A Boilermaker used skills he learned as a freshman studying data science to determine if Purdue pays male and female employees equally.
Earlier this summer sophomore Sanjeev Lingam-Nattamai analyzed salary data obtained from Purdue’s public records office detailing every employee paid by the University in 2018.
Focusing on over 12,000 West Lafayette employees, Lingam-Nattamai discovered what he believes is a wide gap between how much men and women are paid in faculty and athletic roles.
He published his findings in a Medium post on July 17.
“I was dead set (on finishing the project),” Lingam-Nattamai said in a phone interview.
One obstacle the student had to overcome was finding out how many male and female employees Purdue pays, as the public records office has never provided that data to Lingam-Nattamai — or The Exponent — when requested. To figure out who was male and female, he said he went through every data point and assigned gender to each employee individually.
“Took me like four days,” Lingam-Nattamai said.
Lingam-Nattamai used resources like the Purdue directory, professional websites, Google Scholar and LinkedIn to determine employees’ genders. He was careful not to assume gender information for absolutely everyone though.
“I didn’t mention this in the article, but I also did take non-binary people and preferred pronouns into consideration,” Lingam-Nattamai said in an email. “For these cases, I didn’t include a value in the row and left it blank.”
By removing the athletics department from the dataset, Lingam-Nattamai said he removed further skew, as high-salaried coaches like Jeff Brohm and Matt Painter raise the average male salary significantly.
Still, male salaries seemed to be statistically higher than female, according to the student’s analysis test. With the athletics department removed, the median female salary was $40,563, almost exactly three-quarters of the median male salary of $53,181.
“You’re looking at a pretty wide disparity here,” Lingam-Nattamai said.
The student is more interested in raising questions and starting a conversation about the gender pay gap at Purdue than necessarily pointing fingers or offering concrete solutions to the issue, he said.
One possible cause of the gender pay gap is explained through the tenure-track system, in which faculty must spend around six years to rise from assistant professor to become a tenured associate professor, according to Lingam-Nattamai’s research. He pointed out that there are more male than female professors, which could indicate universities' tendencies to hire fewer tenure-track female professors who go on to become tenured, higher-paid professors later down the line.
“Purdue and other universities need to step up and hire more tenure-track female assistant professors while also promoting more females to tenured professorship,” Lingam-Nattamai wrote in his Medium article. “In order to have a truer representation of the ‘real world,’ more females need to be hired into high-ranked roles and receive appropriate pay equivalent to their male peers.”
The gender pay gap at Purdue has been brought up before, most recently at the last University Senate meeting of the spring semester.
Professor David Sanders addressed Purdue President Mitch Daniels and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Diversity Jay Akridge on the issue.
Sanders referenced an American Association of University Professors survey which showed a major discrepancy in pay between male and female faculty. Akridge acknowledged that the survey showed females earning about 80% of what males earn, though clarified that the data at that point did not take different disciplines or areas of study into account.
A report from the Chronicle of Higher Education on Purdue faculty salaries shows a smaller, yet still existent disparity. The report shows the average male professor made $141,099 while the average female professor made $134,748 in 2017.
As more salary data becomes available, Lingam-Nattamai wants to widen his research into gender pay gaps in academia.
“I’d like to expand it,” he said, noting his interest in looking into other Big Ten universities like Indiana University and University of Michigan to find out if they too seem to have a gender pay gap for faculty. “This isn’t just a Purdue thing.
“This is a nationwide thing.”