‘Off the table’ or the cliff? Museum Gender Pay Equity Issue Now ‘under the rug’ Again?

Evidence is presented that attention to discrimination in gender salary equity in the museum industry has declined recently. Infographics help to make the case for action on current gender pay inequity sadly all too common in our field.

image of calendar showing April 12 as Equal Pay Day
Promotion for Equal Pay Day (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022).

In 2022, women in Ontario must work up to 12 April [= 102 days] in the following fiscal year to make the same amount of money as men doing the same jobs in the previous year (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022).

Equal Pay Day, Tuesday 12 April 2022, marks an occasion spotlighting the rather disturbing reality that many women have to plug away 14 and a half weeks—i.e. 27.945%—longer into 2022 in order to make the same amount of money as their male colleagues doing equal work had earned  last year according to the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition (2022).

The purpose of Equal Pay Day therefore is to focus on the injustice of gendered wage discrimination & to encourage action to achieve equal pay for women. Canadian & Ontario equal pay laws as well as internationally recognised rights require such equality (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022).

In actuality however, see the infographic below showing Statistics Canada data from 2020 identifying the levels of discriminatory pay for women (Uptigrove 2022).

map of Canada showing women's wage gap in the provinces
Graphic showing Statistics Canada data from 2020 (Uptigrove 2022).

UN Women (2022) provides the following definition:

Equal pay means that all workers have the right to receive equal remuneration for work of equal value. While the concept is straightforward, what equal pay actually entails and how it’s applied in practice has proven to be difficult [emphasis added].

In Ontario where your blogger lives,

. . . the gender pay gap is 31.5% based on all male and female average annual earnings (including part-time workers). If you measure the gap using full-time, full-year average annual earnings the gap is still 26%. Such gaps are amongst the highest in the world. [!] The rights of women to equal pay for work of equal value and equal treatment in pay and employment opportunities are internationally recognized human rights standards which Canada has ratified and bind Ontario. . .

At the rate we are going, the gender pay gap will take more than half a century to close. We cannot wait that long! (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022) [emphasis added].

several drivers of the gender pay gap arranged like flower petals
Root causes that drive gendered pay inequity (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022).
Increased Pay Gap 2
Various ‘intersectional’ aspects exacerbate the wage gap even more (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022).
Gender & Race Earnings Graph museumgenderequity
American Community Survey Current Population, 2016.
pie charts showing women's pay from only 53% to 85% of men's pay
Women in Museums Webinar (Baldwin et. al).

As indicated in all 3 infographics immediately above, the gendered pay gap increases substantially when intersecting with other forms of discrimination such as those experienced by racialized, immigrant, migrant, and other minority women. Thus, overall gender pay inequity is exacerbated significantly (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022; cf. Dawson 2018 & Baldwin et al. 2016).

Women employees across job categories in all sectors earn only $0.87 for every dollar earned by men doing the same work (Moyser 2017). In Ontario, “The analysis reveals that the average pay gap between men and women stands at 29.4 per cent in Ontario — a gap that shadows women every step of the way up the income ladder” (Cornish 2016: 6, 16 passim).

Currently in the USA workforce as a whole, “Women working full time in the U.S. are still paid just 83 cents to every dollar earned by men — and the consequences of this gap affect women throughout their lives” (AAUW 2022). American census data from 2020 “reveals no progress has been made on closing the overall gender pay gap (Connley 2020; cf. UN Women 2022; Barroso & Brown 2022; GEMM 2019 [latter using non-museum-specific data]) [emphasis added].

Infographics from the Wider World of Work:

woman looks on as man adds more workload to a balance beam with salary on the other side
Cartoon Workload & Salary. The question arising is: How high would the salary of the male be piled?

Museum-Specific Data:

several lapel buttons with red symbol for femal with label "mind the gap"
Nonprofit Quarterly 11 March 2014.

In the museum field of course, long ago in 1973, marked gender pay inequity had been identified  by the Women’s Caucus of the American Association of Museums (AAM, now Alliance) (Baldwin et al. 2016). That’s one year less than a half century ago! 

Today, your blogger’s logged-in search of the AAM web site under the “most recent National Museum Salary Survey” link found only the 5-year-old report dated 2017. Research on this problem in the museum industry that used to be regularly done, therefore seems to have ground to a halt as the Ontario figures from 2011 used above & the slowing of GEMM activity attest. Research finding museum pay gaps parallel to the wider world of work in the UK (Steel 2018) & USA (Dawson 2018) were the latest your blogger had located.

One recent exception I encountered mentions problematic pay levels among many other seriously concerning working conditions identified:

Rather than showing commitment to salary levels appropriate to professional qualifications and experience, in most cases we reviewed, boards instead sought to keep salaries as low as possible. In some cases, this was vigorously pursued, unrelated to funding availability, and based on underlying beliefs and values:

“One board member…was really angry that we were getting more pay…She also believed that everyone should work for free in the museum…” (Interview #9) (Willard & Bell 2021: 12, cf. 11 passim).

Infographics on Gender Disparity in Museum Work:

Willard & Bell 2021 Undervalue
Willard & Bell (2021: 10)

Gender Gap Bar Graph by Type

text stating interpretation work is given little monetary value.
Women in Museums Webinar (Baldwin et al.).


Clearly, gender pay equity is an ethical matter for museums & “all” stakeholders (Nie 2019:149-152).  This is to say nothing about the illegality of gendered discriminatory pay practices that continue unabated to this very day. Canada’s federal government, Ontario, & 5 other Canadian provinces have specific pay equity legislation. Beyond this,

All of Canada’s provinces and territories also have human rights legislation which prohibits discrimination in employment generally and which, in the absence of or in addition to pay equity legislation, can be a tool for addressing discrimination at pay.

The rights of women to equal pay for work of equal value and equal treatment in pay and employment opportunities are internationally recognized human rights standards which Canada has ratified and bind Ontario (Ontario Equal Pay Coalition 2022) [emphasis added].

We also must recall that the CMA Ethics Guidelines document states under the section “C. 2 Legal considerations: . . . [museums] must also avoid even the remotest suspicion of compliance in any illegal activity (Canadian Museums Association 2006: 6) [emphasis added].

Now a half century into this gender pay gap problem, museum boards, EDs, HR departments, & our professional organisations really do need to finally attend to the egregious & blatant discrepancies in the pay levels of women compared to men doing the same jobs in our industry.

Need we also consider necessary ‘risk management’ to obviate class action suits on this matter?

See Thistle (2019) and related “gender pay equity” tagged posts here for a fully documented resolution that had found no  seconder to permit it being formally evaluated for potential discussion at a  professional museum association annual meeting 3 years ago.

Finally Kick at the Darkness

References Cited:

AAUW. 2022. “Research & Data: The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap.” Washington, DC: AAUW [although the obvious focus is on ‘Women’, no meaning given for this acronym is apparent on the web site] at https://www.aauw.org/resources/research/simple-truth/ (accessed 11 April 2022).

Barroso Amanda & Brown, Anna. 2021. “Gender pay gap in U.S. held steady in 2020.” Pew Research Center posted May 25, 2021 at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/ (accessed 11 April 2022).

Connley, Courtney. 2020. “Closing The Gap: New Census data reveals no progress has been made on closing the overall gender pay gap.” CNBC make it Published Fri, Sep 18 20209:01 AM EDT at https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/18/new-census-data-reveals-no-progress-has-been-made-closing-the-gender-pay-gap.html?emci=49c0a3b9-9e08-eb11-96f5-00155d03affc&emdi=a67d26f8-9709-eb11-96f5-00155d03affc&ceid=1033235&fbclid=IwAR0-QBuU8Bj8r4AJBWlUVL5d3S4ig_icfr3nxZlRiugqRwDdjntq6v-VKkQ  (accessed 11 April 2022).

Cornish, Mary. 2016. Every Step You Take: Ontario’s Gender Pay Gap Ladder. Toronto: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Ontario Office. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/every-step-you-take (accessed 11 April 2022).

Dawson, Kathryn. 2018. “Playing the Game: Understanding the Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships.” Museum Scholar 2(1) http://articles.themuseumscholar.org/vol2no1dawson (accessed 11 April 2022).

GEMM. 2019. “5 Things Your Museum Can Do To Support Gender Equity” Gender Equity in Museums Movement infographic detail at https://www.genderequitymuseums.com/single-post/2019/03/22/5-Things-youre-museum-can-do-to-support-gender-equity (accessed 11 April 2022).

Moyser, Melissa. 2016. Women and Paid Work. Ottawa: Statistics Canada https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14694-eng.htm (accessed 22 February 2019) [on 11 April 2022, this is a dead link].

Nie, Taryn. 2019. “Far Too Female: Museums on the Edge of a Pink Collar Profession.” In For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries ed. by Dawn E. Salerno, Mark S. Gold, & Kristina L. Durocher. Edinburgh, UK & Cambridge, MA: MuseumsEtc. [Note that the publisher has allowed all the authors of this book to distribute their chapters as a PDF so, if you contact Taryn Nie, access can be arranged.]

Ontario Equal Pay Coalition.  2022. “Action Kit” web site. Toronto: Ontario Equal Pay Coalition at http://equalpaycoalition.org/action-kit/ (accessed 11 April 2022).

Steel, Patrick. 2018. “Museum gap favours men despite more women in the top quartile.” News posted 11.04.2018 [11 Apr. or 4 Nov.?] Museums Association (UK) https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/11042018-pay-gap-larger-than-national-average-at-six-museum-and-heritage-organisations (accessed 11 April 2022).

Thistle, Paul C. 2019. “Is it Time for Gender Pay Equity at CMA Toronto AGM 2019?” Solving Task Saturation for Museum Workers blog posted March 20, 2019 at https://solvetasksaturation.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/is-it-time-for-gender-pay-equity-at-cma-toronto-agm-2019/ (accessed 11 April 2022).

UN Women. 2022. “Explainer: Everything you need to know about pushing for equal pay.” at https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/9/explainer-everything-you-need-to-know-about-equal-pay?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=The%20gender%20pay%20gap%20is%20a%20global%20problem&utm_campaign=LI%20Newsletter%3A%20Weekly%20Wrap%20Sep%2018&fbclid=IwAR2jZcJjPtuqzyzZ7er9vPaBeLYRpQXdCTXJOwRImhQvgfrlEz_K70U1PLc (accessed 11 April 2022).

Uptigrove, Meghanne. 2022. “How close are the Canadian Provinces to closing the gender pay gap?” Stratford, ON: The Beacon Herald Marketplace 3 March 2022 Postmedia Network.

Willard, Michelle & Bell, Lorraine. 2021. Governance Challenges and Opportunities in B.C.’s Small to Medium Non-profit Museums: A conversation with past and present Executive Directors about what needs to change and how to change it. Vancouver: British Columbia Museums Association, Mighty Museum, & Vancouver Foundation posted September 22, 2021 at https://museum.bc.ca/brain/report-on-small-to-medium-non-profit-museums-governance/ (accessed 11 April 2022).

%d bloggers like this: