The Salary Agenda

Broken Piggy Bank

Last week’s post on museum salaries left us breathless. In six days over 7,000 of you viewed the blog, breaking all sorts of Leadership Matters records. If we ever had any doubt about the fact that there are issues around salaries in the museum world, this was the confirmation. And just as we predicted there are some cranky, disaffected, and worried folks out there.

In our book Leadership Matters (AltaMira, 2013) and our upcoming book Women|Museums (Routledge, 2016), the manuscripts each end with an agenda. There, we list the changes that could be made by professional associations and service organizations, museums, graduate programs, and individuals to improve the issues surrounding leadership and gender (in Women|Museums) in MuseumLand. Here’s our Leadership Revolution Agenda.

Given the complexity of salaries, and the fact that short of a gazillion dollar gift to all of America’s 35,000+ museums, there is no single answer to the salary conundrum.  So we taken a stab at what we think a Museum Salary Agenda for the 21st Century could look like — consider it a call to action that you can weigh in on.

What Professional Associations and Museum Service Organizations Can Do: 

  • Establish and promote national salary standards for museum positions requiring advanced degrees.
  • Encourage museums to demonstrate the importance of human capital in their organizations.
  • Make salary transparency part of the StEPS (AASLH) and accreditation process (AAM).
  • Support organizations in understanding the need for endowment to support staff salaries. A building and a collection don’t guarantee a museum’s future. People do.
  • Create a national working group for #Museumstaffmatters.

What Institutions Can Do: 

  • Encourage networking and individual staff development.
  • Make every effort to provide salaries that exceed the Living Wage.
  • Educate boards regarding the wastefulness of staff turnover.
  • Make criteria for salary levels transparent.
  • Examine the gaps among the director’s salary, the leadership team and the remaining staff.
  • Offer equitable health and family leave benefits (and make them available on Day One of a new hire’s tenure).

What Individuals Can Do: 

  • Do your homework. Understand the community and region where you plan to work.
  • Use the Living Wage index.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Be prepared to say no. A dream job isn’t a dream if your parents are still paying your car insurance and your mobile phone bills.
  • Ask about the TOTAL package not just salary. If you are the trailing spouse and don’t need health insurance but do need time, make that part of your negotiations.
  • Network. Know what’s going on in your field, locally, regionally, nationally.

What Graduate Programs Can Do:

  • Be open about job placement statistics.
  • Teach students to negotiate salaries and benefits.
  • Teach students to calculate a Living Wage plus loan payments and quality of life.
  • Encourage networking, mentoring and participation in the field.

9 Comments on “The Salary Agenda”

  1. Therese Quinn says:

    Good ideas here but I think you missed a critical one; museum employees need unions. Unions are associated with higher incomes and less pay inequality overall. See:

    Also, the gender wage gap for union members is half what it is for non-union members. See:

    Museum studies programs should teach these facts.

    • Kim says:

      I have to disagree. I worked in a museum for 10 years in a unionized position. We saw very few raises and were even prevented from receiving bonuses. Moving into management, and not being afraid to negotiate, is how I finally turned my stagnant salary around. I doubled it within 5 years. t’s also very helpful to learn practical skills, such as budgeting, that are less common in the field,

  2. […] quickly followed her post with another this week entitled “The Salary Agenda,” in which she and Anne take a stab at what they think a Museum Salary Agenda for the 21st Century […]

  3. Mark Sundlov says:

    Don’t forget about AAM’s National Salary Survey. In my humble opinion, every Public History/Museum Studies program should have a copy available for it’s students. (The 2014 edition may be a little spendy, but the 2012 version is free to AAM members).

    • Ka says:

      We were given a copy of that salary survey when I was in grad school. I thought I knew what to expect salary-wise. I figured I could make one of those salaries work…..except many museums do not even come close to meeting the lowest percentile for salary on that survey. I know my museum doesn’t come close. None of our employees meet any salary on that survey. Except for our director of course, who makes about triple to quadruple what any of us make.
      These past few articles on salary are what need to be given to current MA students!

  4. Emily says:

    I think museum studies programs are a larger part of this problem than mentioned above. Masters programs have proliferated in the last decades and now offer an additional hurdle to landing your first museum job. Most graduates go on to unpaid internships with little prospect of a full time position. What is more, I question whether most of these programs offer deep study or tangible skills. The cost of an MA is far more than you will ever recoup in salary. What’s more, nearly all programs are taught by non-tenured staff who are themselves underpaid.

    It’s unethical for universities to accept so many students into museum studies programs when there are so few prospects for graduates.

    Nina Simon writes persuasively on the value of museum graduate degrees and their drawbacks–

  5. Janine says:

    I realize im a bit late to this post, but Im hoping someone might still be able to provide some insight about the following infomation. My understanding was that professional associations actually cannot establish and promote salary standards as it is considered a form of price-fixing. This might only be the case among certain types of nonprofits (501 c 6 versus 501 c 3). Salary surveys by associations (as long as the data is analyzed and compiled by a third-party) seem to be as far as most can legally go, at least within the US. Has anyone heard this explanation?

  6. […] about that elsewhere on this blog which you can find here: Museums and the Salary Conundrum or The Salary Agenda. But having acknowledged the demands of family, friends, and the financial strain of salaries that […]

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