The Great Divide: Bluethumb and RedBalloon Weigh in on Online Retail’s Gender Pay Gap

April Davis By April Davis | 04 Mar 2019

Online art marketplace, Bluethumb is celebrating International Women’s Day every day of the year, with 68 percent of its artwork sales coming from female artists. But these creators, on average, still earn less than their male counterparts. Why?

A recent study from the Government’s Australia Council for the Arts has revealed that female artists, on average, earn 25 percent less than their male counterparts. This number is significantly higher than the average workforce gender pay gap, which currently sits at approximately 16 percent.

Bucking this trend, online art gallery/marketplace, Bluethumb, has revealed that its own sales are more diverse, with 180 of its top 250 artists being women. Historically, women have only made up 40 percent of the artists showcased in commercial galleries in Australia. For Bluethumb, 68 percent of its marketplace is comprised of works created by women.

Sally Browne, Bluethumb’s top-selling artist of 2018, says she’s not surprised the marketplace is driven by female creators because of its flexibility.

“One of the things I love about selling on Bluethumb is that it sets a level playing field,” she says. “If you’re a hardworking artist, male or female, Bluethumb is a great place to sell your art. There are no restrictions on who can sell their art, and no strict conditions about how many pieces you are expected to produce per year, or shows you are required to produce for, or where else you choose to sell your art.”

One of the biggest challenges for women in the workplace is juggling their parental responsibilities and their career aspirations. For Browne, selling her artwork online has meant she has greater control over her own schedule.

“At this point in my career, I cannot produce as much work as would be required of me with traditional gallery representation because I have two small children, one under school age. Female artists are still often expected to do the majority of the child-rearing and housekeeping while their partner holds down the ‘out of home’ breadwinner type job. For this reason, many women are locked out of traditional gallery representation during these kid rearing years because they cannot commit to the conditions,” she explains.

Females Dominate Bluethumb Sales, But Still Earn Less Than Men

Despite having higher numbers of female artists on its platform, and a greater number of its sales coming from women, Bluethumb is still tackling a wage gap on its platform. Of the top 250 artists on the online marketplace, Bluethumb says its male artists, on average, earned up to 20 percent more than its female ones did. While this is lower than the Australia Council for Arts’ figure of 25 percent, the business still says it has more work to do. Bluethumb Curator, Sarah Hughes believes this could be a case of better-educating women on the value of their work, as online marketplaces typically leave artists to set their own prices.

“Do female artists undervalue their art, are male artists more confident to charge more or are buyers more comfortable to pay higher prices for art by male artists?” she asks.

Bluethumb Curator, Sarah Hughes.

“In my experience, it’s a combination of all three and so ingrained in the art sector that it’s incredibly hard to counteract. Female artists are definitely less confident when it comes to pricing and are time and again selling themselves short, barely covering expenses. But now we’ve seen this problem first hand we’re offering one-on-one support, running webinars, along with many other initiatives, to help build all our artists’ confidence and work towards equality.”

Weighing in on the issue, Naomi Simson, the founder of RedBalloon and co-founder of the Big Red Group, says she  doesn’t want her own daughter to feel like she’s not as good as any male colleagues because of gender discrimination.

“I am a woman and mother to a daughter who has recently joined the workforce. Why should her salary expectations or earning potential be ‘capped’ due to nothing more than her gender? In fact, I was having dinner a few years ago with my daughter (then 17) and son (then 15), and my son asked me if I would prefer to be a man or a woman. I instantly responded, a woman. When he asked the same question of my daughter, after some deliberation, she said a man. When I questioned why, she said, ‘They just get everything easier and they are paid more to do the same job.’ This saddened me – at such a young age my daughter was already experiencing limitations,” she says.

According to Simson, she’s heard multiple explanations for why the gender pay gap still exists in all industries, including the online retail sector, but she’s not convinced any of them are worthy arguments.

Naomi Simson ARA Awards

RedBalloon Founder, Naomi Simson.

“I have heard many myths espoused by both men and women about the gender pay gap: That women won’t ask for more; men will ask for more; women are afraid of appearing too forceful and the labels that accompany it; men have greater confidence in their ability while women prefer to prove themselves first. It’s important to note that this is not a ‘men don’t get it debate’, but rather an opportunity to hold up the mirror to ask why this is so. And it can be changed. My personal motto is ‘if it is to be it is up to me’ – and I believe this is true of the unconscious bias surrounding gender pay equality.

“It does not matter if you are a young female graduate, an artist, a teacher or an executive – women are paid less at every level. Those are the facts. But the issue needs to become less of analysing the data and more about making change. Leadership must want it and push for it; organisations must become more transparent about it; many women must shift the way they ‘regard’ themselves and really push for this change; men, equally, must support the women in their lives as we strive for pay equality. The fact is, organisations will continue to pay women what they think they can ‘get away with’, or what women will ‘settle for’ until we force change. The key is visibility and leadership.”

Bluethumb’s Managing Director, Edward Hartley re-iterates Simson’s points, saying he’s thrilled to be part of an online community helping women realise their potential in the competitive digital space.

“We’ve been investing heavily into mentoring our artists and creating better tools to not only market themselves effectively but track their success. There is no justifiable reason why on a platform like Bluethumb the gender pay gap is still evident. We’re committed to making it zero,” he says.

Bluethumb was recently ranked number 55 in Power Retail’s 2019 Top 100 Online Retailer’s List. Find out why in the latest copy of the 2019 E-Commerce Leaders’ Playbook, which is on sale now! 

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