Why April 10, 2018 Matters

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April 10 was equal pay day for white women working in the museum world. That’s the day they make as much as their white, male colleagues did in 2017. For women of color, equal pay day arrives in August, for Native women, September, and almost 6 months later Latina women finally catch up. If you are an Asian woman, you arrive at equal pay day a month ahead of your white female colleagues.

We’re reporting on all of this, not to make you feel discouraged although it undoubtedly will. We understand that for many people–including many women–the whole topic of gender is exhausting. You are not alone.

Asked whether she was contemptuous of smart women, writer Susan Sontag snapped, “Where did you get that idea? At least half the intelligent people I’ve known have been women. I couldn’t be more sympathetic to women’s problems or more angry about women’s condition. But the anger is so old that in the day-to-day sense I don’t feel it. It seems to me the oldest story in the world.”

For many, it’s this sense of being on an endless loop, playing out decade after decade, that annoys some and discourages others. We’ve heard it all before. We’ve lived it. It makes us cranky, but then we feel like it’s time to let go and get on with life. And it’s difficult to sustain hope when women are frequently seen as a huge Oliver Twist chorus of “Please sir, I want some more.”

Except for museum staff who work for municipal, state or federal organizations where salaries are transparent and public, most of us have no idea whether a particular museum or heritage organization has closed its pay gap. Many institutions actively discourage conversation around salaries, and for a host of reasons, employees comply and avoid talking about how much they make. So unless you accidentally see the CFO’s salary spreadsheet or a colleague’s letter of agreement, you probably don’t know much.

The exception? If you’re the museum director. Then you likely have access to a lot of information, and precious few excuses for an inequitable pay scale. When was the last time you tracked salaries by race and gender for your board? How uncomfortable would it make you, knowing your organization pays a Latina woman significantly less than a black woman, and exponentially less than a white man all for doing the same job?

We hope you are uncomfortable because closing the pay gap is a problem the museum world can solve. And making the pay gap disappear is something any museum or heritage organization should be proud of. So here are five ways to make change so that in April 2019 when Equal Pay Day rolls around again, you can say “Done and dusted” and turn your attention elsewhere.

  1. If you’re an individual offered a new job, negotiate. Know what you need to make to live without constantly worrying. Ask for it.
  2. If you’re a museum leader, chart your staff by gender and race. If you lead a smaller organization, you may not have two staff members who do even close to the same thing. In that case, compare your staff salaries to the ones in AAM’s salary survey. Are yours better by gender, better overall or are there multiple issues?
  3. Bring your salary information to your board, but before you do, understand what salary equity says to staff members. It’s not just words, it’s an acknowledgement that everyone in the organization chart is equally important, not more prized because they’re white and male. Make sure your board understands how important closing the gap is. Across the board raises–were they offered–deepen wage equity rather than fixing it. Close the gap first.
  4. Consider the way your organization hires. Is the hiring process relatively bias free or not bias free at all? Learn what you can from AAM’s Hiring Bias Project.
  5. Recognize your own biases and leave them at the door. Know that when labor economists look at the wage gap, 38-percent of it can’t be explained, meaning it isn’t about training or choices. It’s about how people and their occupations are perceived. Do your part and make change where you can.

Joan Baldwin

 

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2 Comments on “Why April 10, 2018 Matters”

  1. Ren says:

    Great post as usual! I really appreciated that you brought up the fact that in smaller museums no two people do the same thing, so there isn’t a good marker there. It’s also hard to tell when you have smaller museums whose staff is 90% women, and they all do different things. Are they being paid equitably? Checking AAM’s salary survey would definitely be a good thing in that situation.
    Thanks!

  2. Michael Holland says:

    I appreciate the call for transparency regarding salaries. Employees are at a disadvantage when they lack the ability to compare their compensation and verify the existence or absence of pay equity in general. Such opacity surely isn’t helping with the gender pay gap.


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