The Challenges Ahead, The Path Forward

August 26, 2019 Heather Hoerle

For nearly a year I have been laboring over the right way to communicate my deep unhappiness with EMA’s 2019 State of the Independent School Industry research findings. The entire report, issued this summer, paints a troubling picture of the internal workings in our schools when it comes to enrollment management. Across a broad swath of schools, spanning regions, school types, and school selectivity, it is apparent that enrollment management best practices are not being put to use. 

Yet for me, what was truly unsettling is the reported gender pay disparity between men and women in the independent school enrollment profession. As a woman who grew up in the 1970’s, watching a record number of women enter the workforce, and now as a female executive of a growing non-profit association devoted to supporting independent school enrollment success, it is utterly dispiriting to realize that I serve an industry which has not adequately addressed the gender pay differences in our management and leadership ranks. 

My mentor and former boss Donna Orem, President of NAIS (the National Association of Independent Schools) recently reminded me that these findings should not come as a surprise. Gender pay equity has long been a problem in the NAIS community, and NAIS has continually published their research on this topic with little effect.  In a recent blog post, Donna took matters into her own hands, as NAIS president, encouraging all of us to take a pledge to promote pay equity. Thanks for your leadership, Donna!  I add my support to this call-to-action.  

Since last fall, I’ve been thinking about the best way to share these findings and, importantly, get traction to address this pay gap. I’ve thought deeply about where I have witnessed positive change inside independent schools and identified the tipping point to ensure that change occurred. I’ve wondered if it is time to join forces with other national executives to push harder on the topic of gender inequity – because this data holds true for nearly all senior school leaders whether you are a Head of School, a Chief Financial Officer or Chief Advancement professional.  

My scattered thoughts crystallized after witnessing Megan Rapinoe, US women's national soccer team captain and FIFA World Cup champion, on late-night TV.  In the midst of celebrating her team’s historic victory, she had the inclination to cast a spotlight on the pay gap between male and female soccer players at the highest level. Rapinoe’s courage, particularly as openly LGBTQ, reminds us all to speak out and to work against injustice.

Equity, Justice, and Institutional Success

Pay equity, gender equality, and social justice are among the many issues facing today’s educators. The divisive political climate, changing demographics, and an uncertain economy all seem to be conspiring to disrupt our industry. But there is strength in numbers and inspiration in collective action as an industry.   With the right tools at our disposal and a growing network of peers who’ve been in the trenches, we can solve tomorrow’s problems today. One of those problems is the huge gap in pay and influence between women and men in the enrollment management profession. I call on all of EMA’s Heads of School, CFOs, and HR leaders to review the gender pay gap in their school and ensure the following in the coming year:

  1. Get  “the right person in the right seat on the bus,” as best-selling author and global consultant Jim Collins says. In 2019, you need strategic enrollment leaders, which means administrators who understand how to build strategy to work against challenging trends.

  2. (from NAIS’s call to action) Check your school’s salary data to see where gaps exist. Identify root causes that have contributed to the inequity. 

  3. (from NAIS’s call to action) Make closing the gap a priority for your school and develop a plan for achieving equity across the board. This may be a multi-year plan, but having a plan is the first step to eradicating any inequities that exist.

  4. (from NAIS’s call to action) As a leader, pledge to become a mentor and/or sponsor for women and people of color in your school in their journey to leadership.

  5. (from NAIS’s call to action) Ask your trustees to make diversifying the board a goal. Research shows that diversity at the top begets greater equity throughout an organization.

If the independent school community takes collective action on this topic, we can stand tall in the years to come, with regard to attracting great people, regardless of their gender identity, to shape the future of our industry.

About the Author

Heather Hoerle

Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer

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