Bonhams closes gender pay gap by 39%, but Sotheby’s and Christie’s lag behind

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The gender pay gap in the UK’s public museums has historically been narrow—a trend not mirrored by the country’s largest auction houses. Until now.

Today, Bonhams has posted its pay gap report for 2022 revealing women are now paid 92p for every £1 that men earn when comparing median hourly pay. This is the closest to parity any major auction house has come since the UK government began to compel companies with more than 250 employees to submit salary data five years ago.

The new figures represent a 39% improvement on 2021 when Bonhams paid women 66p for every £1 a man earns (in 2020, that figure stood at 48p for every £1). The percentage of women in the highest paid quartile has risen from 28% in 2021 to 52% in 2022.

According to India Phillips, Bonhams managing director in the UK, the firm’s progress is the “cumulative result of a sustained company-wide effort to narrow the gender pay gap”. In the past year, she adds, women have accounted for 70% of promotions.

At Sotheby’s and Christie’s, meanwhile, there has been very little progress.

According to Sotheby’s 2022 report, women earn 73p for every £1 that men earn, so the pay gap now stands at 27%. That is a slight improvement on 2021 when women were paid 69p for every man’s £1, but less than the 75p for every £1 women earned in 2020. The percentage of women in the top quartile at Sotheby’s has slipped down to 44%, down from 50% in 2021 and 48% in 2020.

A Sotheby’s spokesperson says that, because 68% of roles below deputy director level at the firm are held by women, and are therefore lower earners, “progress will be slow”. However, the spokesperson also notes that 76% of promotions to deputy director level in 2022 were female staff, and “as we get to the upper quartile of our pay brackets, we are much more evenly split between males and females”.

At Christie’s, the pay gap has gradually widened since 2020. In 2022, women earned 74p for every £1 that men earned, with a pay gap of 26.3%—compared with 25.6% in 2021 and 24.4% in 2020. Women accounted for 48% of the upper quartile earners versus 51% in 2021 and 50% in 2020.

A spokesperson for Christie’s notes that the pay gap is “skewed due to the higher representation of females than males across the organisation”. They add: “Gender pay is different from equal pay. Although our report reflects some progress, around 70% of the global workforce is female, which continues to impact our numbers. Around 70% of employees in our two lower quartiles of pay are women and around 50% of employees in the highest quartile of pay are females. If we were to hire more males into more junior levels of role this would impact the numbers.”

The spokesperson acknowledges systemic change also has to happen to make a meaningful difference to the inequalities women face. As they put it: “There are wider societal issues that are at play, such as women typically being the primary caregiver and making the choice to change their career focus. We need to make it easier for women to have both a family and a career and these efforts take longer to impact.”

Only companies and public sector bodies with more than 250 employees in the UK are legally required to report their pay figures, meaning virtually all commercial art galleries and dealerships in the country are exempt. Phillips auction house also falls under this bracket.

Meanwhile, the public sector—in which salaries are typically lower—continues to provide a greater degree of equity, though this is not even across all categories of remuneration. At the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), women earn 3% more than men and occupy 61.7% of the highest paid jobs and 54.1% of the lowest paid jobs; while at the National Portrait Gallery, women’s salaries are 3.9% higher than men’s. However, this year’s figures also demonstrate how a few key staff changes can have dramatic impact on bonus pay equity. At the British Museum—where women earn on average 9% more than men—bonus pay differences were stark, with female employees receiving 82% less bonus pay than men. This figure is much more unequal than last year, which saw women earn 15% less bonus pay compared to men.

Tate Gallery—which comprises four of the institution’s museums—reports that women earn £1.01 for every £1 made by men. Moreover, women’s bonus pay is 33% higher—a figure that is unsurprising considering that three out of four directors of Tate’s museums, as well as its overall director Maria Balshaw, are women. However, zooming out on Tate’s figures reveals issues of class. At Tate Enterprises, the company which employs most of Tate’s non-art related staff, including cleaners and café workers, women earn 9.8% less than men. And while at Tate Gallery, women occupy 70.6% of the highest paying jobs, this number is 51.6% at Tate Enterprises.

Some of the UK’s largest museums, such as the National Gallery, London and National Galleries Scotland, have yet to release their 2022/23 reports.

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