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Shining a light on salaries

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Emma Clark Gratton

Sometimes operating in the dark does more harm than good.
Shining a light on salaries

Image via Shutterstock.

Pay secrecy protects the employer while disempowering employees, allows pay discrepancies based on unconscious bias to go unchecked, and decreases staff satisfaction.

Wage transparency is not just about knowing what everyone is being paid, but knowing your value within your organisation, your industry and the broader economy. Working in the arts comes with the understanding that you may not be paid as well as in other industries, but your work satisfaction and creative opportunities may be higher.

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Find the balance

Wendy Syfret, editor of i-D magazine, is obsessed with the idea of wage transparency. ‘If you are not getting paid as much as someone else, that’s fine. We work in the arts, the reality is that we won’t get paid as much as doctors or lawyers,’ she said.

‘But I think it is about being stringent about what is expected of you for that money. That’s fine if you’re not going to earn more than $45,000 a year, but you shouldn’t be working an 80 hour week then.

‘And if you aren’t going to be able to retire or afford a nanny or go on holiday, then you are going to make sure that you set aside a certain number of hours that you can then look after your kids, or have a side project, or look after yourself in a different way.’

High earners are often compromising on other parts of their lives. It is a rare person who manages to earn six figures by doing fulfilling and creative work, has enough time to spend with family and friends, and still has time left over to enjoy their own pursuits. Try to look at your salary as just one part of your multi-layered life. You might not be earning much, so are you happy in other areas?

Finding ways to enjoy your life in non-financial ways is important if you are not earning the big bucks, says Syfret. ‘People earn $150,000 a year, and that’s very stressful, so they go on holidays to Majorca to relax. I don’t earn that much money so I shouldn’t get that stressed, I should have a life that gives me a balance that I should be able to enjoy in another place. It’s not what you’re getting paid, or not getting paid, but it’s also about allowing yourself the space to reward yourself in non-money ways.’

It’s a gender thing

Wage secrecy allows employers to get away with paying people less than their colleagues who are doing the same job. It’s common knowledge that women earn less money than men in the same roles. What is more disturbing is the fact that, despite feminism becoming mainstream and flexible working conditions becoming more common, the gender pay gap is getting worse. In 2004, the gender pay gap was 14.9%. In 2014, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency declared that the gap was 18.2%, an increase of almost 4%.

Women in full-time work take home A$283.20 per week less than their male counterparts. Put another way, Australian women have to work an extra 66 days each year to take home the same amount as a man.

One way to work at closing the gender gap is by being open and honest about what employees are paid, regardless of gender. ‘Wage transparency is essential to begin to address the pay wage gap between genders. Currently men get paid approximately 18% more than women and in the arts it can be even higher,’ said NAVA’s Brianna Munting.   

The gender gap exists for a number of reasons: social conditioning which prevents women from asking for pay rises or asserting themselves, a workplace culture which favours “face time” (being in the office) over performance, and a whole host of subtle unconscious biases against women.

One way of closing the gender gap might be gender selecting CEO’s firstborn. Sound crazy? Well, international research shows shortly after a male CEOs becomes father to a baby daughter, the women who work for him get a direct benefit. And if that baby girl is the firstborn child of that CEO, the pay gap decreases by 3%. Might be time to spike your boss’s coffee with some X chromosomes.

But what about the arts?

Wage transparency is particularly important in the arts, says Munting. ‘We see a significant number of women graduating from visual arts degrees (approximately 75% according to CoUNTESS research) and NAVA believes there needs to be a clear application of fair pay processes and transparency to ensure equity in employment conditions and begin to address the gender pay gap.'

‘Wage transparency could also potentially have an impact on the payment of artists fees, as organisations would have to demonstrate the amounts paid to artists,’ added Munting.

While the gender gap in the arts – an industry which is traditionally seen to be egalitarian and progressive – is consistent with the gender gap across all industries, there is some good news for women in the arts. An American study published in the December issue of the journal Social Currents found that women who work in the arts have one unique advantage: ‘In the arts, we do not find the wage penalty to motherhood that has been documented in virtually every other field,’ writes researcher Danielle Lindemann. For most women, having a child tends to depress one’s earnings. Not so for those in the arts. ‘Female artistic workers fail to incur the ‘motherhood penalty’ found in previous work on other occupations,’ writes Lindemann.

While they’re uncertain why this is, the researchers suspect “the particular forms of flexibility” some arts careers provide allow women artists to continue to pursue their work while raising children.

“The arts, more than other occupations, are characterized by project-based labor markets, and periods of self-employment,” they note. The resultant “ability to work from home, and maintain flexible hours” may reduce the income penalties mothers with dual sets of responsibilities would otherwise receive.

Work to your value

Research shows that without actual information, employees rely on rumour and “positional cues”, like the size of a colleague’s house, car, or lifestyle, to make estimates of others’ pay. And workers often overestimate what their co-workers earn and end up being more dissatisfied than if they had accurate pay information.

Knowing your value is part of understanding why you are paid the amount that you are. ‘I am a big believer that you have more skills than you realise,’ said Syfret. ‘Many people seem to mute themselves to their own abilities.

‘Something that I did which gave me a lot more confidence was, having a text doc open on my laptop for a week, and every time I did something, I wrote it down. So I pinpointed every single skill I was bringing to the company. It was such a good lesson to understand my own worth. It brought me so much clarity.

‘We often feel that we are so stagnant, but we are not. We’re always moving and learning in our jobs and our creative lives, but we just don’t see it as we are always looking forward.’

Benefits to business

Being open about salary has benefits to both the employee and the employer. Research has shown that pay secrecy creates pay dissatisfaction while public pay increases pay satisfaction. Shifting to an open system from a secret system can lead to a large increase in pay satisfaction.

Under pay secrecy, conscious or unconscious bias and stereotyping can affect pay decisions. Wage transparency is important in understanding where inequality occurs and provides a tool for negotiating pay. It holds Boards and organisations accountable to ensure they are committing to fair and equal pay for all employees. 

One drawback for pay transparency is that it allows for criticism over public funding, which many arts organisations receive. ‘However, given many not for profit organisations are required to disclose wages in annual reports this is really a minor consideration given the potential benefits,’ said Munting.

About the author

Emma Clark Gratton is an ArtsHub staff writer.

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