Imagining a Labor Market in Archives that Works for Everyone
The following is the text from my talk at the Spring 2012 MARAC meeting in Cape May, New Jersey. I look forward to your comments, unless you’re a self-identified MRA. I’m not joking.
Today I’m going to talk about things I’ve noticed about being an archives worker.
I speak from my position as an interested participant-observer. There are people who are experts in these kinds of labor issues, and while I’m conversant in them, I’m not a scholar. Like Tom mentioned, I earned my degree in 2008 and I’ve been working as an archivist since then. At the University of Michigan, I did graduate coursework on gender and labor and did a directed reading course about librarians and labor. I’m also part of the group blog called “you ought to be ashamed”. I think that some of my fellow contributors may be in the room today, which is awesome. I’ve learned a lot from all of you.
Our blog posts tend to critique exploitative job advertisements and talk about the larger labor challenges that young professionals face. In the past, contributors have talked about the casualization of professional labor, the casualization of academic labor, the pitfalls of performing beyond one’s stated job duties without the formal structures to support and reward that work, how to sniff out whether an institution’s organizational culture is broken, negotiation, supply and demand in the labor market, and gender and technology. By the way, if you’re interested in writing for the blog, everyone is welcome.
I think that for me, the real power behind the blog is not that we’re going to critique anyone into changing. It’s that we’re building solidarity. We’re helping each other create a sense of what is appropriate and reasonable in our relations with our employers. And yes, people will sometimes still be forced to take jobs where they aren’t supported and don’t have the resources to do all of the work that’s expected of them (which is a disservice to both the collections under their care and, more importantly, the researchers they serve), but at least, hopefully, they won’t think that this is the way it has to be. And when they’re in a position of power, where they can be more thoughtful about resource allocation than the people who came before them, they can make different decisions.
The list of topics that I mentioned above could keep us here all day (which would be okay with me – I would love to talk about any of these things at the reception), so I’m going to narrow my comments to the topic of gender and money. I’ll explore the data that overwhelmingly demonstrates that a pay equity problem persists, even in our profession, and that we should pause and check the data when we start congratulating ourselves for making progress. I’ll talk about some of the research that I’ve encountered that addresses what workers can do to gain leverage on this situation. I’ll also discuss what institutions can do to cease being complicit in a system that doesn’t reward workers for their labor fairly.
By the way, the research that I’ve seen and that I’m focusing on talks about women and pay equity, but there’s good reason to believe that this is a problem for all kinds of people — people who are the first in their families to graduate from college, for instance, or people of color or non-US country of origin.
Gender, Archives, and Money
Some really great work has been done by the SAA women archivists roundtable and the folks behind A*Census to figure out where we are with compensation issues. Buuuut, if you look at the literature, the most substantive interpretive work about gender, labor and archives was done in the 1970s and 1980s,  and I’m not aware of a recent treatment of this issue that comes from a place that understands that systematic pay inequality is real, pernicious, insidious and is based on choices that decision-makers often don’t realize that they’re making.
Please bear with me while I talk through some numbers. My data comes from the United States Department of Labor, the ALA Committee on Pay Equity, the National Committee on Pay Equity, the A*Census, and the Association of Research Libraries. I’ll be posting my talk on our blog, with footnotes, if you would like to learn more.
According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, the wage gap remains at a standstill with women earning 77¢ for every dollar a man earns. The U.S. Census from 2003 reports that the average salary of men with master’s degrees was $75,950 (median $61,634), while women earned only $46,961 (median $41,185)—a difference of almost $29,000 (62 percent).  Pay inequity also exists within librarianship. The Association of Research Libraries, in its Annual Salary Survey 2005-6, reported that the average salary for male academic librarians in member libraries was $63,984, while the average for female academic librarians was $61,083. 
Library Journal reported that new library school graduates finally crossed the $40,000 mark as an average salary, but the gender split had women below that point with $39,587 and men at $42,143. 
In 1982, in his survey of the archival profession, David Bearman  calculated the spread between men’s and women’s salaries and found that men were making an average of 25% more than women in 1982; in 2003, twenty years later, the A*Census discovered that that differential was still at 15%. 
The writers of the A*Census go on to say that “the gender equity trend is heading in the right direction based on when respondents entered the field. Among those starting their first archival jobs within the last 5 years, men reported earning only 2% more than women”.  Unfortunately, I think that the authors of this report may be over-interpreting what the data is showing them. It may be true that the pay differential for entry-level jobs between men and women is low, but it is also a well-understood sociological phenomenon that men in women-dominated professions are promoted far more quickly than their peers in proportion to their performance and abilities, that men receive greater pay bumps when they are promoted, and are systematically given greater access to mentoring and networking opportunities. The phenomenon is called the “glass escalator” and was first documented by the sociologist Christine Williams,  although this phenomenon has been studied by others.
And let’s be clear — as she explains, this isn’t because some fat cat at the top of the organization is twirling his mustache and saying that he must have men in power. If sexism were this overt, it would have been much easier to neutralize by now. Instead, there’s a subtle and complex interplay of implicit expectations that men are natural leaders, that all else being equal men are better suited for responsibility, and a situation where people in power tend to mentor younger professionals who remind them of themselves, which perpetuates patterns of power that already exist. 
Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever talk about a related phenomenon — the fact that men are far more likely to ask for things in their jobs than women are. In one study, eight times as many men as women graduating with master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries. The men who negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or about $4,000. In the same study, men’s starting salaries were about $4,000 higher than the women’s on average, suggesting that the gender gap between men and women might have been closed if more of the women had negotiated their starting salaries. 
Studies also show that by not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.
Now, I’m not suggesting that women are to blame for this gap, or that institutions shouldn’t be doing more to normalize this kind of discrepancy. But if we’re looking for things that individuals can do to ameliorate a systematic problem, this is one thing. You can negotiate. You must negotiate. Like the studies cited above suggested, this will dramatically increase your lifetime earning potential. But also, I think that it’s important to negotiate because this is what professionals do, and it’s important to get folks in the profession used to the idea that specialized labor requires professional compensation. One of the reasons that unpaid internships are so toxic for the profession, beyond the fact that it privileges folks who can somehow afford to work for no money, is that it sends the message to the people who allocate resources in our institutions that our labor isn’t very valuable. So, having the conversation about the value of your labor is important, because it’s an opportunity to articulate your skills, your strengths, and what you’re working on.
Babcock and Laschever talk about how this asking/negotiating phenomenon follows workers throughout their careers — that men are more likely to ask for promotions, ask to be participants in exciting projects, ask for networking and mentoring opportunities, and ask for other perks. They suggest that often, when a role needs to be filled, a supervisor is far likelier to give it to the person who asks for it than to evaluate who would actually be best for the job. Over the course of a career, this kind of asking can really add up. 
Now, let’s be real. The fear that women have of negotiating their salaries and asking for opportunities is rational; studies report that negotiation tactics that men commonly use are not deemed acceptable when used by women.   But obviously, we have to do the best we can in the context in which we live. “Women can ask for what they want in ways that feel comfortable to them and that society will accept. By not seeming overly aggressive, women can actually remain tough on the issues they’re negotiating—they just need to be gentle with the people involved.”  Of course, I would prefer that everyone just took a moment and stopped applying a double standard to men and women, but in the meantime, being aware of these obstacles and performing in a socially-sanctioned way, even if scary, can make a huge difference in an individual’s career.
There’s a role for the organization in this, too. Managers need to realize the impact of the different rates at which men and women ask for rewards and opportunities. They can then mentor women in their organizations about the importance of letting their supervisors know what they want and what would help them do their jobs better. When a man asks for something, they can stop to consider whether a woman in the organization might be equally interested in that opportunity and possibly more qualified to make the most of it. They can also attempt to change their organizational culture to make it more acceptable for women to assert their professional goals and ask for what they want. If organizations were interested in addressing this divide, they could track men and women in an organization and make managers accountable for women’s advancement—make the progress of the women they supervise part of their own performance evaluations. This can create a powerful incentive for managers to correct the inequities over which they preside.
I’m going to conclude by sharing an anecdote that was posted to our blog. A young woman coming out of a very good archives program with very good experience was offered a job with an archives across the country. The pay they mentioned was $32,000 per year, which she knew wasn’t enough money to move across the country for, but they had mentioned that the details were negotiable. Let me finish with her words:
In a far less articulate way than planned, I manage to convey I was actually hoping for more, which is inline with the market, my skills, blah, blah. Supervisor says she needs to check and will get back to me. She calls me back, can’t do it, $35k’s the max. I think about it, decide it’s close enough to what I wanted and that I’ll accept, but that I am going to use the tip from that workshop to see if I can get that extra $1,000 in relocation or a trip to SAA. I ask for that, supervisor tells me she has to check and will call me back. Finally, she calls back and let’s me know that based on my high concern for salary I’m probably not the candidate they wanted and that they are rescinding the job offer. Bam, ask for a trip to SAA and lose a job.
Moral of the story: Archives are not like normal institutions and may feel threatened when you try to act like a professional, but you probably don’t want to work there anyway. Also, the career services people who put on the negotiation workshop assured me I am the only person they have ever heard of having an offer rescinded. So you shouldn’t read this and think that it’s a bad idea to negotiate salary – you should just read this and understand that archives sometimes don’t work the same way as everywhere else. This is why we work to set expectations of professionalism; if you’re in charge of hiring, do a better job than the people who hired you.
This story, and stories like it, are why I find the blog so powerful and useful. If you’re interested in contributing, we would love to share your stories too.
Thank you very much.
U.S. Census Bureau, “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2004,” http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/education/
Association of Research Libraries. Annual Salary Survey 2005–2006, http://www.arl.org/stats/annualsurveys/salary/sal0506.shtml.
Maatta, Stephanie. “Placements & Salaries 2006: What’s an MLIS Worth? A picture of overall growth is marred by fissures in job outlook.” Library Journal (10/15/2007) http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6490671.html
“Society of American Archivists: Women Archivists’ Roundtable”, n.d. http://www.archivists.org/saagroups/women/resources.asp.
“A*CENSUS: Archival Census & Education Needs Survey in the United States | Society of American Archivists”, n.d. http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/acensus-archival-census-education-needs-survey-in-the-united-states.
“Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide”, n.d. http://www.womendontask.com/stats.html.
Costrich, Norma, Joan Feinstein, Louise Kidder, Jeanne Marecek, and Linda Pascale. “When Stereotypes Hurt: Three Studies of Penalties for Sex-role Reversals.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 11, no. 6 (November 1975): 520–530.
Burgoon, Michael, James P Dillard, Noel E Ooran, Michael Burgoon, James P Dillard, and Noel E Ooran. “Friendly or Unfriendly Persuasion: The Effects of Violations of Expectations by Males and Females.” Human Communication Research, Human Communication Research 10, 10, no. 2, 2 (December 1, 1983): 283–294.