We asked our community about their biggest salary lessons...

Date
Written by
Salve Salvana

Each month we ask creative professionals to dive into a different theme about the creative working world.

In anticipation of our first annual salary report launch next week, we’ve speaking to people across the creative industry about the money lessons they’ve taken onboard in their careers so far. We hope you could find some actionable steps and tips from their experiences below.

Aki Schilz, Director of The Literary Consultancy & Founder of the #BookJobTransparency campaign

What is your biggest salary regret?

My biggest regret when it comes to pay and transparency is that I accepted unpaid work at the beginning of my career. I was eager to jump at any chance I could get, but failed to recognise the inherent privilege in being able to take on unpaid work, and thereby my complicity in a system that favours those with means and access and therefore systemically and persistently excludes those without money, without networks, without a safety net that to many of us remains invisible, even as it protects us. Whilst things have changed, there are still far too many early-career opportunities that parade as ‘ways in’ to the industry, but are really part of a labour exploitation crisis that keeps some of the most brilliant and creative jobs out of reach of so many groups that the industry claims it wants to attract. If we really want diversify, it’s our responsibility to train up talent, not just scoop it up: and to pay people a living wage.

What do you wish you’d known about salary at the start of your career?

I knew absolutely nothing about average salaries in the books industry until I’d already been in a job for around 5 years. I’m not sure I’d ever have considered having a conversation with colleagues about pay, and now I wish I had. We should all be talking more about this! Opacity keeps questions at bay, and questions are the thing that precipitate change. For decades people (often those belonging to marginalised communities) have been doing on-the-ground work to try to diversify the industry by insisting that the key is value: how we value the art, its producers, those who help create and distribute it, and who we consider to be its ‘consumers’. And for too long we’ve been fed the myth that in our industry, we do it for the love, not the money. But why can’t it be both?

When I was trying to benchmark for a new role in 2016 within my company, I was dismayed to find myself at a complete dead end. I started digging, and calculated that that less than 10% of jobs listed on the biggest publishing industry jobs platform had a salary or salary band listed. That’s when I started asking more questions, putting feelers out, and trying to see if there was any open access information about salaries in publishing. There was nothing. That’s how BookJobTransparency was born: I wanted to ask publishers to make one simple, practical change: list a salary on your job ads. We started with junior ads, and soon the campaign picked up momentum on Twitter. In 2021, two of the five biggest publishing houses in the UK declared they would be introducing salary transparency across all entry-level ads. The system still isn’t perfect, and it’s not just my campaign out there, but I know we’ve done good. We’ve changed a behaviour. And if you can change a single behaviour, you’re on your way to changing culture.

How do you know your worth?

Knowing your worth is such a difficult question. Usually I’d start with some benchmarking. What’s the average rate for X with Y kind of job/company/role. And from there you can extrapolate. Without benchmarks (see my above point about why transparency is so important!) it’s much harder to go through that process. Here’s an example which I hope helps illuminate this in a more practical way: Let’s say my usual day rate is £300. If everyone is transparent about their budgets and pay scales, then it’s easy for me to navigate my way through negotiating and calculating my take-home in a frictionless way. This means I can confidently make decisions about when and whether I can offer pro bono work, or lower my rate for certain organisations or causes, because I know in other instances my day rate will be met and exceeded. My stress levels are lower, my sense of satisfaction is higher, and my ability to be flexible is good. If however there’s no transparency, I’m likely to be much more stressed, which will impact my ability to maintain consistent ‘productivity’ levels, meaning more hours of work, and I simply won’t be able to take risks on anything that I don’t know will pay me enough so that I can get by. What you’re worth isn’t just the sum of a fee or salary you’re offered. It’s also about how a company values you as a person. It’s about your peace of mind, and your feeling welcome and able to contribute, in an environment that tells you you are valued, and in an environment where you are able to believe that to be true.

And for too long we’ve been fed the myth that in our industry, we do it for the love, not the money. But why can’t it be both?
Aki Schilz, Director of The Literary Consultancy & Founder of the #BookJobTransparency campaign

Anonymous

What is your biggest salary regret? What do you wish you’d known about salary at the start of your career?

I would like to have known better how to set my freelance prices. And that selling a service much to low feels like people will also value your service less.

How do you know your worth?

My worth is what I feel confident to speak out with Clients and also the amount of responsibility Í want to carry and feel confident with.

Before I compare it to others in my industry and level of knowledge/ experiences.

Anonymous, Project Manager

What is your biggest salary regret?

Under-selling myself.

The job description mentioned the salary was between £25-£35k and when I was offered the role they asked me what my salary expectations were I settled for £30k to be diplomatic. It set me back a couple of years until my annual pay increase equated to what I should have earned from the start.

What do you wish you'd known about salary at the start of your career?

It's not personal. Generally speaking, the money you earn isn't coming out of someone else's pocket and so I wish I would have been less emotionally invested when it comes to viewing my salary.

When I reframed my outlook on the whole concept of work as a business transaction, (money - in exchange for time spent working/training) it definitely changed my perception of my own value and worth.

How do you know your worth?

Value and worth are very different.

The more I spoke to my friends/peers about their salary (so un-British!) or researched job vacancies to see what other companies were offering for similar roles, I got an understanding of what I should/wanted to earn.

I also accidentally came across the salaries of every person in the company and saw the insane disparity of what people doing the same roles were earning. Interestingly, the ones earning more weren't necessarily more qualified or hard-working, they probably just asked for it.

Tip! A big indication of how much your boss values your time is if they ask you do office tasks outside of your remit - e.g. making coffee, organising events, buying gifts < the person doing this is likely on the lowest salary in the company.

Your worth isn't defined by the amount of money you earn. Be cautious of working somewhere because of the money... or leaving somewhere because of the money.

Suggestions on how to make things better...

The NHS has 'bands' which mean that salaries are dependent on your area, department and role and they are completely transparent

I love this idea and eliminates any opportunity for discriminative wage gaps or ambiguity and gives a clear progression pathway for all employees.

Value and worth are very different. The more I spoke to my friends/peers about their salary (so un-British!) or researched job vacancies to see what other companies were offering for similar roles, I got an understanding of what I should/wanted to earn.
Anonymous, Project Manager

Annika Rabone, Junior Designer

What is your biggest salary regret? 


My biggest salary regret is as a graduate, not challenging a salary given to me. Graduating in 2021, I felt like I was so lucky to get a job during COVID, I felt like it was cheeky to ask for more money, and being a fresh graduate, I had no clue how much I was worth.

What do you wish you’d known about salary at the start of your career?

I wish I was taught at university what my salary expectations should be, and how to effectively and respectfully ask for more if I felt like I was worth it.

I'm incredibly lucky to work at an agency which respects my level, the current market value and the cost of living.

How do you know your worth?

My top tip to anyone wanting to know their market value is to look at job opening for your current level/level above. If you believe you're being undervalued, that'll be your best piece of evidence that you deserve more!

My biggest salary regret is as a graduate, not challenging a salary given to me. Graduating in 2021, I felt like I was so lucky to get a job during COVID, I felt like it was cheeky to ask for more money, and being a fresh graduate, I had no clue how much I was worth.
Annika Rabone, Junior Designer

Anonymous

What is your biggest salary regret? 


I worked in a different country with lower wages, and my salary stagnated for 3 years. It is not a regret as it was a dream and I wasn’t struggling, but I was only able to get a proper income coming back and starting as a Freelancer. I was able to earn almost 3 times my previous salary.

What do you wish you’d known about salary at the start of your career?

I wish there was less taboo about money in studios. The culture of secrecy only benefits the higher positions.

How do you know your worth?

Only because I gained confidence, experience and knowledge about rates in the industry, and kept asking friends about theirs. It is still a learning curve, but it seems much less of a problem to talk about it as a Freelancer. You have to think about rates all the time.


On our radar

Some further reading on the themes explored in this article:

Know your worth: How to negotiate fees and master money chat: Kate Hollowood guides us through creative financial gymnastics for Creative Lives In Progress.

Can pay transparency be a route toward equal pay?: In this Creative Review Insight piece, Lauren Currie & Jane Garza explore the benefits being more open to salary discussions within the creative industry.

Seven sites and spreadsheets for salary transparency in the creative industries: N'Tanya Clarke shares some amazing salary transparency resources for creative professionals for Creative Lives In Progress.

Why stating the salary puts your organisation at a competitive advantage: This Creative Access piece explains why stating salaries on job listings are beneficial to all parties.


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The If You Could Jobs Journal is a space for the creative community to share their views and opinions into the creative working world. If you're interested in contributing in the future please get in touch hello@ifyoucouldjobs.com.

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