The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees, I want money

One of the worst things we do is that we don’t talk about money.

4 clips from the film Empire Records (1995). Showing Lucas, then Marc and Eddie dancing. The words read  "The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees, I want money, that's what I want".
Scene from Empire Records (1995)

I absolutely love this scene from one of my favourite ever films, Empire Records. The song is “Money (That’s what I want)” a cover by The Flying Lizards. Originally by Barratt Strong, which I love too, listen here.

Sorry for anyone who hates this film, or cult references, but my brother introduced me to this film when I was an impressionable 14 year old and it has stuck with me ever since!

I’ll take this point here to say that I am not in anyway a qualified economist, mathematician, sociologist or anything cool like that. I scraped a C in Maths GCSE and studied art history and librarianship in higher ed. The below is my research and write up of something I feel strongly and passionately about. Okay now that that warning is out the way. Lets go!

This blog post has been in the works for some time! But my free time, coupled with yet another LinkedIn post being all “When is the right time to ask about salary?”, has fuelled a fire. I mean there’s supposed to be no such thing as a stupid question right? This shouldn’t even be a question! It’s a moot point (yes I did have to google this to make sure I was using it correctly). I’m focusing mostly on this part of the definition in bold: A debatable question, an issue open to argument; also, an irrelevant question, a matter of no importance.

This. Should. Be Irrelevant.

Why?

A salary, or at least a salary band, should be present on any/all job information, adverts, descriptions. Always. No discussion. And before you say oh competitive this, or CEO that, we should all know how much people are paid to do a job. We should because we don’t live in a fair and equitable society. Money Matters.

The LinkedIn post I’ve linked to says the “top tips” (I wish there was exaugurated punctuation for me doing air quotes right now) which are…

1. “Wait until the end of the first interview” – which is when you’ve, I dunno, went through a lengthy application and prepped for an interview, maybe with a test or presentation. Basically put in a lot of effort for something which may have never been viable in the first place.

2. “Be honest, informed and realistic” – I mean really this should be the employers right? Oh you want a school librarian for 13K a year and for them to be qualified with a CILIP accredited course and chartership? Of course! I mean the expensive student loan and postgraduate loan, which will never be paid back, and the need to live with your parents forever because you can’t afford anywhere else on this salary… NO PROBLEMO.

3. And the final tip…. “Consider delaying the question if you’re meeting with a hiring manager or future employer, as opposed to a recruiter”. I mean may as well not just ask…. just wait for that mystery pay check! How much?! Who knows?! Say it with me! Mystery Pay Check!

I mean I know this is LinkedIn. I remember first signing up and thinking “I’m not a CEO, why have I got this, there’s nothing for me here”. And I know I could just not use it, but there are some good networking opportunities that have come up for me and since I’ve got rid of Facebook and Instagram it’s one of the few ways to keep in touch with people, albeit professionally. I’ve seen some jobs advertised that I’ve then applied for on the specific company site. It’s also good to have an easy accessible record of work stuff you’ve done. I’m sure a number of us have used our LinkedIn profiles to apply for a future job while we’ve been sat at a desk for a current job. Get that application rolling baby! So there are pros amongst the cons.

If you look down the comments for that LinkedIn post there’s a fair few folk agreeing that you should ask about the salary at the last possible moment… Why waste everyone’s time like this? Yours, the hiring team, HR, whoever. What all of this forgets, and where work has gone wrong, is that there is this HUGE CANYON SIZED GAP between where we think about “salary” and where we think about “the cost of living”.

Why is salary so separate from the cost of living?

A salary determines where we can afford to live, in what kind of property, the food we can afford to buy, for some the family you can or cannot afford to have, the experiences you can have and for some the health you can have (despite the NHS being free there are some things that aren’t covered and disabled people are exposed to extra costs that many cannot afford).

Salary should not be so far removed from the cost of being alive, but alas. I mean there’s going to be so many reasons and reasons I know I’m not well informed enough to go into without further research. Like minimum wage, government influence over pay, company cultures, UK working culture. But I’m going to try and investigate some of it here.

There is also the added influence that jobs are thought to pay what they’re “worth”. Salary seems to depend on, even if this is imagined and not true or accurate, the responsibility of someone’s job. A high wage, I think, can also signal that a job kind of owns you. You could say a high wage equals high responsibility and a low wage equals low responsibility, but those of us especially who’ve worked in customer facing jobs, know this isn’t true and how hard those jobs can be. Paying someone an amount you think is appropriate for the level of work/experience needed for a role feels messy to me on a lot of levels, and we…the majority we… need money to afford to live. I’m sure I’ve mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs not that long ago so apologies, but we need money for our most basic needs: food, water, warmth, security, safety. And contemporarily that can be affording a home, the bills that come with this, affording food and this links to all sorts of other things like transport, clothing, communication, hygiene, etc.

In this post a few years ago (2017) from PaymentSense titled “Why do we work?” (based on a sample of 2,000 professionals) the top reason, at 72%, of why people in Britain go to work each day, is “to be able to live”… aka MONEY. So if that was and/or still is our main reason, shouldn’t salary be high on the list of need to know things? After that is “to support family” at 50% aka MONEY, then “to pay the mortgage” 50% aka MONEY, then finally “build career and knowledge” 21%, and “passion for the job” 16%. The most important aspect of choosing a job? Salary comes in at 86%.

This, frankly, old fashioned thinking of not showing salaries really needs to get out of town. We need money to live. That’s how things work. So we therefore need to know how much to be paid for something to know that we can live. I don’t want to ignore the gap the state leaves in terms of how we should be protected, supported, looked after, and workers rights, and really there’s working with what we have now and there’s, I guess, planning to deconstruct it all because if you think about it everyone should be able to access a home, food, clothing, warmth, etc, regardless of cost. It shouldn’t be about money, but it is.

Interestingly other topics that came out of this data from PaymentSense is that 77% of the respondents are less into jobs with zero perks and 48% less into jobs offering 20 days holiday or less. I saw a job recently offering 15 days holiday… I closed the page fairly sharpish.

It’s a shame this data isn’t openly accessible as I’d have loved to have seen professions, sectors, ages, gender identities, race, disability, class, etc…. to be able to look at other areas, but, sadly, no open data! That I can find.

There are a few comments in that LinkedIn post saying salary should be shown.

Why aren’t salaries posted? Well employers would state a few things, which really all clearly just benefit themselves. Job competitionn. People moving from one company to another based on salary. Then surely all you think your workers value is money? Which apparently we shouldn’t. And there are, of course, issues internally when you find out people doing the same job are paid different amounts. Employers could go into previous experience, history of working for the company etc. but the reason for hiding salaries is so companies do not have to justify their decisions. Which is bad. Obviously.

Show the Salary is making great strides to tackle pay gaps in the charity sector. The reasons they state for showing salaries are:
“1. You’ll stop perpetuating pay gaps and ensure everyone can access a fair wage
2. You’ll make it a fairer process
3. You’ll get more applicants
4. You’ll show you respect and value candidate’s time
5. You’ll be living, not just writing about, your values
6. You’ll be joining a growing movement looking to make the sector a fairer and more equitable place
7. Why wouldn’t you?”
(the reasons here on their webpage for not are really worth seeing and link to some of my comments above)

The first two reasons highlight that race and gender identities are used in wage discrimination. One of the links Show the Salary takes you to is a US focused article on not asking for candidates salary history by the Harvard Business Review. I’ve had to put at least my previous salary into all 5 jobs I’ve applied for in 2021 and at least 1 asked for all the salaries of all my previous jobs. I kind of hate this because I think I was underpaid in my last job, but a new employer (in a new sector) might not see or agree with this. They also might think because my last wage is substantially lower than the jobs I’m applying for now they might see that as an indicator that I can’t do the job I’m applying for, purely from a monetary perspective. Which sucks. The article goes into this more so it’s worth a read. What the article doesn’t cover is things like temp or contracted roles, which I think would be a large reason for someone’s (okay my) wage to fluctuate. You do a job you want, or that teaches you something, or that works at that time, for less money and take the hit, that ends, you jump into something else paid more or less, and do that again and again. I was going to write that’s not fair to judge someone on, but none of this is fair! And that’s the point.

Another Show the Salary link takes you to a American Psychological Association press release titled ”Bargaining While Black’ May Lead To Lower Salaries’, which also links to an openly accessible research report here. Both US focused again. This piece highlights that successful African American applicants are “more likely to receive lower salaries in hiring negotiations when racially biased evaluators believe they have negotiated too much”. Which shows institutionalised/systemic racism, as well as racism from the those involved in the hiring process. I mean I shouldn’t have to say it, but again this is bad and wrong.

I’ve tried to do some research into if Equal Pay and issues concerning the gender pay gap are the same – From my understanding it is that unequal pay is illegal, but the gender pay gap is still fully a real thing. Unequal pay is (though every article that I’ve read puts this down to men v. women surely it’s more than this? So I will write) people getting different pay for doing the same job. Which again I think must mean e.g. a man starts the same role at the same time as a women, but the man is paid more…I think. I’m really hoping it’s not just men v. women because obviously if you and anyone else, regardless of gender identities, start the same role (I mean I could go into issues with having/not having experience and whatever else an employer may try and use to justify wage disparities) you should be paid the same. There’s a recent Independent article here that goes into more detail about this.

I looked into some UK Government research: the Equality Act 2010 (Equal Pay Audits) Regulations 2014 here (which I attempted to read) and this nicer, briefer, PDF. This was from 2014, but it states: “Women continue to experience substantial differences in pay compared to their male colleagues doing like work, equivalent work or work of the same value. Despite a legal framework on equal pay being in force since 1975, some employers are either still not familiar with the law, or are deliberately choosing to flout it by paying their female employees less. The effects of such inequality include the restriction of women’s contribution to economic growth, and to some extent, the on-going gender pay gap.

Which, to be honest, confuses me again since Unequal Pay and the Gender Pay Gap are, from what sources tell me, separate things. I should probably do a course on this and come back with a more coherent post. Sorry readers!

Also, fully understand too that the above (and /or any of this) might be off putting if you do not identify as man or woman and you feel you are not represented/issues you have faced with salaries are not shown.

Other orgs doing the work are Fair Museum Jobs (UK), who advocate for “fairness, transparency, equity and inclusivity.” in the museum world. And there was/is also a US group called Art + Museum Transparency who don’t seem to be active on Twitter any longer, but their website is still available. They actually started a Google Doc spreadsheet showing salaries at current and past positions of contributors and followed this up with one on internships in the sector.

I’ve started to do my own “rebellion” by posting my salary information on my LinkedIn (due to me keeping terrible records some wages are what I got on starting or leaving – so there’s some where the wage is higher than starting salary due to increments). All except my previous job for reasons that I briefly went into above.

In my wild lock down life I recently made myself a GIANT spreadsheet of all the jobs I’ve ever had and wages and looked at my growth or decline from job to job. I also looked at the increase, or lack of, for the national minimum wage. The Gov website will tell you about what the wage was or is for a specific year, but since I’m not that great at maths I really needed to see the increases, or lack of, to see how much wages have been stagnating. Here’s my little diagram!

If you can’t see this you can download a JPEG below!

There’s so much I could say about the national minimum wage [NMW]. So much. Namely your age shouldn’t determine your hourly wage. Surely this is unequal pay? For example, a 16 year old doing the same job as a 25 year old. The current difference between those two people doing the same job is £4.17. I don’t agree with it at all. And whatever reasons you might state such as experience or whatever doesn’t fly with me. Pay people the same. That’s not to say I want NMW to go down for anyone. Make everyone…I was going to say pay everyone £8.72, but that doesn’t cut it either because we know wages aren’t rising the same as living costs.

I don’t know how many people reading this have been either on national minimum wage or been aware of this, but as someone who has spent a lot of time on low wages, thinking very specifically about working in museum education for a number of years and getting paid minimum wage to teach kids activities, I think NMW needs to be highlighted in this write up… and I hate that “flipping burgers” comparison narrative because no matter what people do we should all be paid to live comfortably and safely. At one point I lived with a pretty well off person and they were talking to me about how some of their bar staff were rubbish at keeping in a job and showing up etc. I asked how much they were paid per hour, which of course was minimum wage, and just kinda said “oh so really they can go anywhere else and do anything else and get the same amount if not more if its minimum wage” and it’s like that idea had never crossed that persons mind. Giving it some more perspective here’s what some annual salaries look like (I just tried to look on the government website for this kinda info and it was as muddy as you could make it) :

-18 £4.55 x 37 hour (avg full time working week) x 52 weeks per year = £8,754.20
18-20 £6.45 x 37 hour (avg full time working week) x 52 weeks per year = £12,409.80
21-24 £8.20 x 37 hour (avg full time working week) x 52 weeks per year = £15,776.80
25+ 37 £8.72 x 37 hour (avg full time working week) x 52 weeks per year = £16,777.28

Obviously this doesn’t include what you’d actually get paid after tax and National Insurance and anything else that might come out your wage (e.g. pension contribution) before you get it. I wonder if it’s often not shown like this because it really highlights how little people can be paid.

The Joseph Roundtree Foundation [JRF] do some work on this and there’s this report” Minimum Income Standard [MIS] for the United Kingdom in 2019″ here. You can download the “Findings” and the “Full Report”. The “Findings” state that “In order to reach a minimum acceptable living standard in 2019, a single person needs to earn £18,800 a year and a couple with two children need to earn £20,600 per parent.” which you can see just isn’t happening from the above NMWs from 2020. They also explain that essential living costs are rising faster than the official rate of inflation. In the JFR findings there is also this: “The National Living Wage (NLW) has raised minimum pay for the over-25s by 26% in four years. This has helped raise living standards for single people and for couples with children where both parents work full-time, although they still cannot reach MIS on these wages (falling £36 and £47 a week short, respectively).” Basically I’d urge you to read the “Findings” for all the info it gives on this topic cos it’s gonna be better to read it than have me regurgitate it here. The last thing I’ll say is at the end of the report it basically says that a wider range of policies are needed to help families. I was going to say we have to be paid more or the state has to help us more, which is true, but actually we do need better, fuller, more adequate safety nets for all of us whether we work or not. Something has to happen (the pessimist in me say it probably won’t though or it’ll be as convoluted as the majority of state support is).

I really do wish I was better at maths and stuff to properly understand all this in my head! But the reports are really good.

My reason for going into NMW is it links to showing salaries, it highlights a problem with wages and stagnation, and really NMW is linked to the fact that it’s the minimum of what someone is supposed to be able to earn to be able to afford to live, which is what I’m really trying to get across in this blog post is we need to know about wages and salaries and pay to be able to afford to live and that even our minimum wage doesn’t allow that.

Some people reading this might not think this is such a problem in libraries. I would say the majority of HE and some “traditional” library posts I’ve seen a salary and/or salary band, but as soon as you venture into law and business librarianship the word “competitive” comes up more and more. I once applied for a position in one of those family history companies. I rang in advance to enquire about the wage as there wasn’t one listed and you just had to put in what you thought you should be paid. The person on the phone was no help at all. I think I put something like 22-£25K, around that area, and I never heard back. Did I do the application poorly? Did I put too high a salary? I’ll never know.

Other issues from my own experiences include being in one of my first ever library jobs on a wage of about £15k (monthly I earnt slightly over 1K) and my manager, who really had no idea what we all got paid month to month, bragging to me about her £500 Chanel glasses frames, which cost almost exactly the price of my rent per month. Of course I didn’t say anything, just smiled and nodded, and probably wondered if the glasses resale value would be similar to new… I kid, I kid. And no shade either, spend your money on what you want, just maybe don’t shove it in your less wealthy employees faces. I can remember turning down one specific entry level type library job I’d applied for (personal circumstances led me to do this) because I asked to be put higher than the starting salary due to my years of experience. They said no. I’ve had managers shocked at knowing monthly wages of individuals and teams. It just shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t not talk about it. You should have a rough idea of what your staff earn and then you have a rough idea of what kind of lives they’re living and understand how this might impact them.

I’d love to see establishments, such as CILIP, have a hard line when posting their jobs board that they don’t include positions without either a salary or at least salary band. Or maybe I, we? should start our own library salary transparency group that also advicates for better library wages? It’s an idea.

If you’ve finished reading I think you might have just read the longest blog post I’ve ever done! Congrats! I kind of had to stop myself because I could have went on forever and still could have link clicked my way to a billion more resources. If you want to find out more all my sources are below and my favourite person to follow on Twitter about this kinda stuff is Alex Collinson who posts some great graphics and stats about things like pay, debt, redundancy, and poverty. Check him out!

Thanks for reading – as always let me know any thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc. in the comments.

Bibliography (Sorry if my referencing isn’t perfect, my blog, my rules!)

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