Your Source for Learning
Technology, Strategy, and News
ARTICLES       RSS feed RSS feed

The Gender Pay Gap in e-Learning

by Temple Smolen

July 14, 2010


by Temple Smolen

July 14, 2010

“We have both the power and capability to reverse this problem to eliminate gender from the equation of fair compensation within our field. We can create adjustments, and even do so within an existing budget pool for salary increases, to appropriately allocate and equalize salaries across teams based on performance, education, years of experience, and any other criteria that an organization uses to calculate salaries. It won’t happen overnight, but it can shift over time.”

Recently, The eLearning Guild published the 2010 e-Learning Salary and Compensation report. Among other findings, one topic that generated much discussion in social networks online is the 14.5% gap in gender pay in e-Learning. Janet Clarey started a blog carnival with Cammy Bean, Julie Dirksen, and Kelly Garber to explore the subject.

The emotions expressed in the social learning discussions seem to range from confusion to anger as to why in today’s world we are still facing this issue. In response to that interest, and out of my own curiosity to find the data source of the difference, I drilled down further into the data to see if I could find a key conclusion or answer to the questions being asked in our e-Learning community. Sadly, after much analysis and exploration of the data, I could not identify one obvious potential root cause to isolate or explain the difference in data. The discrepancy in gender pay is pervasive across almost all job roles, states, degrees, and levels of experience.

As discussed in the report, the initial summary findings were that while e-Learning pay for women is 37% better than the national average as reported by The National Organization for Women for full-time regular employees, as a field across part-time vs. full-time status and employee vs. contractor designation categories, men on average earn 14.5% more than women. (See Figures 1 and 2.)


horizontal bar chart

Figure 1. The U.S. gender gap in e-Learning ($)


split vertical chart

Figure 2. The U.S. gender gap in e-Learning (%)


When broken down into an hourly rate, while the gap is even more prominent for part-time employees than full-time, men are still paid higher than women across all categories. (See Figure 3.) The gap is most significant with part-time regular employee hourly rates where men earn almost twice as much as women while working a similar number of hours per week.


horizontal bar chartFigure 3. The U.S. gender gap in e-Learning by hourly rate.


The source of this data is from eLearning Guild members filtered for the year from January 1, 2009 to January 1, 2010. It represents more than 6,000 responses from across the United States. Women make up 56.7% of the survey respondents.

To investigate this further, I examined the data in greater detail to determine if any variables could be identified that might isolate the difference. My friend and colleague, Patti Shank, suggested it might be because more men tend to be developers, and developers receive higher pay than other e Learning roles. That hypothesis had potential, so I cross-referenced job roles with gender. Men are paid more than women in all job roles, with the one exception of technical writing. There are bright spots in this data though, where the gap is narrower between women in some job roles, such as Instructional Design and Research and Development.

For Figure 4, please bear in mind that the data is not statistically significant for the specific job roles with low response counts. The eLearning Guild generally does not publish data with counts this low or with this much detail, but for purposes of this discussion, it seems useful to have this information, whether statistically significant or not.


horizontal bar chart

Figure 4. The U.S. gender gap by job role.


As shown in Figure 4, some job roles do have significantly more men working in them than women relative to the sample of data, and therefore provide some explanation for the difference in pay. As noted above, women represent 56.7% of the respondents. In any job where women in the job make up less than 57.6% of those in that role, that will explain some of the source of some incremental discrepancies. For example, in Executive Management, men represent 68.3% or 25% more than the average respondents of 43.3%men. This works out to an explanation of $209.95 of the overall $11,400 discrepancy in annual average difference in gender pay.

Executive Management Example:

25% difference = 55.25 more men than average respondents

Salary difference = $22,800 greater salary for men than women

55.25 * 22,800 = $1,259,700 more pay for men

$1,259,700 / 6,000 respondents = $209.95 explanation of discrepancy in gender pay


Therefore, some jobs that have more men in them are higher paying jobs and therefore may explain incremental amounts of the discrepancy, but combined together comprise a relatively small total and are not enough to explain the overall $11,400 average difference in pay. Also, based on the current pay for women in those roles, it appears the overall discrepancy would worsen if more women worked in those higher paying roles.

Patti’s hypothesis explained a small portion of the discrepancy, but not enough to cover the full amount, so I explored other potential variables. I evaluated gender against the geographic state to see if some regional areas were different than others. Yet again, men are paid more than women in almost every state, with the exceptions of Connecticut and Tennessee. Since states with small response counts are grouped together as “Other States,” the data in Figure 5 and all subsequent charts are statistically significant.


horizontal bar chart

Figure 5. Gender gap by U.S. state


I then compared gender to education level. I questioned whether men have more advanced degrees with higher pay than women. (See Figure 6.)


horizontal bar chart

Figure 6. U.S. gender gap by education level.


Table 1 shows the distribution of advanced degrees. Each comparison of degrees needs to be adjusted against the source of 56.7% women in the data. For example, the female respondents in the survey have 2.9% more Master’s degrees ((1,709 women/2,866 total) – 56.7% = 2.9%) than the male respondents, and 5.1% fewer Doctorate degrees. While the average of $12,700 greater pay for Doctorate degrees could explain the discrepancy if there were more respondents that category, there are not enough men in that group to significantly impact the overall discrepancy. There are 5.1% more men than the average of 43.3% men with Doctorate degrees, and that only explains $46.42 of the annual $11,400 average difference in gender pay.


Table 1. Distribution of advanced degrees among women who responded


Percentage of Women with Degree

Difference from Data Source

Less Than Two Years Higher Education



Associate’s Degree



Bachelor’s Degree



Master’s Degree







Years of experience in e-Learning did not explain the difference either (Figure 7).


horizontal bar chart

Figure 7. Years in e-Learning by gender.


Finally, out of curiosity as to whether the problem seeped into supplemental pay too, I compared gender to bonus pay (Figure 8). The discrepancy in gender pay crosses over into supplemental pay too. As an aside, it was also intriguing to see that part-time and full-time men earn a comparable bonus, while part-time women earn a significantly lower bonus than full-time women.


horizontal bar chart

Figure 8. The U.S. gender gap in pay extends to bonus pay as well.


While my more detailed investigation into the data did highlight small pockets of an explanation, it did not illuminate any large-scale sources of the discrepancy in gender pay. In fact, it confirmed that the issue is pervasive across almost all job roles, states, degrees, and years of experience. It is, most likely, a cultural bias, and it is a problem we have been facing for four generations of women in the workforce. However, the gap does appear to be closing over time nationally, and in the field of e-Learning, we are doing better than the national average.

If we want to change the situation, we in the e-Learning field are the epitome of change catalysts. We have first-hand experience in enacting growth and change in organizations. As an e-Learning community, we also represent all levels of management. We have both the power and capability to reverse this problem to eliminate gender from the equation of fair compensation within our field. We can create adjustments, and even do so within an existing budget pool for salary increases, to appropriately allocate and equalize salaries across teams based on performance, education, years of experience, and any other criteria that an organization uses to calculate salaries. It won’t happen overnight, but it can shift over time.

Use the examples in the last section of the 2010 Salary and Compensation Report to calculate the fair “average” salary for yourself or your employees without gender as a variable. If you already enjoy fair or above average compensation without a gender bias, then congratulate yourself. If not, chart a course to enact a small change for you or your team. That course could include first presenting your findings to the person in your organization responsible for determining the budget pool for salary increases, or your direct management. If your organization is large enough and has a dedicated compensation analyst, get them involved. Reach out to the decision makers and analytical folks in your organization who can influence a change. It is highly possible that the problem is pervasive across other fields and job roles within your organization and may even grow in scope. If everyone starts with making small incremental changes within their own team, we will see large scale results over time.

If you are an independent contractor, you might want to consider increasing your rate for new incoming clients or upon contract negotiations based on the formulas and tools provided in the report. A time-tested and excellent book on negotiating is Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. If your management or client is not responsive to your argument and you feel you are underpaid, whether you are male or female, you may want to evaluate if it is worth it for you to stay in the job or look elsewhere.

I greatly desire that future Guild salary and compensation reports will show the gender gap close a little bit each year until eventually it becomes an irrelevant variable in pay. In fact, let’s set a goal right now to close the gap in gender pay by 3% each year for 5 years until we establish equal pay in 2015.


National Organization for Women:

Fisher, R., Ury, W. (1991). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Penguin Group. New York, NY.

The discrepancy in gender pay crosses over into supplemental pay too. As an aside, it was also intriguing to see that part-time and full-time men earn a comparable bonus, while part-time women earn a significantly lower bonus than full-time women.

Topics Covered

Appreciate this!
Google Plusone Twitter LinkedIn Pinterest Facebook Email Print

Login or subscribe to comment

If this is self-reported information, is it possible that men tend to exaggerate their earnings in ways that women do not? I don't know if any research has been done in gender accuracy of self-reported income. But it seems possible to me that men base more of their self-worth on income and thus might be more inclined to inflate their incomes.
There's always that possibility in any self-reported data. However, considering the numbers of responses to this, and the consistency across industries, locations, jobs, etc., it seems kind of unlikely that much of that was going on. Unless there were a few guys who told some real whoppers (and they would have shown up in the other analysis that Temple did that is not shown here). Sad to say, the gender gap is real (and it seems to be smaller in e-Learning professions than in others or in the US at large). -- Editor
Is there any indication that Men change jobs more frequently than Women?

Scenario: Dave changes jobs every two years and sees a sizable bump in salary with each new position. Meanwhile, Debbie stays at the same company, seeing only a two to three percent increase in salary each year. After 10 years, those differences would really add up.
Please do not white wash a gender inequity issue with a classic example of the 'the men exaggerated their earnings'. If we do not look the monster in the eye, we cannot defeat it. It is based in bias, but the women are the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the men who are also affected and this balance cannot happen without men being on board with us. When we earn less, it takes money out of our collective pockets, lives, potential for a nestegg, etc. We need to tackle this together. Thanks for an awesome anaylsis. I plan to share it with my AAUW friends.
Saying that men exagerrating their earnings as a possible cause is not a whitewash; it was a plausible inquiry that could lead to other factors that are involved. But the accusation that it is a whitewash is a sure sign of reverse gender bias and a closed mind. So is looking for monsters to look in the eye.

Until people stop blaming and start researching possible causes and solutions, we will be stuck in a useless exchange of vitriol. Let's do as the author suggests and continue to explore all possible root causes and test them against reality; not monsters. Then let's take a proactive stance to do something about pay iniquity. Perhaps an alliance with SHRM would be beneficial as gender pay iniquity is much less an issue in HR.

Perhaps the e-Learning Guild could sponsor a thorough study on this subject as a follow up to this study and do an even deeper dive into causes: lack of mentoring, differences in length of service at organizations, differences in length of service within an industry, etc.

Even better, why not develop and offer an e-learning program designed to help people get paid what they deserve regardless of race, sex, religion, disability, etc.
Temple (and Patti), thank you for the time you put into this report.

In the future, I hope fellow Guild members will take time to complete the surveys the Guild sends to us, to provide more data for analysis. (Four fingers pointing back at me; guilty as charged.)

As a woman, this saddens me. However, as a consultant, I do "reject" jobs that would pay me $25 to $35 an hour. My two best clients are women, and they pay me what I ask for, and what I'm worth.

Their testimonials and learner feedback all support my "higher" hourly rate.
I think some of the previous comments could attribute to some of the gap. Could it also be possible that men are more aggressive and negotiate more than women? For example, the employer offers a job at $XX rate, do women tend to more readily accept the offer as is while men are more apt to negotiate and ask for more? I did not see this mentioned anywhere in the article, so looking at it from this point of view it seems that you are placing the blame on the employer or insinuating that the employer is the root of this, when it fact it may be the opposite.

Also, when you say to increase your rate, are women setting their rates lower than men in the first place, and/or negotiating or accepting lower rates to get/keep work as contractors, where men may be more likely to turn down the same work if they will not get their rate? The previous comment said she gets what she asks for. Are women just asking for less in the first place?

There are many reasons that could cause women to earn less. You have covered the ones that are obvious first thoughts, but have ignored the other side of the issue. I like the article and think it raises much needed attention to the issue and some valid points, but as a woman author on the subject it seems that you have a 'victim' mentality and have not explored any other reason or way of thinking that could be contributing to the gap.
There are obviously many factors involved, and claiming that one "side" or the other is mostly to blame is unrealistic.

In my 28-year experience as a woman in this field I've seen both employers and employees devalue women's work. I was offered low pay by both women and men--it's not a conspiracy by just one gender; it's a cultural problem.

I'd like to encourage women to require higher pay. Barbara Stanny's book "Overcoming Overearning" helps women recognize messages that it's somehow "wrong" to make or demand a decent amount of money and includes tips for tuning out those messages and taking action.

It would also be refreshing to see the Elearning Guild recognize women's contributions to the field by, for example, having female keynote speakers at their conferences. While the men that have been hired over the years clearly have useful things to say, there are also women who have ideas as well.
I'm always wary of articles that compare one property against another without giving the full picture. It makes me feel like the author is on some kind of personal crusade; that they're only using facts and figures that are convenient for their argument; that they lack credibility as a result.

Let's take 50 men and 50 women who work in an organisation and ask them what their salaries are. Let's take these figures without any context and let's draw our conclusions from them: wow, men are paid more than women so this is OBVIOUSLY a case of gender discrimination!

Oh but wait, what's this? A higher percentage of the management team are male and therefore the male average is obviously going to be higher because of the higher responsibility that these people have in their jobs. Who'd have thought?

And what's this? The vast majority of bonus schemes work as a percentage of salary and so because the average male salary is higher than that of women (because there are more men in senior positions than women) then their bonuses are obviously going to be higher as well. Amazing!

Seriously, I'm all for equality (but REAL equality - positive discrimination is just as wrong as standard discrimination and I tolerate neither in my company), but to achieve the equality that you are obviously striving for, you need to be taken seriously when you put forward your arguments. In order to be taken seriously you need to present the WHOLE picture - not just the little pieces that suit you.

The question of WHY there are more men in senior positions within companies is another topic entirely, but before you jump onto that and claim that it's another example of gender discrimination how about you consider for a second that maybe - just maybe - some of those men are in those jobs because they were the best applicants on the day?

Anyone who is unhappy with their salary (be they male or female) should consider the value they bring to their employer and why they are being paid less than someone else before they begin to bleat about discrimination - more often than not discrimination is pretty low down on the list of factors.
Related Articles