Why Are Female General Managers Paid Less Than Men?

Why Are Female General Managers Paid Less Than Men?

and   |  January 24, 2021

Co-ops have long been championed as a means to circumnavigate the wealth inequality issues perpetuated by extractive capitalistic business models.  Despite a history of commitment to values of social progress, information we’ve collected shows that grocery co-ops are severely lagging behind when it comes to the issue of gender pay equity.  Our recent examination of the Cooperative General Manager Compensation Database, co-managed by CoMetrics and Columinate, revealed that grocery co-op General Managers who identify as female are paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

We broach this topic in the midst of greater national conversations regarding racial justice.  Many co-ops are taking action to prioritize anti-racism and meaningful progress towards diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations.  The 10-year-old compensation database was created to facilitate the anonymous sharing of compensation information among GMs. It was not created with the goal of identifying pay equality issues. Because anecdotal data indicated a possible disparity along gender lines, a question about gender was added to the database out of sheer curiosity when it was created in 2010  At the time there were also concerns that GMs who identified as people of color would not be provided anonymity by the almost entirely white dataset.  There was a similar anonymity concern about gender identity. Thus, our current data provides only a narrow lens on inequality because it doesn’t capture enough information to tell us about the intersectionality of disparities in pay and representation for those who may also identify as transgender, non-binary, or people of color.  This lack of data is a major shortcoming, and with the power of your cooperation and participation, Columinate has a plan to overhaul and reengineer how we use this anonymous database to create more impact.

What we do know right now is that self-reported data from primarily white led co-ops illuminates vast pay inequality between people who identified as men and women. Our current data merely scratches the surface of uncovering the deep societal bias and structural inequities that are being mirrored in our very own co-ops. The disturbing trends in our current data set poignantly highlight the need for better access to information in order to measure our progress on the long journey towards a more just and equitable world.

“Diversity is ‘count the people’, Inclusion is ‘the people count’, Equity is the outcome” -LaDonna Sanders Redmond 

The Co-op General Manager Compensation Database was created in 2010 by Columinate in partnership with National Co+op Grocers and CoMetrics. The database aggregates anonymous compensation data, benefits and contingent pay for grocery co-op General Managers across the country. The most current data set includes 98 General Managers, 44 of whom identify as female and 54 who identify as male. The co-ops represent a range of organizational size from approximately $1 Million – $70 Million in annual sales volume.


At every level of sales volume, female GMs make significantly less than male GMs. This trend, first identified in 2016, has not improved; the disparities have only grown overtime.  Gender representation in the position of General Manager was roughly equal among the small, medium, and large co-op groups. However, extra large co-ops in this self-reported dataset were twice as likely to have male General Managers. Male General Managers were over three times more likely to have some sort of contingent pay, bonus or incentive pay that is earned if certain goals are met. Males GMs were also more than twice as likely to have a maximum possible contingent pay that exceeded 10% of their base salary. When we account for contingent pay in total compensation, the pay gap between gender only widens.


Depressed wages have both short and long term consequences for women.  In the US, women who are paid less are greatly disadvantaged in retirement because they receive lower Social Security benefits, and with a longer average lifespan they need the retirement funds more.

Co-op Size

Annual Sales Range (Millions)


Base Pay Average


Base Pay Average


Total Comp. Average


Total Comp. Average

Total Comp. Average –

Pay Gap






















Extra Large







Source: General Manager Compensation Database

But how can this be happening? While self-reported data may not be as comprehensive as rigorous statistical research, causation for the significant pay disparity present in our dataset is not easily explained. The data contains no correlation between length of service, gender and pay, the gap is not because men have been in their jobs longer than women at the same sized co-op. Is it because women are all hired from within while men are hired from the outside? There are both male and female GMs hired from within who have been in their jobs a long time, and the men are still paid much more.  Is it because the cost of living is higher in co-ops where men are the GMs? The male GMs are not concentrated in areas with higher costs of living compared to the female GMs.   

The data is disturbing, and our work is not done. Columinate is upgrading the compensation database to capture other critical information on race and gender identity, and to expand the data set to include other senior leadership positions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this trend may not end with General Manager pay and could be evident throughout other positions in the organization. This data is a call-to-action for all co-ops who value social justice in their communities and the world at large. As we look to the future with hope for societal change, we must be accountable for addressing the structural inequalities within the walls of our very own co-ops.

How can I join Columinate on the journey towards pay equity?

  • Reflect on your own co-op’s data and the powerful questions and issues about inequity in our sector that remain unanswered and unsolved.
  • Make sure your data counts.  Sign-up for the next generation of the Columinate Compensation database that will be launched in early Spring.
  • Join the conversation.  Participate in the Carolee Colter’s workshop “Why do Female GMs make so much less than men” on January 25th, 2021 at 7:30PM ET.

Learn more about the Gender Equity Project here. 

About the Authors

Brittany Baird

Operational & Financial Improvement

[email protected]

Carolee Colter

Human Resources for Boards &...

[email protected]

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