USAID takes aim at gender pay gaps in contracting decisions

USAID Administrator Mark Green addresses staff at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Patrick O'Connor / USAID

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Agency for International Development is taking aim at a contracting process that many believe allows gender pay gaps to persist within the agency’s contracts.

USAID is seeking regulatory changes that would allow contracting officers to deemphasize the use of salary history in determining pay rates for contractors. The agency’s administrator, Mark Green, announced the effort at an internal event on Monday. The change is aimed in large part at addressing pay inequities that arise from persistent gender pay gaps, as well as differences in employment history between men and women.

Green said that the potential changes would allow USAID’s contracting officers to focus on individual skills and market rates when calculating compensation.

“By providing more competitive salaries to a broader pool of candidates, we’ll attract the best applicants, and in some cases it will specifically benefit women who haven’t been in the workforce as long and don’t have as lengthy or competitive salary histories,” Green said.

“We’re hoping that this change will have an equalizing effect for women and their participation,” Green said.

Opinion: Is the USAID 1420 biodata form contributing to the gender pay gap?

The USAID contractor employee biographical data sheet requires basic information such as education, language proficiency, work history, and salary history. But, it could also breed job hopping and, worst of all, cement gender pay gaps.

The “Contractor Employee Biographical Data Sheet” is a mandatory document USAID uses to collect biographical data about proposed personnel that contractors would hire under a USAID award. That includes information about education, language proficiency, work history, and salary history — and, according to some experts, contributes to gender pay gaps even within a government agency tasked with advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“Explicitly or not, the main purpose of this form is to help establish and justify the salary a candidate would receive under the contract, with the key criteria being their 3 years’ previous salary history,” wrote Kate Warren, executive vice president at Devex, in a Feb. 2018 op-ed that called for the changes USAID is now considering.

USAID’s practice is to allow a 5-10% raise above candidates’ highest previous salaries, Warren explained.

“While there is little data on the gender pay gap within USAID-funded contract work, I’ve spoken with many professionals over the years, including many women, who blame this form for stifling their salary growth,” wrote Warren, who has 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies.

“A common example is a woman taking a less demanding role, with less pay, for a couple of years while raising a family. When she is ready to jump back into a more demanding role she finds that she can no longer earn what she used to because she no longer has the salary history to back it up,” she added.

In addition to perpetuating gender pay inequity, the salary history form might also encourage “job-hopping,” as professionals chase higher salaries from one organization to another, or discourage workers from accepting positions at lower-paying organizations, even if these might promise valuable skills development or other rewarding opportunities.

“A pay cut for a year can translate to a pay cut in perpetuity,” Warren wrote.

About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.