The Salary Agenda

Broken Piggy Bank

Last week’s post on museum salaries left us breathless. In six days over 7,000 of you viewed the blog, breaking all sorts of Leadership Matters records. If we ever had any doubt about the fact that there are issues around salaries in the museum world, this was the confirmation. And just as we predicted there are some cranky, disaffected, and worried folks out there.

In our book Leadership Matters (AltaMira, 2013) and our upcoming book Women|Museums (Routledge, 2016), the manuscripts each end with an agenda. There, we list the changes that could be made by professional associations and service organizations, museums, graduate programs, and individuals to improve the issues surrounding leadership and gender (in Women|Museums) in MuseumLand. Here’s our Leadership Revolution Agenda.

Given the complexity of salaries, and the fact that short of a gazillion dollar gift to all of America’s 35,000+ museums, there is no single answer to the salary conundrum.  So we taken a stab at what we think a Museum Salary Agenda for the 21st Century could look like — consider it a call to action that you can weigh in on.

What Professional Associations and Museum Service Organizations Can Do: 

  • Establish and promote national salary standards for museum positions requiring advanced degrees.
  • Encourage museums to demonstrate the importance of human capital in their organizations.
  • Make salary transparency part of the StEPS (AASLH) and accreditation process (AAM).
  • Support organizations in understanding the need for endowment to support staff salaries. A building and a collection don’t guarantee a museum’s future. People do.
  • Create a national working group for #Museumstaffmatters.

What Institutions Can Do: 

  • Encourage networking and individual staff development.
  • Make every effort to provide salaries that exceed the Living Wage.
  • Educate boards regarding the wastefulness of staff turnover.
  • Make criteria for salary levels transparent.
  • Examine the gaps among the director’s salary, the leadership team and the remaining staff.
  • Offer equitable health and family leave benefits (and make them available on Day One of a new hire’s tenure).

What Individuals Can Do: 

  • Do your homework. Understand the community and region where you plan to work.
  • Use the Living Wage index.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Be prepared to say no. A dream job isn’t a dream if your parents are still paying your car insurance and your mobile phone bills.
  • Ask about the TOTAL package not just salary. If you are the trailing spouse and don’t need health insurance but do need time, make that part of your negotiations.
  • Network. Know what’s going on in your field, locally, regionally, nationally.

What Graduate Programs Can Do:

  • Be open about job placement statistics.
  • Teach students to negotiate salaries and benefits.
  • Teach students to calculate a Living Wage plus loan payments and quality of life.
  • Encourage networking, mentoring and participation in the field.

Museums and the Salary Conundrum


Since we spent our last post talking about new leaders, here’s another big elephant in the room: paychecks. How little is too little? This week, among the job announcements that float across Museum-L were two from a state museum system. That’s important because state jobs–unlike private employers–list their salaries. They were, broadly defined, educator’s positions, which seem to be among the most poorly paid in a poorly paid field. The starting salaries were $29,500.

Yesterday I interviewed a graduate student. She’s enrolled at a highly regarded program in California. She is one term into her master’s program. She also just got a coveted internship in a distinguished art museum. She is older than the average graduate student, has worked in the museum world before, and already has a subject-based masters. She’s married to someone with a full time job. That’s the good news. The bad news? She has more than $20,000 in loans. She has at least three semesters and a second internship to complete before receiving her degree. She lives in a very pricey area. She loves her program, which admittedly seems dedicated to placing competent students with good museums, but when I asked if anyone had talked to her about how long it will take her to pay off the loans at a starting salary of say $40,000, the answer was no.

A year ago while a group of us were teaching in the Getty Leadership Program at AAM, one of our colleagues completed a hire via phone. Our colleague returned to the group with a new employee on board, but looking puzzled. He reported that the new hire had simply said yes. No negotiation, no questions about benefits. Just yes.

I offer these stories because they are all facets of a bigger problem: we work in an underpaid, under-resourced field. And for too long, too many people have told us that it is such a privilege to participate, that we should suck it up, deal with the fact that we’re thirty and still need roommates to pay the rent, and revel in the fact that we have a museum position.

I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I think it’s time we started talking about what’s acceptable and what is not. So for all you trustees and human resource committees out there, please understand that hiring someone isn’t a solution if the salary you are offering isn’t more than a living wage. Don’t know what that is? Visit MIT’s living wage calculator: Living Wage. When I put in the town where the jobs mentioned above were advertised, I discovered that if, as a newly-minted graduate, you are offered the starting salary of $29,500, you would make approximately $3 more per hour than that municipality’s living wage. And the living wage is just that. You can cover your expenses, but that’s it. Need I point out that the $24 per day in excess of your living wage won’t allow for much in the way of a daily latte, drinks after work much less a new car payment?

Part of good leadership is recognizing the value of staff. Good staff, happy and contented staff push organizations forward. They make change. They make things grow like endowments and visitation. Staff looking for their next (better paying) position aren’t focused on their jobs. They are discontented, worried and cranky, and they always leave sooner than you expect them to. Why? Because they’re discontented, worried and cranky. So…if you’re thinking of starting a museum, don’t hire unless you can pay someone better than a living wage. If you already run a museum, as a trustee or director, maybe it’s time you had a frank discussion about salaries and how they do or do not drive your institution. And if you’re in the job market, for goodness sake use the living wage calculator to find a baseline. To be really fulfilling a job should feed your soul and your bank account.

And tell us what you think and how you’re managing.

Joan Baldwin


The Museum Leadership Pipeline

job_stressThis week I was inspired by Michelle Zupan’s blog posting titled “What They Don’t Teach You in Graduate School”. I love its direct, frank tone. What Zupan glosses over though is how many graduate students with dreams of working with collections and “doing history” end up as museum leaders.

If you use the Smithsonian’s list of Museum Studies Programs–and there are others–there are now 71 programs that offer a master’s level degree in public history or museum studies. I am not delusional and I understand that universities are not in the business of altruism. They open programs to make money, but it seems to me that if you unleash bright, enthusiastic students into the museum world every 18 or 24 months, you have an obligation to prepare them for that world.

I also understand that some graduate programs may do an excellent job at the things Zupan found wanting in her own preparation, and that it’s dangerous to condemn everyone for the mistakes and omissions of a few, but we all bear the brunt of those omissions. So every spring new graduates are hired at museums believing their new job will resemble a graduate school practicum or their internship until it isn’t. Some take jobs and then find themselves catapulted into leadership positions. Others zoom right to leadership because of its allure, and then, as Zupan points out, realize that not only do they get to do everything, they HAVE to do everything. She says that an understanding of HVAC 101 might be helpful while pointing out that new hires might also need a basic plumbing class along with Quickbooks and Excel under their belts. Not only is it stressful for the newly hired, it’s also wasteful. Museums can’t move forward when leadership is constantly learning and re-learning the basic tools of running an organization. It is why, we suspect, some museums and historical organizations hire one beginning director after another. They leave because the job has been enough of a learning experience to launch them to the next rung on the ladder. Or they leave because they can’t learn fast enough and frustrations mount up.

So for all of you out there heading toward your first pay check in the museum world, here’s the Leadership Matters list of skills/knowledge you might want ahead of time.

If you haven’t accepted a position:

  1. Understand what comparable salaries are in the city or region before accepting a position.
  2. Explore the local housing market: Can you afford to live near your job?
  3. Be willing to negotiate if #1 and 2 don’t seem right.
  4. Is there a ready-made network of museum professionals and colleagues in the area? How about other arts organizations and non-profits?

If you find yourself suddenly on the road to leadership, you might use:

  1. A healthy dose of self-awareness.
  2. Courage and a great sense of humor.
  3. Clarity when you speak and write.
  4. The ability to craft a budget and a spreadsheet and a sense of humor if you mess either one up.
  5. The ability to listen without interrupting either in your head or in conversation.
  6. A mentor or boss who sees you as someone to invest in, as someone whose personal and professional growth is important, not just to your new organization, but to the field as a whole. And who will also be someone who will support you when there’s an ice storm and your museum loses power for a week.

Joan Baldwin


Museum Leadership and Diversity

Awareness Understanding Action

So it’s hard enough to spend a year thinking about gender and the museum world and not also think periodically about diversity. In our writing, we have often referred to the metaphorical museum staff table and then imagined a magically diverse group happily engaged in the questions of the day. Yet we all know diversity isn’t and shouldn’t be window dressing. It’s not finding a person with brown skin, a token LGBT individual or a woman to lead the $15 million and up organization just because. Just because is not a reason. It may make your communications department happy if your organization is large enough to have one. But it’s not a solution for anything.

Authentic diversity is diversity rooted in community. As leaders we expect you know your community well. You know if it has a high proportion of elderly residents, if it has almost no people of color, but a significant and long established Lithuanian community. It’s your knowledge and your board’s that drives diversity decisions. After all, the goal is to make your organization a welcoming, authentic place that mirrors the community you serve. And what exactly does that mean? Do you include a line in your employment announcements that women and minorities are encouraged to apply? Does your board’s elections committee work aggressively to integrate your community’s demographic onto either the board itself or ad-hoc committees? Has your board defined what diversity means for your organization and discussed what the mythical table–populated by either trustees or staff–looks like in a perfect world? Is your organizational diversity statement on your website? Finally, if you want a parallel view of what this kind of attitude toward community looks like, listen to Mayor Kasim Reed’s talk about learning to govern the City of Atlanta which you can find here. Pay particular attention to his meeting with Miss Davis. Every leader needs someone like her.

If you’ve done all that and more, there’s one other thing we’d like to put on the proverbial table. For the most part, the museum world has a long history of not being a particularly diverse place. It’s still, even in 2016, often a traditional hierarchical world, despite serving an increasingly diverse community both in person and virtually. So here’s what we think is missing in MuseumLand’s quest for different faces at the table: better salaries coupled with salary equity and transparency.

Just imagine if you are a young person of color with an interest in American history or science. You already have loans from  your undergraduate degree. You’re smart and you want a career that allows you to make a difference. In doing research you discover that as a museum person you will make a median salary of $45,000. Graduate school will cost you upwards of $30,000 in new loans. In the end, you take the LSAT and the GMAT but not the GREs. You opt not to get a degree in museum studies. Why? Because sometimes in today’s world altruism isn’t enough. As a lawyer or business world big wig, you can volunteer at the museum of your choice, you can be a trustee, or you can donate. Perhaps the diversity elephant in the room is that over the years low museum salaries brought us a field over-populated with straight financially comfortable white folks?

We don’t think there’s a silver bullet for diversity question, but we do believe that indifferent and in some cases ridiculously low salaries keep people away from the table. We are increasingly a career populated by women–strong, creative, wonderful women–but nonetheless, the feminization of this job sector is a sure way to depress salaries. So as we head into the new year, as leaders can we promise ourselves that we’ll work to understand what diversity means in our particular village, town, or city? And hire accordingly, making decisions specifically for our organization and our community? And, last but not least, can we be aggressive about making salaries equitable and transparent?

Let us know your thoughts.

Joan Baldwin



Looking Back, Looking Forward: Museum Leadership in 2016


First, we would like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who viewed, read, tweeted, commented, signed up to follow or otherwise joined us in musing about museums and leadership as well as women and museums during 2015. And you should know you weren’t alone. We almost tripled our visitors with 14,852 in 2015 versus 4,4119 the year before. That amounted to 23,262 views, an average of 1.7 per reader, but who’s counting?

It is particularly gratifying that outside of the United States, home to the majority of our readers, we reached folks in 92 different countries and territories this year. Many of you are in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, but it is awesome to think that the problems and questions of museum leadership and of women in the museum world are common to directors, curators and museum educators whether you are in the Palestinian Territories, Botswana or Cyprus or 90 other places.

We recognize and value the naysayers among you who think our focus on women in the museum workplace is too narrow, too myopic or too simplistic.  We continue to believe that inclusion at its most basic level is first and foremost about equality between the sexes.  It does not exist in most American and global workplaces. But without it, diversity in every other sense of the definition is just so much window dressing.

Your favorite posts were: “Can Museum Women Have It All?” followed by “Is Negotiating Not a Museum Thing?” and “Ambition in the Museum Workplace.” Together they netted a whopping 4, 651 readers. Not like the Kardashians we realize, but for us big numbers.

So with all of that in mind, here are some predictions, hopes and fears for the coming year:

For individuals: We hope individuals engage in active career planning that includes salary discussion and negotiation; We wonder if we will see more women tapped as CEOs of large museums (and we’ll see more women board chairs, too); And we hope that we hear museum staffers speak up when women and minorities are left out of the conversation or diminished intentionally or unintentionally. Remember what Gloria Steinem says: “If you’re called a bitch, smile sweetly and say thank you.”

For organizations: We wonder whether more museums will commit to gender equity in pay and promotions through transparent and accountable practices; We hope that leadership development of boards and staffs is an encouraged, supported, and ongoing practice; And we hope museums, historic houses and heritage organizations will make 2016 the year for personnel; that they will create a personnel policy if they do not have one and invest in their staff.

For the museum field:  We see strong leadership for gender equity as an ethical imperative for our professional associations and leading museums;  We hope that just as it’s taken on diversity, AAM will see gender as a topic that matters to our industry and that ongoing gender issues also relate to the overarching topic of inclusion; We hope to see more leadership development opportunities at conferences and in the programming of our professional associations.  Last, we hope to see the field identify and model successful, sustainable ways to achieve greater diversity of staff, boards and audiences in all types of museums.


And Once Again, It Comes Back to Leadership


Last week we put a question out on the Museum-L listserv. We asked how not having children affected people’s lives as museum workers. We’re interested in this subject because of our book project Women|Museums to be published by Routledge in 2016. We were inundated with responses. Once again, it felt as though we’d touched a third rail in the world of museum personnel.

We heard from more than 50 women in 36 hours, all with stories to tell. And we are eager to listen. But I am going to go out on a limb here and say it is likely these stories–as painful as I know some of them will be–aren’t so much about fertility or having children or not having children. They are about the poor job that many museums, historic houses and heritage organizations do in managing personnel and workplace equity. I would suggest that if our field were good at those things, the answers we would get from a question like “How does not having children affect your career?” would be far more personal and less work-centered.

To be fair, we have heard from some women who say that delaying childbirth or choosing not to parent has allowed them to take advantage of opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have. Children are expensive. The museum field isn’t Goldman Sachs. Pay in many institutions is modest at best. A no-child life allows for home ownership, travel, and fellowships to name a few examples we heard about this week.

But then there are the folks who feel that they’ve been taken advantage of because they don’t have to drive anyone to soccer on Thursdays or ballet on Fridays, who can be counted on to be available for weekend events or who have been asked to “cover,”frequently without pay, for a staff member who is on maternity/paternity leave. These aren’t questions solely about staff members with children–after all some of us may also have aging parents who need care and attention as well. These are questions about equity.

As leaders we shouldn’t decide things because they are easy, the “Oh, you’re free, you cover” method of asking staff to work more than their contracted amount.  At least we shouldn’t do it on a consistent basis. As leaders, we need to make sure our staff is valued equally. And no one should feel valued simply because he or she is free to cover the Sunday afternoon family event. Nor should anyone feel judged because she has to visit her mother in the nursing home. Why you’re not at work is no one’s business but your own.

Does your organization have a personnel policy? Does it provide for some form of personal time off? Is their an equitable method of accessing that time? If so, you’ve gone a long way toward ending the have children/don’t have children issues. Your staff can take time off for softball tournaments or a weekly massage. Those are their decisions. Your job as a leader is to make sure that the ability to make choices is equitable and that no one uses a child or an aging parent to take advantage of fellow staff members. That’s not to say that we all shouldn’t step up in times of crisis, but again, a leader needs to differentiate between crisis and poor time management on the part of staff.

So, as we look toward 2016, if your organization doesn’t have a personnel policy or if it’s so lame you find yourself responding to situations as they happen rather than looking to the policy for answers, make that a goal for the new year. As we’ve said here before, leaders aren’t psychologists, but they do need to make sure that the employee benefits are equally accessible and that no one staff demographic takes advantage of another.

As always, share your thoughts. Leadership Matters will be back in 2016 with some predictions, hopes and fears for the year ahead in MuseumLand.

Have a wonderful holiday,

Joan Baldwin


Museum Leaders and What You Say When You’re Not Talking

body language

I work with a team of people in a much larger organization. In four years we’ve had three directors–a long-tenured person who retired, a two-year interim, and our current director. One consequence of all this change is that many of us were asked to stretch and take on new tasks. This hasn’t made everyone happy and sadly that displeasure is sometimes demonstrated in non-verbal ways.

If you’re a museum leader, perhaps you’ve experienced eye rolling, chair turning or arm crossing. Or their slightly happier cousins, nodding, literally leaning in, interrupting or fist pumping. If these aren’t signs you recognize either you have a wildly healthy and compatible staff or you’re missing the cues of workplace body language. And as if your leadership radar isn’t already nearing overload, you not only need to be conscious of staff body language, but your own as well.

This year a portion of our staff worked with a member of the drama department. The hope was that with his help we would deliver a particular project in a more engaging way. I think it worked. We were better at what we did in the obvious ways like voice, tone, content, but we were also more conscious of our audience, of what I now know business psychologists call power posing. What’s that, you ask? It involves where you sit or stand. And with a classroom of 15-year olds, perhaps the most judgmental individuals on the planet, this matters. In your world this may mean thinking about where you sit when staff come to your office. Do you move out from behind your desk and sit opposite one another? Do you speak to staff with your arms by your sides–as opposed to crossing them over your chest? Do you lower your voice?

Lest you think this is just woo-woo armchair psychology, know that studies show that nonverbal communication carries between 65 and 95-percent more impact than the words we carefully parse. So the next time an employee is red in the face and turned away in his chair, “listen” to what you are seeing as carefully as you listen to him telling you he’s fine. If you are a staff person, there is another set of cues: direct eye contact, smiling, confident handshake and believe it or not that slightly Victorian idea that you shouldn’t sprawl. Sit up and act like you want to be there. And if you’re in your museum’s education department or you do a lot of public speaking for your organization, review how you behave in front of a group.

So as we head into the holiday season with its round of parties and hoopla, have a great time, but be mindful of your non-verbal clues.

Joan Baldwin



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