Museum Leadership and Pay Equity: Is It Your Problem?

gender equity

This past week marked Equal Pay Day (April 4) when museum women, along with working women across the United States, finally made as much as their male colleagues did in 2016. Yes, you read that right: It takes an additional four months and three days for women to make as much money as men do in a year.

But it’s actually worse than that.

According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), April 4 is when white women who are not actively parenting catch up. It is another seven weeks for working mothers. The dates for Black women, Native American women, and Latina women are July 31, September 25, and November 2 respectively.

Women make up half the national workforce. In museums, art galleries and historical sites, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting (2016), 41-percent of museum employees are women. Nationally, full-time female workers make 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. If you possess a newly-minted masters degree in museum studies, that fateful 20-percent difference may not seem like much when weighed against a first job offer, the chance to work in a field you love, not to mention the opportunity to grapple with your student debt. But it’s a big deal. According to the National Women’s Law Center, based on today’s figures, over the course of a woman’s career, she will lose approximately $418,000 in wages significantly affecting her retirement, and her Social Security will be almost $4,000 less annually than a man of the same age.

Across the board—including museums, heritage organizations, zoos and botanical gardens—women are paid less. Whether your organization has a transparent salary scale or not–and few non-governmental museums do–this isn’t a myth. A quick glance at Association of Art Museum Directors’ salary information for 2015-2017 or AAM’s salary survey will provide the information you need. And by women we don’t mean only white women receiving 20-percent less than their white male colleagues. Black women’s median earnings are 63.3 cents of white men’s, while Hispanic women earn 54.4 percent. Transgender women–if they are hired at all–are at the bottom of the pay-day food chain.

These problems are compounded in the museum world because salaries are traditionally low, and expectations are high. You are expected to hold a master’s degree; you are expected to have had some experience, and museums and heritage organizations are frequently located in the high-rent district, meaning if you want to live close to work, your living expenses may be higher than normal. Last, and by no means least, the museum world has been rife with complaints (and rightfully so) over the last five years about how white its workforce is. But rarely, if ever, is the field’s lack of diversity attributed to its poor salaries.  With a wealth of career choices, why should college-educated woman of color join the museum field only to make less than their white female colleagues who are already making less than men?

So, what are you, as a museum leader supposed to do about what is clearly a nation-wide problem? Here are some suggestions:

  • Even if you didn’t do the hiring, know what your staff makes.
  • Graph your salaries by gender and race. Discuss the results with your HR director and the personnel committee of your board. If need be, see if you can get a commitment to level the playing field.
  • Depending on the size of your organization, consider being more transparent about wages. If your board’s personnel committee and HR can’t stomach an open salary scale, how about salary bands?
  • Post wages, or at a minimum, a salary band when jobs open.
  • Work to eliminate bias from the hiring process. That includes not only assumptions about race and gender, but also the big elephant in every interview that a woman of child-bearing age will not be as productive as a man of the same age.
  • Work to provide paid family leave.
  • If you are able to make and live by some of the changes above, be open about it. Let the world know. Most women know they make less than men. Working for an organization that acknowledges that fact and is making change is a good thing.

Great museums, regardless of size or budget, are staffed by smart, imaginative folks who make smart, imaginative decisions not just for the public but for their staffs. Those are the folks you want working for you. Be a leader in pay equity. Be the place they want to work.

Joan Baldwin

Advertisements

4 Comments on “Museum Leadership and Pay Equity: Is It Your Problem?”

  1. Ka says:

    As a staff member how are we supposed to advocate for equal pay? What are some tactics? Technically…I am not supposed to know how much my co-workers make. (I do know, but not because my ED told me). I know that I make the same or even a little less than a male co-worker who is less qualified than me. I know I make a lot less than a male co-worker and a female co-worker who are not as qualified as I am. I’m younger so I get paid less is the rationale…even though I am more educated and have more experience in the museum field.

    • You can begin this discussion when you meet with your ED or your direct report if it’s not the ED, by asking if this is something the board and the leadership have ever talked about, and whether it might be something the board would consider as a global policy for your organization. Another approach might be to talk about it with the women on your staff without revealing what you know about their salaries; however, while there is strength in numbers, not every museum leader reacts well when confronted by a group of female staff alleging that they are paid less than their male co-workers.

      • Ka says:

        It’s definitely going to be a tough thing to try for. I know our ED wants to keep salaries as confidential as possible. Only reason I know what some are, are due to financial records needed for grants. Our board will definitely not want to release this information to us. They don’t even want us attending board meetings. I guess my best bet is to try to bring it up to my ED in confidence at annual review.

  2. The problem is that with job security a big issue in a profession where jobs are scarce, noone wants to be the first to rock the boat. I work for government so we have pay equity. I am a big believer in hiring on merit not colour, race or gender or age. i also hate being called “white” and prefer to be called Caucasian.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s