of the 36 percent who did perceive that gender was a factor in negotiations, the majority were female professors who experienced recurring negative interactions with other faculty and administration, significant salary differentials (an $8,000 range), and inequitable allocation of resources. Comments included.

"I believe I was offered a lower salary to start with and even after negotiations, it was still lower that [sic] male counterparts in my department" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 59) and "I was told years after working in the department that the then chair did not negotiate as strongly with the dean for women who had a husband since he felt that they were not the family 'breadwinner'" (Crothers et al., 2009, p. 59).

Moreover, 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. For most practitioners and academics, gender did not impact negotiation outcomes. However, for those who perceived a bias, female faculty were more likely to believe that they were penalized for negotiation attempts, reporting clear, consistent and negative treatment by colleagues and administrators regardless of employment setting.

When examining the qualitative themes for women who reported that they were penalized for engaging in salary negotiations, practitioners and faculty alike reported being targets of relational aggression. For practitioners, the threat of relational aggression was enough to dissuade both men and women from considering negotiations. Practitioner comments included "it is not worth the effort" and "…not worth the stress and poor treatment." For female practitioners and faculty who perceived gender bias, the elaborative responses shared a common theme of extensive victimization by supervisors via relational aggression, most often accompanied by no salary increase. The ability to manage real or perceived relational aggression in the workplace may prove to be as important as developing negotiation skills. The noxious work environment that male and female respondents described as the result of relational aggression in response to bargaining attempts may prove to be more damaging to their quality of life than lower levels of pay.


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Corresponding author

Laura M. Crothers
G3B Canevin Hall
Department of Counseling
Psychology, and Special Education
Duquesne University
600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
Telephone: (412) 396-1409