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Pay and Demographic Analysis Shows Systemic Disparities by Gender and Race 

Audubon workers at rally!

Executive Summary

The National Audubon Society, a national conservation organization, claims that equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging are central to its values and actions. Yet Audubon has a well-documented history of fostering a toxic work culture for women and people of color. A new analysis finds that the group’s pay structure, too, is unequal, with systemic disparities based on gender and race among employees represented by Audubon’s staff union.[1]

Overall, women are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. And BIPOC employees, with few exceptions, are paid less than their white counterparts, and are significantly underrepresented in the organization. In one job category, for example, white men on average make 13 percent (or $9,587) more than white women and 16 percent (or $11,587) more than BIPOC women. (Audubon’s spending on executive pay, meanwhile, has increased by 60 percent since 2019.)

The alarming pay disparities identified in this report amount to thousands of dollars per year for many employees. This has a major impact on Audubon workers, limiting their ability to secure housing, qualify for a car loan, or save for retirement. It perpetuates the very sort of deep-rooted inequalities based on gender and race that Audubon says it is committed to confronting. Bird Union member testimonials provide insight on the human toll of these inequities (see them here and boxes throughout report). What’s more, many Audubon employees do not currently earn a living wage and struggle to make ends meet. The significant wage disparities among employees also contribute to high turnover, negatively affecting the organization.

To achieve equitable wages for everyone and a more sustainable workforce,  Audubon workers argue that it’s necessary to revamp the current job-family structure, which perpetuates an unfair pay system. The Bird Union is also calling on Audubon to abandon its arbitrary and opaque system of discretionary pay increases ostensibly based on merit, and instead commit to regular and equitable cost-of-living increases.

Bird flying in V formation

Nobody goes into conservation to get rich but the disparity in our job families is unjust.


Carrie Gray
Audubon Worker

Bird union member rally to protect workers!


The National Audubon Society says it embraces “Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging,” pronouncing that: “With a plurality of voices, we will inspire more people and protect more birds and the places we all need.”2 Yet, in direct contrast to these public claims, a 2021 report by law firm Morgan Lewis confirmed witness accounts that “Audubon has a culture of retaliation, fear, and antagonism toward women and people of color.”3

Further contradicting Audubon’s public statements that they value their employees is the fact that the organization initially refused to recognize their workers’ union when a majority of workers requested voluntary recognition in July 2021.4 Audubon initially hired Littler Mendelson, a notoriously anti-union law firm, to provide advice during the organizing campaign and later hired a labor negotiator with a track record of anti-union tactics.5 Audubon CEO Dr. Elizabeth Gray has largely been invisible during the bargaining process, leaving negotiations in the hands of the external consultant.

After more than 18 months of bargaining, in October of 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that Audubon violated labor laws and bargained in bad faith by refusing to bargain over minimum salaries, failing to provide financial documents that are relevant to negotiations, and unilaterally imposing changes, including changes to employee healthcare.6

Audubon is financially healthy and could address the bargaining priorities of its employees. The organization has grown year-end assets and net income over the last several years. At the end of the most recent fiscal year, the organization’s net assets stood at $567 million, up $24 million from the previous year. Audubon has maintained net assets above $500 million since 2020, helped by income surpluses. Annual revenue has been above $130 million every year since 2019, reaching $174 million in 2023. Even as Audubon resists reaching an agreement with workers, it has increased its spending on executive compensation by 60 percent since 2019, more than double its total revenue increase in that period.7

Audubon management has on more than one occasion taken months to respond to union proposals, only to return to bargaining with incomplete proposals of their own.8 Among the issues Audubon is dragging its feet on are the issues of wages and pay equity. Management insists on tying annual wage increases to discretionary factors, rather than agreeing to across-the-board pay increases tied more closely to cost of living.

Based on information provided by the National Audubon Society, this report summarizes findings from an analysis of pay and demographic data for the workforce across the organization’s headquarters and 11 other regional units that are part of the Bird Union-CWA. Since the beginning of their organizing campaign, members of the Bird Union have focused on issues of racial justice, equitable hiring and promotion, and fair pay – issues that if addressed systematically could help address Audubon’s crisis of staff retention and deteriorating public image.9

Bird union member rally to protect workers!

Demographic Analysis

Of Audubon’s approximately 246 full-time employees represented by the Bird Union, 166, or 67.5%, are white. The data shows that in every “Job Family Group” that Audubon management uses to classify employees for pay purposes, there is a disproportionately low number of BIPOC employees compared to the overall US population and the states where Audubon’s staff is concentrated. Women make up two-thirds of the workforce and are particularly over-represented in certain job categories.

Management has divided employees into Job Family Groups that consist of:

  • Job Family Group 1 - Conservation, Network, Science
  • Job Family Group 2 - Development, Finance, IT Support, Government Relations, HR, Marketing, Operations, EDIB (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging)
  • Job Family Group 3 - Legal, IT Networks & Development

Analysis of the racial/ethnic make-up of the Audubon staff shows that in all Job Family Groups white employees are over-represented compared to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) employees.

  • Job Family Group 1:  White employees outnumber BIPOC employees by almost four to one, with a total of approximately 94 white employees (78%), compared to a total of 27 BIPOC employees, or 22%. (See Table 1)

TABLE 1 - Job Family Group 1 Full-Time by Race/Gender

Table 1

Note: Totals may not match the sum of percentages due to rounding. Totals do not match the full count of employees due to a small number who did not provide their sex.

Bird flying in V formation

There is a glaring lack of representation and inclusion of marginalized communities within its leadership and programs. Audubon’s failure to address systemic issues perpetuates inequity and exclusion, undermining its credibility as a champion of environmental justice.


Cheryl Dalton
Audubon Worker

  • Job Family Group 2: Shows a total of 111 employees of which 64 (58%) are white, and 47 BIPOC employees (42%).[10]  The locations with the largest concentration of Group Two workers are New York City and California, where non-Hispanic white people are 31% and 35% of the population, respectively.[11] (See Table 2)

TABLE 2 - Job Family Group 2 Full-Time by Race/Gender

Table 2

Note: Totals do not match the full count of employees due to a small number who did not provide their sex.

Bird union member rally to protect workers!
  • Job Family Group 3: Has the fewest employees with a total of six, two-thirds of whom are white. (See Table 3)

Table 3 - Job Family Group 3 Full-Time by Race/Gender

 Table 3 - Job Family Group 3  Full-Time by Race/Gender

The data shows that two thirds of Audubon employees are female (see Table 4). Women are over-represented in Groups 1 and 2. 

Table 4 - Count and Percentage of Full Time by Gender, Race/Ethnicity

Table 4 - Count and Percentage of Full Time by Gender, Race/Ethnicity

Note: Totals do not match the full count of employees due to a small number who did not provide their sex

The Bird Union has raised serious concerns about employee retention at Audubon.[12]  Out of 246 employees, nearly 60 percent (146 employees) have been at Audubon for three years or less. Sixty-seven employees (27%) have been with the organization between four and seven years and only 50 employees, or approximately 20 percent of the Audubon workforce, have stayed eight years or more (see Table 5). Of the 146 full-time employees who have been with the organization for three years or less, 97 are white (66%) and 49 are BIPOC (34%), which is a slightly higher share of BIPOC workers than the overall employee base. (See Tables 5 and 6)

Table 5 - Tenure by Full Time, Race/Ethnicity

Table 5 - Tenure by Full Time, Race/Ethnicity
Bird union member rally to protect workers!

Table 6 - Tenure of Full Time Employees

Table 6 - Tenure of Full Time Employees

The short tenure of Audubon’s workforce likely reflects the inadequate wages Audubon pays many of its employees and the organization’s insistence on giving raises that are primarily discretionary – up to managers to decide – rather than across-the-board cost of living increases.[13]

Bird flying in V formation

I also qualify for and need to utilize SNAP food assistance to pay for the rising cost of groceries and basic essentials.


Ashley Lockwood
Audubon Worker

Wage Disparities by Gender and Race

There are stark wage disparities at Audubon. Men are paid more than women across all Job Family Groups. In Job Family Group 1, white men make 12 percent more than white women, or $6,286, and 14 percent more than BIPOC women, or $7,294. In Job Family Group 2, white men make 13 percent more than white women, or $9,587, and 16 percent more than BIPOC women, or $11,587. (See Table 7)

Table 7 - Median Annual Salary for Full Time By Job Family Group and Race/Gender

Table 7 - Median Annual Salary for Full Time By Job Family Group and Race/Gender

Note: Median salaries are excluded for populations of fewer than five people. 

 Job Family Group 1 has some of the lowest paying jobs in the organization and because there are so many women in this group, this appears to result in “occupational segregation.” According to the Center for American Progress, “Occupational segregation occurs when one demographic group is overrepresented or underrepresented in a certain job category.”[14] This type of segregation contributes to wage gaps, which then result in diminished earnings over time for the lower-paid occupational groups. 

Management further breaks down Job Families into “Sub-Groups.” Some of the Job Family Sub-Groups with a high percentage of female employees have some of the lowest wages at Audubon. For example, the Education sub-group with 18 workers is 78% female and has a median wage of $43,000. The Engagement sub-group with 24 workers is 77% female and has a median wage of $50,214. 

Pay disparities by race are also present, although the underrepresentation of BIPOC workers means there are fewer workers in each category. To protect confidentiality, this report does not include salary data for populations with fewer than five people. Among the disparities by race, the annual median salary for BIPOC males who have worked at Audubon three years or less and are in Job Family Group 1 is $54,726 while for white males it is $60,000, a 10 percent gap. For Job Family Group 1 employees with four to seven years with Audubon, white men earn 10 percent more than BIPOC men and 22 percent more than BIPOC women (see Table 8). In the one case where BIPOC women are the highest earners (Group 2, tenure of 4 to 7 years), there are no Black women present.

Table 8 - Median Annual Salary Full Time By Job Family Group, Tenure, Race/Gender

Table 8 - Median Annual Salary Full Time By Job Family Group,  Tenure, Race/Gender

Many of Audubon’s employees do not currently earn a living wage. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a living wage calculator that provides the hourly rate a worker needs to earn in order to support themselves and their household. For example, in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area, the living wage for one adult with one child is $46.42 per hour, or $96,554 yearly. Audubon’s median annual salary for a female employee is $75,095. In California, the hourly rate for a living wage for one adult with one child would be $47.96 or $99,756 yearly. The median annual salary for both male and female employees is $67,000. In Vermont, where the median salary for all employees is $40,040, the hourly rate for a living wage for one adult with a child is $41.86 or $87,069 yearly.[15]


Bird flying in V formation

The money they’ve spent fighting their own union could have made highly significant changes in the quality of life for some of its lowest paid and most dedicated employees.


Carrie Gray
Audubon Worker


Audubon’s employees strongly disagree with their employer’s insistence on awarding wage increases on an arbitrary and discretionary basis. Audubon’s use of the misleading term “merit pay” highlights that management is out of touch with or unmoved by the economic reality its workers face on a daily basis.

To ensure equitable wages for everyone, Audubon employees believe it is necessary to do away with management’s Job Family Groups that perpetuate an unfair pay system. They also want Audubon to commit to regular cost-of-living increases instead of discretionary increases that lack transparency.

Given the financial health of the organization it is hard to justify the lack of fair and equitable wage increases for its employees who make Audubon’s mission a reality. Employees want Audubon to live up to its claim to value its workers by treating them fairly and negotiating in good faith for equitable pay and working conditions.

Bird union member rally to protect workers!

Worker Testimonials

Krysten Zumno

As conservation staff we generally make pretty poor money. We’re not here for the money but we do need to make sure we can function and survive, and annual raises really impact our ability to do that. I was told that at a minimum, Audubon at least had a cost of living increase. Then right before Christmas they pulled their calculated no raises for union staff move. The work I do is important and I know it, but how do you work for an organization, for an executive team that sees you as having no value, who shows you how little you mean, who withhold basic needs from their staff. Who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and hire themselves assistants that make two to four times as much as I do as a trained biologist but then claim they have no money to support you and your earned raise. How do you continue to work for an organization like that? I don’t know.

Rodrick Leary

Four percent. Why is four percent so important? Because it allows us to be able to plan our lives without fearing that our wages are going to be eaten into by inflation because we might have a poor relationship with our manager. We might have a brand new manager, or we might not have a direct supervisor because Audubon still hasn’t filled the position. It is just too risky for us to ask our members to put their food, their housing, their transportation, their families and their health, on the line for these situations that occur every day at Audubon. Another reason why across-the-board increases and eliminating the job families is so important is because it will allow a conservation organization to pay its conservation staff equitable wages. So many individuals across the organization, especially those in conservation, are asked to wear so many hats. They are expected to be knowledge experts in their field, be great writers, provide customer service, manage relationships with partners, fundraise and handle public relations. Not wanting to pay market-leading salaries is not a good argument at Audubon because we already pay certain individuals at the organization market leading salaries. If you don’t believe me, check out Audubon’s 990 when it comes out later this month. And I guarantee you Elizabeth Gray will be one of the highest paid CEOs in conservation. All we, the hard-working members of the Bird Union are asking for is that we keep that same energy for everyone.

Carrie Gray

Management said that they couldn’t alter the job families to make them more equitable across the board because they were concerned about market-leading, which means over-paying their employees relative to their peers. But considering their skill set, people who work in conservation are drastically underpaid everywhere and perhaps a market-leading would help to fix that problem. We need to be highly knowledgeable in natural history and ecological processes but we also need to be statisticians, GIS experts, public speakers, be able to write at a level that is publishable. And all those skill sets require more schooling. It costs more money for more schooling. Nobody goes into conservation to get rich but the disparity in our job families is unjust. I love my job, and lord knows I love birds but that doesn’t take away the frustration I feel that our field is so undervalued by society and the great disappointment I feel that Audubon is fighting to keep the status quo. 

The money they’ve spent fighting their own union could have made highly significant changes in the quality of life for some of its lowest paid and most dedicated employees. In my two and a half years I’ve been here I’ve seen a lot of turnover and by and large it has not been among its conservation staff because they are committed to the cause and Audubon’s mission and so desperately want to believe in the flight plan and that we can make a difference. And I just want management to recognize the power and responsibility they hold to ensure that Audubon is a place where everyone feels valued and that they have the ability to improve the lives of their coworkers. Wouldn’t that be such a beautiful thing? Fair contract now.

Kimberly Keller

It’s hard to be optimistic about pay equity within Audubon. In FY23, I went above and beyond to implement the celebration of a milestone anniversary, coordinate a feature on an iconic conservation TV show seen by millions of viewers, and create engaging content for educational and stewardship efforts. I was even informed during the performance review process that a donor impact report I wrote helped successfully steward a seven-figure gift for NAS. How can I be excited about these accomplishments when Audubon is withholding the raise and bonus I earned doing this work? Further, Audubon values my work significantly less than my colleagues doing similar work in different job families. Audubon touts their commitment to equity, yet Audubon blatantly disrespects its workers. It's not hard to be optimistic, it's darn near impossible.

Cheryl Dalton

Audubon’s handling of equity and diversity falls short of ethical standards. Despite the organization’s mission to promote conservation and protect birds, its practices are marred by systemic biases and discrimination. There is a glaring lack of representation and inclusion of marginalized communities within its leadership and programs. Audubon’s failure to address systemic issues perpetuates inequity and exclusion, undermining its credibility as a champion of environmental justice. It’s imperative that Audubon takes meaningful action to address these issues, including diversifying its leadership, implementing inclusive policies, and actively combating discrimination within its ranks. Anything less is a betrayal of its core values and a disservice to the communities it claims to serve. It’s time for Audubon to step up and truly embrace equity and diversity in all aspects of its operations.


Ashley Lockwood

I want to share how unfair wages have affected me. I currently make $19.45 an hour, my proposed 2023 wage increase - that is still withheld - is $20.04, which is still less than the current midpoint ($21.39/hr). This is an annual gross of $40,450 and net take home of $30,450, per Paychex tax records. The salary that I currently receive means that I am not able to afford a home on my own. This salary means that I would NEED to have a partner, a roommate, or (in my case) a family member co-owning, to afford to be a homeowner. I am also unable to afford a family as this salary barely covers my own basic mortgage, utility bills, groceries, medical bills, and student loan payments. I would not be able to have kids, given the choice, unless I am paid at least an additional third of my current salary. I have to donate plasma twice a week to supplement my current salary. This usually affords me an extra $500 a month. I also qualify for and need to utilize SNAP food assistance to pay for the rising cost of groceries and basic essentials.

Emily Ohman

“What do you do for work?” Simple question, right? Not for myself. My job title is Senior Coordinator of Community Science, but as is true for many nonprofit and environmental education jobs, the workload of my job far exceeds the scope of my title. I work the equivalent of multiple full-time staffers: I am in charge of digital outreach and communication, directing summer camp, designing and executing educational programs, facilitating multiple internships, planning events, helping with field work, coordinating volunteers, and managing interns and seasonal staff. These activities are foundational to the mission and functioning of Audubon Centers, but unfortunately, the compensation I receive fails to reflect the effort required to excel in this role.

My salary makes me a low income resident of the San Francisco Bay Area; my Center is inaccessible via public transit, but I receive no commuter benefits and have to shoulder the cost of gas ($5.80 and steadily rising). Moreover, my merit-based salary increase and cost of living raise are being withheld for being a Union member; if this was not disgraceful enough, I have to work a part-time job just to make ends meet. I have been food insecure for the totality of my time at this job and have experienced such extreme bouts of acute hunger that I have forgone meals for multiple days so I could afford to pay my bills. I have had to stop seeing medical specialists for my chronic pain because I cannot afford their services with my current healthcare plan.

Tragically, my situation is uncannily similar to so many Union staff at Audubon. Many of us are conservation staff that are paid pennies for the work that is integral to the goals and longevity of this organization. Fighting for equity at this company has started to feel like a fight for my life, and in many ways, it is. For Union staff to have to beg for basic necessities, especially at a nonprofit that touts competitive benefits and salaries, is untenable and inhibitory to the vocation of Audubon


1. National Audubon Society EDIB Conservation Principles.

2. Audubon website:

3. Colman, Zack. Audubon fostered toxic work culture for women and people of color, probe confirms. Politico. May 06, 2021.

4. Bird Union-CWA. Press release. July 1, 2021.

5. See, for example, SEIU Local 1021. “Historic Five Day ULP Strike Forces AHS Management to Back Down and Put Patients and Workers First.” Oct. 13, 2020.

6. CWA Press Release. National Audubon Society Found in Violation of Labor Law After 18 Months of Negotiations with Union. Oct.18, 2023 

7. The category titled “Management & General” in the annual financial statements was $5.3 million in 2019 and rose to $8.5 million in 2023; Audubon website, Reports and Financials. 

8. Khavkine, Richard. Union says Audubon’s contract stance hurts conservation mission. The Chief, Nov. 8, 2024.,51396 

9. See, for example, E&E News, “Unionizing showdown bedevils Audubon,” March 17, 2021; E&E News, “Audubon keeps name tied to enslaver, roils staff,” March 15, 2023; CWA, “National Audubon Society Workers Announce Plans to Rename Union, Severing Ties to the Organization’s white Supremacist Roots,” February 23, 2023; Prism, “Audubon Society workers call for an equitable workplace and fair bargaining,” April 18, 2023. 

10. One employee did not indicate race or gender.

11. U.S. Census Quick Facts.

12. Robin Bravender. E&E News. “Turmoil and turnover plague Audubon.” Jan. 30, 2023.

13. For background on the biases embedded in discretionary pay, see 

14. Occupational Segregation in America. The Center for American Progress. Mar. 29, 2022.

15. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator.