You may have seen the Arts + All Museums Salary Transparency spreadsheet: a Google sheet of (at the time of this posting) nearly 2000 museum salaries from around the world. The nature of the data for each submission varies, but most entries include the name or type of museum, individual’s role and department, location, starting and ending salary, benefits, and required degree. Some individuals have also provided their gender and race. The bulk of the submissions come from museum professionals working in the United States, but the sheet also includes entries from countries such as Brazil, France, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Michelle Millar Fisher, an assistant curator in the European decorative arts and design department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and colleagues created the spreadsheet to encourage transparency across the field after being inspired by Kimberly Rose Drew’s story of how she learned she had been undercompensated for her work at The Met. They may have also been inspired by a similar spreadsheet created weeks earlier by Alison Green of Ask A Manager for the same purpose: to “take the mystery out of salaries.”
At this point, the spreadsheet has grown 1800% since its first day and the story has been picked up by news sites such as Artnews, Artnet, Business Insider, Nonprofit Quarterly, and others. Fisher expressed her hope to Artnews that the spreadsheet “… encourages a conversation between coworkers… If you don’t do it, everything stays the same. Sometimes it takes just one tiny action. Solidarity is the only way to effect great change.”
Where do we go from here? What can you do?
If you haven’t yet, look over the spreadsheet. It’s grown from a 100-entry sheet of mainly curatorial submissions to a nearly 2,000-entry behemoth of positions in administration, collections, digital, education, operations, security, visitor services, and other departments. If you’re interested in downloading a copy of the data, you may be able to obtain one by emailing the contact provided on the front page of the sheet.
Submit your own entry. The spreadsheet has been locked to preserve its data, but you can (and should!) add your information through this Google form. While it has grown impressively, we’re still nowhere near a full picture of the field.
Be open with your colleagues. Workplace etiquette has long dictated to keep mum about one’s salary, but silence perpetuates the status quo. Transparency about salaries and benefits exposes both institution-based and field-wide inequities.
Speak up. In a NY Times article about the Ask A Manager spreadsheet, Liz Dolan of the podcast “Safe for Work” and formerly of the marketing teams for Nike and the Oprah Winfrey Network suggests “[asking] for regular raises, noting that the earnings compounded over time [are] considerable.” She also notes, “Sometimes you have to be first and that is the scary part… It’s important to build that confidence.” Whether you are applying for or already in a museum job, use the data from this spreadsheet and other resources such as annual wage surveys to bolster your ask for pay you deserve. (You can find additional pay-related resources under Tab 3: Other Resources on the spreadsheet.)
Team up. Asking for change can be intimidating. Lean on and lend your support to colleagues if you or they decide to speak up.
Share up. Transparency is important; action on the the information provided is doubly so. Share the spreadsheet and other salary data with the people with pockets (or paying power): museum leadership, board members, HR, you name it. They need to understand that this is an issue to be taken seriously, and – hopefully – with our voices combined, we may move the needle.
Following three months of contract negotiations and protests over labor issues at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the MoMA Local 2110 Union reached an agreement this Friday for their new contract with the management of the institution. The five-year contract sets salary minimums and includes a new structure for providing pay increases as well as amendments to MoMA’s health care plan. The new contract will offer a seniority step program that offers raises after certain periods of time, a benefit the museum had previously sought to discontinue, as well as guidelines for tuition benefits, paid family leave, and commission and sales benefits for employees in MoMA’s Retail and Visitor Engagement Department. Protests began after the union’s previous contract expired on May 20th of this year with no new one in place. Contract negotiations came at a time of the final push of their massive expansion plan. This expansion plan added fuel to the fire for many due to the museum attempting to offer less while demanding more from their workers in the run-up to the opening.
MoMA Local 2110, also known as PASTA ( Professional and Administrative Staff Association of the Museum of Modern Art,) have long been protesting during contract negotiations, the most recent of which was in 2015 and a full strike in 2000. However, most museums are unable to unionize and/or are too small to successfully negotiate worker contract leading to the pandemic of low salaries and underpaid employees in the museum world. For most of us in or entering the museum field, we are choosing to do what we love, knowing the monetary gratification may not be there. But does that mean it shouldn’t be? Shouldn’t museums be paying their employees livable wages? The answer of course is yes. But why is that not always the case?
The problem of low museum salaries has grown over-time and is both a results of institutional and societal issues. Institutionally, issues of salary equity, with many long term employees still sustaining on archaically low wages, driving down the pay of new hires. Also at issue, the limited overall funding available to many museums as staff are often included with heat and electricity in the museum’s overhead. However, many of the issues in low museum salaries come down to the gender gap and the historical view of museums as “pink-collar” workplace and the hierarchical nature of many institutions. The idea that many women working in museums have family money, or a spouse that can support their career, has long been stereotype of the museum field. Yet, most of us entering the museum field now are young, single, and professionally educated. We cannot rely of the spousal income subsidy to follow our dreams but must juggle student loan payments while we search the oversaturated job market. So what can we do? Negotiate. Calculate a living wage, plus loan, payments and quality of life. We cannot be afraid as young professionals to negotiate a salary and not just leap upon the first job offer received. Most importantly, as emerging professionals we must advocate for professional associations, unions, and museum service organizations that will set and promote national salary standards for museum positions.
We talked about Guidestar not that long ago, and remember at the bottom of that post shared some of Guidestar’s resources for nonprofits?
Well, there’s another one coming up soon. Guidestar is running a free webinar called “The Compensation Checklist for Nonprofits: Are You Prepared for Today and the Next Five Years?”
They describe it as:
Reviewing your nonprofit’s compensation program should be a frequent practice, but many times this process becomes reactionary. In today’s competitive labor environment, organizations need to consider these reviews as required maintenance of their most important asset—their employees.
We have developed a checklist to help nonprofit organizations approach compensation issues, now and in the future, with confidence.
The webinar is on Tuesday, January 25 at 1:00 p.m. Register here.
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