While most job adverts in the UK museum sector declare the position’s salary, we continue to see a few instances where the pay for a role is undisclosed or described as ‘negotiable’ or ‘competitive’. Fair Museum Jobs believes that the practice on non-disclosure of salaries is not only unhelpful for job candidates, but is also damaging for sector diversity, equality and staff well-being. We shall set out below some of the negative impacts such practices produce.
Negative Effect on a Job Candidate’s Financial Planning
Financial planning is a necessity for all of us. Before considering whether or not to apply for a job, a candidate should be in a position to make reasoned judgements about whether the role’s salary will cover outgoings such as the costs of 1) accommodation, 2) transport, 3) food, 4) utilities, 5) clothing, 6) family responsibilities, 7) pre-existing debt, 8) tax implications, and 9) membership of professional bodies.
Given that salaries for museum jobs are very depressed when compared to the national average for comparative roles, our sector’s professionals are particularly vulnerable to economic hardships. For many of us, our financial planning is subject to very narrow margins and with little room between just getting by and poverty.
Without knowing a role’s salary, financial planning is essentially impossible. By advertising a job with an undisclosed salary, recruiters risk wasting significant amounts of an applicant’s time should the role turn out to be financially unsustainable. If an applicant is progressed to the interview stage for such a role, they risk not only wasting further time, but also of bearing financial costs related to booking time off work and travelling to the recruiting organisation.
Discrimination in favour of richer candidates
It has been known for a long time that the sector’s workforce is predominantly white and middle class and does not accurately reflect the rest of the United Kingdom’s society and demographic. While much work has been undertaken to tackle this issue, significant barriers remains in place for candidates from lower income or minority-ethnic backgrounds hoping to begin a career in museums.
While candidates from wealthier backgrounds may be able to fall-back upon significant savings or the potential for stipends from family members, not everyone has this luxury. Financial planning is even more imperative for candidates from lower-income backgrounds. Yet given the impossibilities for financial planning when a salary is unknown, it is just such under-represented candidates who are pushed out from the application process.
The practice of salary non-disclosure is not only bad for the sector in the way that it narrows the pool of potential candidates from under-represented backgrounds, it is also clearly discriminatory in the way that it favours candidates from privileged backgrounds.
Not everyone can negotiate equally
It must be acknowledged that some candidates will be more willing to enter into salary negotiations than others. It is also worth noting that not everyone stands the same chances of success once they have decided to negotiate.
Much research has shown that women are less likely than men to initiate salary negotiations. When women do negotiate, there is evidence that they are less likely to be successful in this regard than their male peers. Men may in general not only be more confident about asking for more money, they may also benefit from the (conscious or unconscious) selection biases of salary review panels.
Age may also be an issue. It seems obvious that younger candidates may lack the work place experience to either feel comfortable about entering into salary negotiations. Yet there is also evidence to suggest that older workers are more likely to accept an initial salary offer, rather than attempt to haggle. Whether this is because of cultural reasons or anxieties amongst older jobseekers about their appeal to employers remains to be seen.
Negotiable salaries perpetuate the Gender Pay Gap
The implications of the fact that men are more likely to negotiate for higher salaries (and are more likely to be successful in these endeavours than women) are clear. Despite the introduction of equal pay legislation in the US in 1963 and in the UK in 1970, both nations still experience significant pay gaps between men and women. If legislation alone cannot fix the problem (which it hasn’t been able to do in the last 50 years), then employers also have a responsibility to tackle the issue. Negotiable salaries are clearly a part of the problem, and any employer that has a commitment to social equality should realise this and put an end to the practice.
A Worrying Lack of Transparency
When examining issues such as the gender pay gap, transparency is of key importance. While it may be somewhat taboo to discuss salaries within social settings, without openness about such topics it would be impossible to gather exactly the sort of the data that shows that the gender pay gap is still very much alive and well in the 21st Century. Nor would it be possible to highlight and celebrate the significant strides that have been made since the 1960s and 1970s.
This issue became particularly prominent in the UK in 2017, with the revelations about the gender pay gap at the BBC. The gender pay gap amongst the UK’s leading broadcaster made headline news, both on Television and in the print media. Gender inequality became an issue at the forefront of public discussion and consciousness. Yet this was only possible because the BBC is a publicly funded intuition. Even if the moral obligation to investigate their issues with gender inequality was not overwhelming, they would also be subject to legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The BBC simply had nowhere to hide.
However, roles with undisclosed salaries are rarely advertised by publicly funded bodies. Not being answerable to freedom of information legislation, these private institutions are free to perpetuate the gender pay gap in a way that is not so open to public scrutiny. Can potential gender inequality be allowed to hide in such plain sight? Fair Museum Jobs believes that it shouldn’t.
Beyond issues of gender inequality, the lack of transparency around undisclosed salaries raises other issues. If an employer chooses to keep quiet about how much they pay their staff, to what extent does that facilitate poor (or illegal) practices such as unpaid internships, grossly deflated salaries, salaries paid below the National or London Living Wage, or salaries paid below the National Minimum Wage?
An Invitation to ‘Lowest Wins’ Bidding Wars?
Undisclosed salaries may be one thing, but what happens when a candidate is asked to express their salary expectations? Such practices are explicit on certain US job adverts. Their prevalence in the UK is less certain, but the practice is implied by such vague and unhelpful terms describing salaries as ‘negotiable’ or ‘competitive’.
How should an applicant respond to such a question? Setting the bar too high may preclude them from consideration, but setting it too low may make them beholden to assertations that severely curtail their room for later negotiation.
Candidates could be entering a bidding war, where the lowest offer wins. Salaries in the museum sector are already depressed, but such practices would only add to this depression. We return also to the issue of discrimination against candidates from poorer backgrounds, who are forced by financial realities to set the bar higher than a candidate who can rely on savings or the support of wealthy friends and family.
The Curse of Gratitude
Museum workers have in common their dedication to and passion for the sector. Many are the privations for which we suffer to earn a living doing something in which we believe. This, coupled with the general scarcity of sector jobs, has a genuinely pernicious affect. Gaining paid work in the sector becomes something other than an innate right or even a reasonable expectation, but a Herculean feat. With many of us waiting well over two years to get our foot on the first rung of the career ladder, and well over ten years to begin to feel fully ‘emerged’, job offers are something that cannot be scoffed at.
Given the competition, to be appointed to a paid museum role is a massive achievement – and it is one for which we may feel a genuine sense of gratitude. Indeed, the gratitude may be so great that we lose touch with rationality, and rush in to accept roles that are simply financial unsustainable. Refuse such a job offer, and there will be 50 other willing and enthusiastic candidates to take your place.
Economics dictates that over-subscribed roles will have depressed salaries. For all the negative implications for workforce diversity that this has, it remains a fact. Yet some employers may also see this oversubscription, and the sense of gratitude that it instils amongst successful candidates, as something to be exploited. Not only does it mean that emerging museum professionals will jump at the chance to accept job offers for roles with insufficient salaries, it also means that, in the case of negotiable salaries, they are likely to take the lowest offer without stopping to think about it.
In the museum sector, the odds are already stacked heavily in favour of employers. They do not need any more help.
Negative Effects on Candidate’s Mental Wellbeing
Museum workers are subject to significant amounts of stress. Paid employment is uncertain, jobs are poorly paid, and funding cuts mean that many of us are having to do less with more (https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/06052015-staff-stress). A host of accounts have appeared from museum professionals who have felt compelled to leave the sector (see here and here), citing factors such as financial uncertainty, stress and burnout. Fantastic work by groups such as the Museum Wellness Network continues to highlight the effect that museum work can have on its workers.
Financial uncertainty remains one of the biggest factors affecting the wellbeing of sector workers. And there are few uncertainties more crucial than not knowing how much you’re going to get paid.