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Fearless Girl says price the job, not the person

Fearless Girl and the gender pay gap are back in the news with an ironic twist. State Street Global Advisors, the firm that commissioned the crowd-pleasing sculpture as part of its campaign to increase the number of women who serve on corporate boards, recently agreed to pay $5 million to settle U.S. Department of Labor allegations that it discriminated against more than 300 female executives by paying them less than men in similar positions.

For those of us who believe in the transformative power of public art, the settlement should inspire a long overdue conversation about why women in the arts continue to earn significantly less than men and how to achieve parity.

The compensation data is readily available and, given the progressive attitudes that are usually associated with our field, it’s disheartening:

  • The gender pay gap among artists of all disciplines is essentially the same as in other fields with women earning $20,000 less per year than men, according to a recent study of 34,000 Americans with arts degrees. After the Lehigh University sociologist Danielle J. Lindermann and her co-authors crunched the numbers to account for factors that could influence income (such as age, education, discipline and numbers of hours worked), they found a $13,400 gap that they could not explain.
  • The most recent Actors’ Equity Association employment study reports that women stage managers were less likely then men to negotiate salaries that were over minimum scale, resulting in compensation that was nearly $100 per week lower than their male counterparts.
  • According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, on average, female directors earned 73 cents for every dollar that male directors earned in 2014. The biggest pay disparity is at encyclopedic museums, where female directors average only 69 cents for every $1 of their male counterparts. The smallest gap is at culturally specific institutions, where women earn 91 cents for every $1 a male director earns.
  • Locally, at the Missouri History Museum, President Frances Levy’s total compensation package was $276,558, compared to the Science Center’s Bert Vescolani, president and CEO, who received $359,848, according to 2015 IRS 990 forms. As a percentage of total revenue, she earned 1.6 percent, while Vescolani has earned 2.4 percent since assuming his position at the end of 2011. Levy arrived in 2014.

How can the gap be closed? For nonprofits, it should be easy but somehow it’s not. The method is prescribed by the IRS, which mandated “reasonable compensation” in the early 1990s, following outcries that a few high-profile CEO compensation packages were excessive. To comply, arts and cultural institutions must collect and analyze salary and benefit data from comparable (geography, budget size and mission) organizations.

This approach should be applied to every position with compensation offers based on data together with the skills, experience and value brought to the position, not on salary history. Price the job, not the person.

And women in the arts need to be as feisty as Fearless Girl when they negotiate or it will take decades to face down the charging bull.

–Sue Greenberg, executive director