The Parallels in Pay Inequality Between Soccer and the Nonprofit Sector

By Emily & Taryn

In the U.S., Equal Pay Day symbolizes how far into this year the “average median woman” must work to earn what the “average median man” earned in the previous. In other words, the “average median woman” must work until March 15, 2022 just to equal what the “average median man” earned in 2021. And this date varies by demographic group, with Black, Indigenous, and Latinx women all having to work further into 2022 to make up the wage gap.

If you’re a woman, you likely don’t need to see this information laid out because a) you’ve lived it and b) you’re dialed into all the women working to change it. Some of the most outspoken on the issue of Equal Pay have been women athletes, including trans- and gender-nonconforming athletes. You’ve probably heard about the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and their fight for equal pay, especially since they recently settled their years-long lawsuit with U.S. Soccer for $22 million. But, even this settlement – for arguably one of the most popular women’s sports teams in the world – is contingent on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between U.S. Soccer and the USWNT Players Association, which is still being negotiated as we write this. 

You may NOT have heard about the fight the women of the domestic professional league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), have been through in the last year. You probably didn’t even know there was a women’s league at all. PART OF THE PROBLEM! Without going too deep into the league’s 10-year history (you can Google it!), here are a few things they’re fighting for and how they are mirrored in our nonprofit community:

1. Salary

The new CBA raised player minimum salary to $35k – a 160% increase from $22k. Clearly, the league still has *quite* a way to go to afford the players a thriving wage and able to avoid campaigns like THIS . And even longer to catch up with the men who have been professionally playing soccer for over 100 years in some places and have some mind-blowingly high club salaries in their ranks. 

Similarly, Ventura County nonprofit employees were paid an average annual salary of $44k in 2020, compared to the average annual salary of all VC employees: $63k. Further, the average annual salary of nonprofit employees in California is $67k – Ventura County wages are low, compared to our state. To make matters worse: A living wage in Ventura County is higher than the state as a whole.  And, for those in the back, I’ll say it again: NONPROFIT PROFESSIONALS SHOULDN’T MAKE LESS BECAUSE THEY ARE DOING ‘GOOD WORK’ … They should be making MORE because they are doing the HARD work– this belief is rampant in the nonprofit industry and is … simply … bad. Psychic income is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard of. And in case we haven’t already convinced you to burn down this broken system, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) 2021 Compensation and Benefits Report,even though men make up only 25% of the US fundraising workforce, they tend to take home $103k compared comparably educated and experienced women, who tend to take home $83k. Who brought the matches?

2. Working Conditions

It’s almost ridiculous to have to write this, but one of the provisions of the new CBA assured that the *soccer* players will get to play *soccer* games on *soccer* fields…not converted baseball stadiums that two teams played their home matches on in the 2021 season. The NWSL had previously granted waivers to allow teams to do this, but it’s going to be soccer fields only going forward. Hopefully they made sure to avoid swim stadiums too…

We’re surprised at how many nonprofit professionals are expected to work with outdated equipment and patch together the “free versions” of software tools, often utilizing their own resources to bridge the gaps. This was exacerbated during the pandemic, when many employees were required to set up their own home offices, at their own expense, and without proper guidance on workplace safety and ergonomic best practices. Yes, it was a quick transition for so many of us, but we’re 2 years in now – how does it look where you work?

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 30: Sofia Huerta #3, Alana Cook #5, Ashley Hatch #7 and Margaret Purce #11 of the United States during a game between Australia and USWNT at McDonald Jones Stadium on November 30, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia.
(Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

3. Benefits

Along with 8-week parental leave (for birth or adoption), 6-month mental health leave, and housing/insurance benefits for waived players, the new CBA made a provision for free agency beginning in the 2023 season. This effectively gives players some much needed and well deserved autonomy in their careers. Instead of worrying about what city they might be living in next season – or even mid-season in some cases – they will get to sign with teams they want to play for. 

Nonprofit organizations may very well be giving employees the standard 3% cost of living raise, but with a 7% inflation rate, what is that really doing for the employees? Does your organization work mostly with families but provide no parental leave? Do you work in the mental health field but fail to provide mental health leave/care for your own employees? Sometimes nonprofits need to step up and put their mission, vision, and values into practice internally. The Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) 2021 Compensation and Benefits Report found that 90% of US Nonprofit Employees reported having access to health insurance. (It should be 100%, but we were actually pleasantly surprised with this number.) However, the survey did not ask about employer contributions. 40% of participants indicated they can participate in a 401(k) plan. Check out this wild graph about other benefits available.

We’ll close with a reminder that: Perfect is the enemy of good. All of our organizations have room to grow in relation to employee compensation. What’s the one thing you can do this month to make progress? For us, last month we approved up to $500 per employee to improve their home offices. This month, we’re working on our retirement plan offerings. We’re not where I want us to be, but this challenge really is ‘one step at a time.’