Equity at Iowa shines light on UI’s gender stories and disparities

Public data is paired with historic photos in the Equity at Iowa project
Public data is paired with historic photos in the Equity at Iowa project.

Each day during the month of March, a new website out of the University of Iowa will shine light, in part, on a fact of women’s history that persists into the present: the disparities faced by women in the workplace.

The Equity at Iowa project takes data from the Iowa State Employee Salary Book, which lists information on state employees, including those of public universities, and pairs it with archival photographs of women at Iowa. An 1874 image of a laboratory class with 20 men to eight women, for instance, is posted next to graphs showing the gender gap in the most highly-paid university positions between 1993 and the present.

In 1855, UI became the first public university in America to admit men and woman on an equal basis. But despite its progressive past, a 2014 study by the American Association of University Professors found that female faculty at UI made on average $20,000 less than their male counterparts.

Behind the project are UI English Professor Judith Pascoe and Digital Scholarship Librarian Wendy Robertson, who are both affiliated with the Library’s Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio. “Because I’m an English professor and Wendy’s a librarian, we have a mutual interest in the archives,” Pascoe said.

They wanted to draw attention, in part, to the rich cache of images in the Iowa Women’s Archives and University Archives. The salary and other university data offered a way to annotate the photographs. “It’s a wonderful thing that Iowa allows access to all this salary data, so we’re trying to tell stories about that,” Pascoe said.

“We’re looking at the data and trying to see what we see, where the patterns are,” said Robertson, who is also involved in the Iowa City Past tumblr. “This seemed like an easy way to put the data out.”

As for what they thought they’d find in that data, Robertson said, “I think there are various patterns we were expecting to find, but we’re not intending to only highlight gender disparity or salaries. We’re trying to see what we actually see with the data.”

Pascoe said they each went into the project with their own interests — hers, as a faculty member, were in faculty data; Robertson’s, as staff, was looking at staff data — but as they delved into the information, those interests broadened.

“Once we started really looking at it, it just opened up all kinds of roles of people who work in all sorts of capacities on campus that we don’t really think about because we’re in the English Department building and the library building,” Pascoe said. “What’s really interesting is seeing what kinds of jobs people do across campus, how people’s salaries change over time and in different kinds of jobs.”

One surprise they uncovered was in data related to athletic coaching: Until the mid-2000’s, salaries between faculty and head coaches did not dramatically diverge. “One of the reasons we’re hoping people will looking at this [project] is to add more questions, to add more levels of interpretation,” Pascoe said.

She said they’re considering the first week of the project a beta version. They hope for the project to continue in some way past March.

“There’s a wonderful history here, other stories we’re hoping people will think about,” Pascoe said.

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