Earnings Equity

by Andrea and Carrie
Art by Ricardo Levins Morales

Published June 2019

Technicians for Change exists to fight for workers in arts and entertainment to be appropriately recognized for their contributions to the industry. Consider pay equity as a safety net: when you’re paid enough to be treated as an equal, you feel safe raising concerns about processes and safety; you participate fully in collaboration because your value is established; and you are a reflection of the company’s mission as well as their work.  When you’re not paid enough to be seen and feel valued, it is difficult to work toward safe and equitable working conditions for everyone.

Why should we talk about what we earn?

It’s empowering to talk about our earnings. The road to improving wages for everyone starts with robust and honest discussion. When you have data about how what you earn compares to others’ earnings, you have the information to ask for change. Sharing what you make so that your fellow worker can negotiate a more equitable rate, refusing to accept work below a certain rate, and supporting others who do the same are ways that workers can support each other in advocating for better wages. Talking about our earnings is a way to build solidarity in the arts.

Another critical reason to talk about what we earn is accountability. Many companies across the industry are promoting initiatives around “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” but pay gaps do not yet align with these values. It’s important to hold our employers accountable, but it’s also critical for us to hold ourselves accountable for our worth: when we continue to accept low wages or not address the wage gap between disciplines and between genders, races, levels of ability, sexual orientation, and gender identities (and the ways that those overlap!), we are complicit in our own devaluing.

Finally, transparency leads to equity. When we continue to hide our earnings from one another, we continue to participate in a system that is imbalanced and unreasonable. We shy away from conversations about earnings for many reasons, but changing that pattern is the way to justice through solidarity.

Why don’t we talk about what we earn?

There is a culture around the arts that tell us the art itself is the value, not that work that goes into creating it. It’s a myth of creativity that it comes naturally or arises without experience.. Another equally troublesome myth is that of the starving artist: that we are in this industry for love or passion. Talking about wages in that culture can make people question our commitment to “the art.”

We are conditioned to believe that it’s inappropriate to talk about money and what we earn. Classism feeds on this fallacy.  It’s time to raise the tide to lift all boats.

There is an extreme social contract aspect to our work, and talking about money and earnings infringes on that. We are also conditioned to believe that we will be seen as problematic to work with if we complain about the status quo; while the loss of wages is one impact, the loss of social connection in an industry that relies so heavily on word of mouth recommendations is a dangerous threat to our well being.

We are competitive, especially in a saturated market where it feels like an organization can always hire a cheaper designer, technician, or craftsperson.

Ultimately, at the base of all these reasons not to talk about our earnings is fear and shame. Perhaps we’re concerned by the deep personal and professional implications of working for a wage that is below our worth. Perhaps we are unable to see around the comparisons that someone else is valued more or less than we are. Perhaps we fear being ostracized for pushing people into an uncomfortable conversation or being seen as difficult to work with because we don’t passively accept things as they’ve always been done.

What should we do?

Talking about your wages is a right that is protected in the National Labor Relations Act.  You can exercise this right to raise wages for yourself and others with some of the suggestions below:

  • Sharing your wage, as well as strategies that helped you get that wage, can help others use those strategies to negotiate their wages.
  • Amplify the conversation thoughtfully and with investment.
  • Encourage yourself to follow your own advice.
  • You are never obligated to accept a contract or a wage as offered. A good first step might be to say “I’ll look through this offer/contract/job description and get back to you within 24/48/72 hours to let you know how it fits into my schedule and budget this year.”

If you don’t talk about earnings, take some time to look at the reasons you don’t engage with this conversation, or the reasons you don’t bring it up.

If you are someone who works to get this conversation into the public sphere, consider what’s been successful for you and how you might engage the conversation differently in places where it hasn’t been successful.

Share your insights and answers! Do it at happy hours, comment on our Facebook posts or web page, bring it up in performance appraisals with your employer, with your colleagues across disciplines, and with recent graduates who are destined to follow the example we set.

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