Would you work for less pay? You would probably say no to that, but for many women, especially women of color working in the art world and beyond, this is the reality they face at work today.
As the executive director of a nonprofit organization that works to serve women in the arts, I have seen first-hand how this plays out on a daily basis in a variety of contexts. Reflecting on my own history in the arts as an unpaid intern, then moving to low-paid positions without benefits in prominent, large institutions, later owning my own business, and finally running nonprofits and being responsible for others’ salaries and benefits, I’ve come to understand the challenges as both a worker and a decision maker. Last year, ArtTable, where I am currently the Lila Harnett executive director, engaged a consultant to review all of our current and future positions in relation to salary and benefits. This process inspired us to want to know more about these issues of pay and compensation, but the industry was lacking data, absent a study published in 2016. Seeking to remedy this problem, ArtTable launched its own study this past September. In addition to our data-gathering efforts, we also now require pay transparency on all job listings that we promote on our website (a practice that is now required by law in New York State). When you know your own starting salary, you know exactly where you stand in a pool of others just like you. This unveiling is the first step in eliminating pay inequities between different genders, races, sexualities, etc. But, while this is an earnest step on the road to equality, the law is attempting to solve the problem without fully understanding what the problem is.
To create a genuine change in the culture of valuation, to be seen as an equal rather than be given equal pay out of fear or status quo, we must first gain a deeper understanding of how systems of inequality shape the compensation and career experiences and outcomes for professionals. This is why I urge you to participate in the ArtTable Survey on Working in the Arts, which aims to comprehensively understand inequalities in compensation in a variety of sectors across the artistic labor market. Specifically, the survey asks respondents to consider a variety of forms of compensation (including income, benefits, and other forms of compensation) across their careers, including specific questions about their first job, current job, best job, and worst job. By understanding these dynamics across sectors and across individuals’ own careers, we can gain a better understanding of what makes workplace inequality consistent and reproducible and develop better interventions and suggested alterations that can enact lasting change.
Creating a dialogue starts with data collection, deep debunking of the trends and figures of inequality that plague the workplace. While this is a massive undertaking, ArtTable is seeking to explore these inequities from the lens of our organization. As the foremost professional organization dedicated to the advancement of women in the visual arts, we are collecting data on professional arts workers from entry-level workers to CEOs of all backgrounds to shed light on the inequities that women face in our field. Our data is both quantitative and qualitative in nature. We are interested in understanding the relationship between demographic data, such as race, age, and gender, and workplace compensation as well as more detailed, qualitative information about how arts workers experience the workplace across their careers. In so doing, we build on robust sociological studies of workplace inequality, including data collected through the General Social Survey and the Shift Project, and contextualize existing research on the artistic labor market, such as the data captured by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project and the research published by Americans for the Arts.
With the ArtTable Survey on Working in the Arts, we will produce more comprehensive data on the extent and consequences of compensation inequality and gender inequality among arts professionals that can be used as a resource for employees and organizations alike. Together, we will gain a clearer understanding of the macro and micro level mechanism by which gender shapes compensation inequality in a variety of artistic professions and professional activities.
While we will be evaluating the data in terms of gender, we need responses from anyone and everyone, especially men, in the professional arts field to gather an accurate depiction of the trends. Although the survey is semantically aimed toward salaried workers, we also need responses from freelancers and gig workers in the field. We know that this makes up a very large portion of arts workers. We also look to our colleagues of color, especially those in the Native American community, where little systematic data is available.
With your responses, we can use compensation data as a road map toward the future — a future where everyone is paid for the work that they do, and inequities based on gender or any other demographic factor are eradicated. With advocacy tools like the new salary transparency law and the results of our survey, change is not far away. Just a decade ago, working interns did not deserve payment by the industry standard, and many professionals spent their first years out of college working for free. Since then, legal and cultural change has ensured that organizations are required to compensate workers at any level, a major change resulting from strong advocacy and a shift in perception.
Comprehensive contemporary compensation data does not exist for arts workers and thus, neither does compensation equality. With this survey, we will understand how broader systems of inequality relate to arts professionals’ compensation and use this information as a tool for change.
Women work for less because they either don’t know how much more their male co-workers make or because they do not have empirical evidence to represent the inequities they experience at work. With your help, we will collect the information we need to make a radical push for equality (data is collected anonymously and every precaution will be taken to ensure that your information remains confidential). Please invest 20 minutes of your time by filling out our survey; your 2023 salary bump will be grateful you did.