Museum Pay (Again)

woman with coin

Maybe it’s the summer. Maybe it’s the heat, but among museum news-sharing folk the question of pay reared its head again last week. On AAM’s Museum Junction there was a question and several responses regarding pay for front line staff. One of the responses was from Michael Holland who posted a lengthy article on low pay on AAM’s Diversity and Inclusion page in February. In addition, blogger Paul Orselli, asked us all to take notice (again) of the need to post salaries with job announcements. You can read his full post here.

The initial Museum Junction question came from Mark Osterman at the Vizcaya Museum in Miami, FLA who asked about pay for “frontline staff,” and whether other museums use merit pay, bonuses or some other vehicle to increase wages for admission staff or part-time greeters. The two organizations who responded said they offer annual wage increases of between .01 and .03 percent on base salaries of $10.75 and $12.50.  Another question that Osterman and the two responders might ask themselves is whether their frontline pay is equitable?

We like to think Leadership Matters remains a stalwart voice for both better salaries and pay equity in the museum field. If these issues are new to you, consider for the moment that increasing salaries simply perpetuates whatever pay inequity already exists. Let’s say you work at a museum with a staff of 50, and a Latina woman and a Caucasian woman both work in the education department. Imagine the museum board arrives for its quarterly meeting and decides, based on industry trends and the fact that the organization had a very good year, to raise salaries across the board by 10-percent. Sadly, after the backslapping and texts to friends, the Caucasian woman and her Latina colleague would still likely have a salary gap of almost 13-percent because white women make a lot more than Latina women. And by the way, those percentages, which come from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, are compared to white men doing the same job. (We realize that’s an unlikely scenario because museum education departments are usually bastions of underpaid women.)

Michael Holland’s comment suggested, among other things, that museum salaries should reflect museum values, and that 21st-century salaries should permit staff to live in the communities in which they work. Which brings us to Paul Orselli’s piece which points out that organizations like AAM and AASLH need to require organizations to list salary ranges when posting job announcements. Orselli pleads with his readers to contact AAM and AASLH and ask that they change their policies. We agree, and we’ve said as much over and over since the start of this blog. In keeping with our tradition of suggestions for museum folk at all levels, here are some possible recommendations depending on where you find yourself in the field.

For Museum Service Organizations:

  • Change your policies to require job announcements include salaries or salary ranges and be explicit in explaining why. You have an opportunity to educate and advocate.
  • Museums and heritage organizations, zoos and botanical gardens are important institutions for a host of reasons, but they are not always workplace nirvana. Start publicly acknowledging organizations who are good employers and tell the field why.

For Museum Board Members:

  • Know where your museum’s salaries fit in the annual AAM salary survey and, if appropriate, the AAMD salary survey, but remember that survey is but one data point to investigate. Look broadly across the nonprofit sector in your community/region/state at salaries for comparable job titles. Benchmark museums specific to yours in terms of budget size and discipline.
  • Know how much it costs to live in your community. Use the MIT Living Wage Calculator to figure out if your staff can actually afford to live and work in the same place. If your organization can’t afford to offer the salaries it should, as a board member you should be fully aware how well your staff performs despite being underpaid.
  • How often does your board discuss the human cost of running a museum?
  • Do your museum’s salaries reflect your museum’s value statement?

For Museum Leaders:

  • Know what’s going on. Use the AAM and AAMD salary surveys, and other survey data from across the nonprofit sector. Make sure you’re not underpaying. If you are, know why.
  • Do your salaries reflect your museum values statement?
  • Are your salaries equitable? If not, what is your role? Don’t let unconscious bias fester.
  • Make sure salary is a part of all annual reviews.

For Museum Staff and Those in the Job Hunt:

  • If you’re applying for a new job, do your due diligence. Know what it costs to live where you’re applying. Be prepared to say no if you can’t actually live on the salary offered.
  • When you receive an offer, don’t say yes right away. Think it through. Negotiate. Know what you need.
  • If you’ve done great work, say so in your annual review. Explain what your great work means. Ask for a raise.
  • If there are opportunities to learn more about how your organization functions, take them. Serve on internal committees. Make an effort to understand your organization.
  • If you would like to see salary information with job announcements, follow Paul Orselli’s lead and contact Laura Lott (AAM President and CEO) and John Dichtl (AASLH President and CEO) and tell them how you feel about salary transparency in job announcements.

Then tell us what you think.

Joan Baldwin

14 Comments on “Museum Pay (Again)”

  1. Falk, Lisa - (falk) says:

    Thanks for the email links. This is the email I sent:

    For years I’ve never understood why organizations such as AAM have not required salary ranges to be listed. Federal agencies and universities do. It isn’t that big a request but it can have big results. Transparency is important. It will help increase it at least equalize salaries. It helps to cut down on wasted time by both the job seekers and museums interviewing.

    I’ve applied for jobs and been offered interviews for jobs I had no idea what the salary would be. I negotiated hard and did research only to be offered a salary that was far below what I was currently earning in a place where the cost of living was lower than that of the location of the potential new job. Of course I turned it down. I have a family to provide for and respect for myself and the years of experience and skill I offer. What a waste of time for all of us!

    There is no reason not to require that job listings include salary ranges. Remember this is a profession, not a volunteer position. If AAM is really living its talk, it would do this. Thank you for considering this, which museum professionals have been requesting for decades.

    Lisa Falk
    Arizona State Museum
    MAT George Washington University 1987

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. cometclear says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how people of a certain “enlightened” political ideology seemingly divorce their political and moral beliefs from their professional lives when it comes to a living wage, playing straight with lowly applicants, demanding equity and erasing pay gaps and so forth. Breathtaking hypocrisy much of the time, both in the museum and in the academy.

  3. […] via Museum Pay (Again) — Leadership Matters […]

  4. Dear Joan, thank you and Anne for continuing to press this most important issue!

  5. Thanks for the shout out on my blog posts on this topic. Keep pressing and emailing AAM, AASLH, NEMA, and any other museum organization that is not (YET!) requiring salary ranges. This reflects poorly on the museum organizations!

    • AASLH President & CEO, John Dichtl, e-mailed me the other day saying: “a few months ago we made it a requirement for jobs posted on the AASLH Career Center to list a salary range.” AASLH intends to take down any job ad on the AASLH system that does not report pay range.

  6. Jim Roberts says:

    The Museum Studies Jobs Desk has recently taken action on a number of issues: 1. we will not accept adverts for unpaid internships unless they lead to formal training and a qualification. 2. All adverts for paid posts must state the salary or salary range before they go online (this is more difficult with USA adverts than UK) 3. A slight side issue to these, all ‘Maternity Leave Cover’ adverts are now posted as ‘Parental Leave Cover’.

    • KaM says:

      Yay!!! I used to use the jobs desk all the time when I was looking for a job. So happy to hear this. I still recommend the jobs desk to a lot of museum friends 🙂

      • Jim Roberts says:

        I’m afraid that I advertise almost no USA posts any more because they do not reveal their salaries (or even salary ranges). I wonder what they are afraid of. It means that the Jobs Desk is becoming (has become) even more UK centric – less work for me but less variety for users.

  7. This will continue to a never ending discussion, not only in our industry, but also in others. Let’s not forget another component of the pay question – compensation time. How many of us have worked in locations which stipulated after hour and weekend hours will be used to find that the employer does not allow compensation time, much less overtime!

  8. Michael Holland says:

    Thanks for working to keep this issue front and center, Joan! I’m especially pleased to see the suggestions for actions that museum staff at all levels can take to move the needle in the direction of progress.

    One area where I’ve been active is job listings. My social media feed regularly contains announcements for available positions, in both museums and academic institutions. Almost without exception the only ones that list pay ranges are government jobs. Every time I see these incomplete listings, I post a comment politely noting that the salary info is missing, often pointing out that without that info, potential applicants and the hiring organization could both be wasting their time.

    I’m not sure if the hiring organizations ever see my comments, but there are always many “likes” and subsequent comments in agreement with mine, and many of those come from people who are actively working in museums and universities today. It is my hope that those who are (or one day will be) in the position to hire someone themselves might initiate a needed cultural shift in recruitment/hiring practices.



  9. KaM says:

    I love and hate the AAM salary survey. It’s a great idea but I feel like it also helps to hold salaries down. Some directors don’t see the point in raising their employees salaries if they are already at the median. The survey (to me) showcases just how underpaid museum staff are and if anything we should want to surpass the salaries listed on it. But a lot of directors feel if they are meeting the median it is “good enough”.

    We just need change across the board. Thank you for articles like this, I’m hoping more and more directors and boards sit up and take notice.

  10. Janice Klein says:

    The Museum Trustee Association’s recent newsletter’s Tips for Trustees focuses on recruitment issues, including posting salary ranges…

    Transparent job descriptions also can help your museum recruit a more diverse candidate pool; conveying salary ranges, benefits, and time commitments in job postings can help the museum to attract the right applicants and save everyone time during the interview and hiring process.

    For the full article:

    Looks like those at the top are moving in the right direction, too.

  11. R. Smith says:

    Came across this post while researching museum salaries and looking for a sign that someone at least thought about the needs of museum staff. This piece along with the one by Michael Holland give me some hope.

    But something in Holland’s piece stuck with me because of the current situation where I work. He mentions consolidated positions and people taking on growing lists of duties. That has happened where I work, but reason is rather disheartening.

    About 10 years ago salaries were cut frozen. No raises were given, or so we were told. But last year I found out that positions were left empty because a few executives were gradually restoring their salaries as well as paying themselves what they would have earned when their salaries were cut. We were told this entire time that the museum couldn’t afford to give anyone raises.

    I’d call it an open secret since yoy can see a pattern in the museum’s tax records. The list of people considered executives got smaller while the salaries of remaining executives grew. For example, after the COO retired she wasn’t replaced. Instead, the CFO assumed the title and duties whilr remaining CFO.

    (Something to nothe before gender gets brought up: all but one of the highest executives receiving a salary are female. This includes the CEO and CFO/COO.)

    So, morale and pay or low while staff turnover is high. The museum renewed it’s AAM accreditation successfully earlier this year, so they either don’t know or don’t care about the situation.

    It’s been tough to find anyone to share this with that could bring attention to and maybe rectify this situation, but the organizations in this post are a good start.

    For the curious, here’s the link to the museum’s tax records for the past several years on ProPublica:

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