Making and Talking Money: LAM Salary Transparency Panel Recap


The September 21, 2020 panel discussion on Making and Talking Money: LAM Salary Transparency, hosted by AWE Fund Organizing Committee is now available online on YouTube.

Participants included Brenda Flora of the Association of Moving Image Archivists Advocacy Committee; Elena Colón-Marrero and Melissa Gonzales of the Society of American Archivists Archival Compensation Task Force; and Michelle Millar Fisher of Art + Museum Transparency. The event was moderated by Alison Clemens and facilitated by Jessica Chapel of the AWE Fund Organizing Committee.

Panelists discussed salary transparency efforts within libraries, archives, and museums organizations and spaces. The first question specifically addressed the role of professional organizations in advocating for salary transparency. In answering that question, Colón-Marrero said that she believes that the role of professional organizations “is to shift the onus for fair compensation from the individual to the institutions and that they are really the body that can apply that pressure more wholly and systematically.” Flora subsequently shared that “when the Association of Moving Image Archivists surveyed its membership in 2018-2019 about major issues faced by the profession — requiring advocacy from the association — 61% of the survey respondents brought up issues related to salary and labor, leading the organization to increase focus in those areas.” Millar Fisher echoed the other panelists, saying that “if you [an organization] are for your members, then you are for salary transparency[….]” and that salary transparency is really a baseline that allows for individual and collective organizing and advocacy. 

Panelists explored this idea more in their answers to the second question, “What is the connection between salary transparency and improving conditions for workers, especially marginalized or vulnerable workers?” Flora shared that salary transparency allows individuals to know their value as a worker; to negotiate their salary with an employer; to find a job that compensates them fairly; and to avoid positions that exploit their skills and education. Furthermore, Flora said, salary transparency can help workers make decisions about how much to invest in a degree, particularly since student debt disproportionate to pay is a major problem within the LAM fields and puts emerging professionals in a position where they’re so dependent on the work that they often feel unable to speak up or leave a job where they are being underpaid or otherwise mistreated. Flora said that salary transparency within an organization can help a worker know whether they and their colleagues are being compensated consistently and fairly; know what prospects for advancement within the institution might look like; and can put workers in a better position to support others in advocating for their own compensation, such as temporary or part time workers. Flora indicated that salary transparency works against more subjective compensation and advancement policies; this transparency therefore helps all employees become less vulnerable and be on more equal footing. Gonzales seconded Flora’s comments and also indicated that institutional salary transparency arms managers with what they need to go to their HR departments to advocate for increased and equitable compensation. 

The third question, “Is there a model or useful inspiration to be gained from the transparency and strata of government LAM positions to reduce the role that negotiation plays on salaries?,” prompted panelists to discuss salary information-gathering efforts, particularly the upcoming A*CENSUS 2 work with the Society of American Archivists (following up on the first A*CENSUS) and work done to gather this information within the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Colón-Marrero shared her mixed feelings about pay scales and models and reminded attendees that these scales and models are only helpful if they are being updated and flexible, since they can contribute to underpay if they’re not being updated or if they’re not clear and transparent to job seekers. Flora also indicated that a good salary structure should include not only the minimum starting salary for a position, but ideally would also include the maximum salary and would map out a clear path from one to the other. 

The final panelist question was “How can hiring managers make the case for salary transparency on an institutional level?” Millar Fisher indicated that managers may not necessarily have salary transparency as a goal, but that salary transparency in the job posting and hiring process is important, since it’s the first time a prospective hire comes into contact with the institution. Millar Fisher said, “Setting that relationship out in a generous and generative way is incredibly important, and I would not underestimate that generosity – really starting with salary transparency in the job description.” Colón-Marrero seconded this, saying that advocating for salary equity and fair compensation on behalf of new hires is key. Flora then shared an experience in which she was offered a job that had lower compensation than she was able to consider, and said that the lack of salary transparency was a waste of her and the hiring institution’s time — several attendees shared similar experiences in the event chat.

The audience asked the panelists questions about how university categories of library positions – paraprofessional versus librarian – can serve to exploit very qualified people without compensation, and how to compare salaries across position types and geographic regions. The final audience question was about what sources the panelists recommended for job seekers and hiring managers. Several great resources were shared in response to that question, and by panelists and attendees throughout the event. Here is a selected list of resources:

Thank you to our panelists and our attendees for their thoughtful participation and for their generosity in sharing their experiences and perspectives.