Making the Moral Argument for Museum Pay
Increasing pay takes planning. Know what you don't know. Who sets pay? How often are salaries adjusted? Have your organization's salaries kept pace with inflation, the field, other similar fields? When did they start to lag? Why?
Unless you're a founding director, you inherited a pay scale. When was the last time you looked at your entire pay scale from grounds, cleaners, and security to the top? Assuming you have an HR department and/or a CFO, work together to create a spreadsheet of all job titles (no names), education, race, gender, length of service, and hourly rate. What does it tell you?
Using your newly-created spread sheet, you'll know whether you have a gender or race pay gap. Is that a moral issue for you or your board? Remember, raising inequitable salaries perpetuates bias we need to leave behind.
Know what it costs to live in your area. Know the median rent. Know the living wage.
If you lead a large and/or urban institution, has your board discussed its concerns regarding unionization? Again, have you done your homework? What will the union offer that you're not providing? Could you provide it? Does staff asking for a union trust your museum's leadership? If not, why not?
If you're a leader, sound out your board. Are there some members who agree your organization's pay is abysmal and it should do something? Are they willing to make change?
Last, is your board comfortable with moral questions? Pay isn't just about money. Pay represents so many other things: It represents where you are in the institutional decision-making process; It represents who you rub shoulders with; It determines where you can live, the car you drive, and how fast you pay off student debt; It provides a sense of self-worth. Boards are traditionally made up of wealthy people who support an institution by donating money, knowledge about money, connections, intelligence and decision-making experience. When it comes to salaries, your job may be to remind your board what they don't know--about student debt, about the cost of living in your locale, about how your museum or heritage organization fits into your community's job picture, and most importantly, about the gender/race pay gap. These discussions aren't easy. Change is always hard. But this is about museums wanting to create equitable workplaces where women of color -- from Latinx who make 53 cents for every white man's dollar to American Indians who make 58 cents, and Black women who make 61 cents* -- make the same amount for the same job as a white man. Museums and heritage organizations may waffle about taking a stand on community issues, even on historical or cultural issues, but how about starting inside, with your own workforce? How about taking a stand for them? Invest in your staff. They pay you back every day. Joan Baldwin *American Association of University Women, "The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap." Image: From Marabou at the Museum, "Money Makes the Museum Doors Open: Museum Funding 101," September 6, 2018.