Happy Anniversary!


Dear Readers,

Believe it or not, this is our 100th post so we want to begin by thanking each and every one of you. From 2013, when we had only 823 views, we have grown. A lot. In just four months of 2016, we reached 25, 712 views. So whoever you are and wherever you are, many thanks. You are part of a community of museum and nonprofit folks from 95 different countries who all share an interest in leadership.

As a way of saying thank you, we will send a copy of Leadership Matters (Alta Mira, 2013) to the four readers who send us the most compelling leadership challenges for future posts by May 15th. We need more than a one-word suggestion so take your time, and describe the questions and issues you would like to read about. You can reply by commenting on this post or to leadershipmatters1213@gmail.com. Please include your name and address as well.

Next, we would like to offer the opportunity for a guest post. If you work in the museum or non-profit world and have something to say about leadership, let us know. Please email us at leadershipmatters1213@gmail.com with some background on who you are, what you do, a brief writing sample, and an topic or theme.

We’ll close by saying how important courage is, in leadership, and daily life. It is so easy not to act, not to speak up, not to respond. To be self-protective. But change comes from a multitude of individuals acting differently as easily as it does from one dynamic leader. We work in a wonderful field, and we owe it to our institutions and to each other, to advocate for all our colleagues, to be kind, to mentor, and to, frankly, enjoy work.

Joan Baldwin & Anne Ackerson









10 Things to Think About on Your Way to Work


First, we are looking forward to meeting many of you at AAM in Washington at the end of May. After two years of blogging about the museum workforce all of a sudden we’re no longer alone. A lot of people–including AAM itself–are talking about museum working conditions. In fact, we made Nicole Ivy’s blog which conveniently lists all the sessions connected to museums’ backstage life. If you didn’t see it, you can find it here. Your Guide to Labor 3.0 at the Annual Meeting. Our session, which is titled What We Talk About When We (Don’t) Talk About Women in Museums with Marieke Van Damme and Jessica Ferey, will have some great music, a chance to share some thoughts and make change together. We hope to see you there.

While we are in Washington, Anne and I will also be doing some teaching for AAM’s Getty program. This week I worked on a case study for that presentation. My topic is leadership and self-awareness, something I’ve written and spoken about frequently since we published Leadership Matters, so self-awareness has been on my mind. For too many leaders it’s akin to exercise, something we know is good for us, but hard to focus on. Or worse, it is seen as part of the massive self-help literature found in airport bookstores. It’s probably both those things, but self awareness, for museum leaders is critically important.

And the reason it’s important is that it’s not only about you, it’s about your staff as well. Think of it as an internal check-in. One for you, one for your staff. A self-aware leader is constantly calibrating her behavior to align with the people she’s leading.

On the way to work in the morning do you strategize the day? Do you think about which meetings are up first and your goals for each one? Do you also think about the people you will meet with? Today will you sit down with the museum department you consider least likely to succeed? The ones lacking self-confidence where mediocre work is a good outcome? Have you experimented with strategies to gain trust, improve communication, increase teamwork?

Don’t eye-roll here. Or at least if you’re doing it, be self-aware enough to recognize it. Museums are places of great beauty and big ideas. They are fabulous places to work. People envy those of us lucky enough to care for and interpret the world’s patrimony. But we do that by working with people. And museums are better places when we work well together. So here are 10 things to think about on your way to work:

  1. Check your judgement at the door. Assume everyone is trying to do their best.
  2. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Be ready to delegate when you need to. Do it with grace.
  3. Write down your plans and priorities. Check back often. Did you succeed or do you need to revise.
  4. Develop a group of friends, mentors and colleagues. Anne calls them your “posse.” They are straight shooters. They adore you, but they’ll tell you the truth.
  5. Check in with them. Ask them how they think you come across.
  6. Listen. Really listen. Don’t just wait for a chance to speak.
  7. Know how the chemistry changes when you walk in the room. Plan accordingly.
  8. Make a 360 assessment part of your annual review.
  9. Get out of the office. Your work is important, but you are not curing cancer. It’s spring. Go outside.
  10. Make this your mantra: Act, reflect, refine.

Last, if you haven’t already, take one of the many personality tests. Myers Briggs or the Disc Assessment are popular. Harvard Business Review also has an entrepreneurial aptitude test: Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test. If you think being an entrepreneur is for business–well that’s another post.

And share how you know yourself.

Joan Baldwin


Museum Staff and Meeting Horror Shows


How many of you dread meetings? Is your dread equally balanced between those you run and those you attend? I work in a culture that has long confused the act of leadership with running meetings. This is a bad thing. Leaders don’t get any smarter when you put them in front of a group and ask them to lead in public. A lot of leaders seem to believe that the act of putting people in a room together will engender some chemistry that magically pushes a program forward. Would that it were that easy. Your team won’t learn to like each other, respect each other or feel the happiness of success by attending meetings where nothing happens. Here are ten thoughts for successful meeting leaders and five for those around the table:

  1. Be respectful. Show up on time; if you’re using some form of technology, test it first. Seat people so they can see one another’s faces.
  2. Have an agenda. If you haven’t taken the time to strategize about where this meeting should take your department, team or staff, what does that tell those attending?
  3. Stick to your agenda. Appoint a time keeper if that helps. Yes, it’s wonderful to see staff involved and passionate about a given subject/project, but if a topic is that important, it can likely wait for its own meeting. So be prepared to shut off discussion, and appoint someone to move the topic ahead in another venue.
  4. Ask your colleagues to close laptops and put away phones. Being present is being wholly present.
  5. Begin with a check-in. Ask participants for a 0ne-minute summation of their week. This is one of many bridging activities that clear peoples’ heads for the work ahead. You may have other ways of checking in.
  6. Follow the check-in by confirming assignments from previous meetings are moving forward. This is not the opportunity to call anyone out in public, but simply to acknowledge work on ongoing projects.
  7. Set aside time for the big-topic issues. Let your staff know your goals ahead of time.
  8. Make time for creativity. Every staff needs to know its ideas are valued. Keep track of new ideas. Make sure the good ones are developed. But be wary of becoming obsessed. Not every shiny object is worth picking up, and innovation for its own sake is a dead end.
  9. Take minutes and send out a post-meeting summation of what happened.
  10. End on time. And thank everyone.

If you are a participant:

  1. Be on time. Leave your laptop at your desk and turn your phone off.
  2. Leave your bad day at the door. Give your colleagues your respectful attention.
  3. Help shift the conversation if it starts to drift into the weeds.
  4. Summarize what you don’t understand. By doing that you not only clarify your own thinking, but may help colleagues too reticent to ask themselves. For example: So our assignment is to outline the programming that will accompany the exhibit on ancient manuscripts. And you would like to see us experiment how?
  5. Read the meeting’s email summation and make sure that what you think happened and what you’re responsible for are the same as what your chair, department head or director has written.

Last, whether you’re a participant or a meeting leader, bring some self-awareness to meetings. Reflect on what happened. Acknowledge what was great and what could have gone better. Recalibrate. Go forward.

Joan H. Baldwin

What’s in an Interview?

job interview

There is a lot in the wind these days about women–particularly young women–who interview in the museum field and fail to negotiate. I don’t know if it’s true. Or rather, anecdotally we know it happens, but that’s different from having the statistics to prove it’s true. Maybe repeating women don’t negotiate is another way of blaming salary inequity on them. If only you’d asked, you would have the same salary as your male colleagues. Lest you think I’m making this up, be sure to check out this article: Transparency and Gender Bias

That aside, we thought we’d build on last week’s blog on the value of staff, and talk about the value of an interview. This was prompted, in part, by Fast Company’s article  about odd job interview questions. You can find it here: Weird Interview Questions. As you’ll see, these are questions prospective employers asked applicants. Some are specific to the job. Obviously, if you are hiring a Whole Foods meat cutter you want someone who has spent more than a nano-second thinking about efficient ways to dismember things. Ditto for the propulsion analyst and hot dogs. But what should museums, science centers and heritage organizations ask to find out how their applicants think? And do you ask those type of questions?

One of our interviewees in Leadership Matters, Bob Burns, the director at Connecticut’s Mattatuck Museum, reported that he sometimes gives interviewees a mock disaster scenario and asks them what they would do. Why? Because Bob isn’t a micro-manager. He knows he wants an independent staff and he is prepared to offer them authority and responsibility, but he needs to know they can cope. One way to find out is to ask what happens when an elderly volunteer has a heart attack just as three buses arrive for a school visit. Nightmare, right? It might be an opportunity to find out that in another life your prospective candidate took EMT training, but you’ll also hear her think out loud and perhaps get an inkling about whether she thinks logically and can move an idea forward in a linear fashion. So as leaders preparing to hire, consider questions that demonstrate how an individual thinks, behaves and responds. If the job description calls for her to lead a team, perhaps she should run a meeting for you–agenda provided, of course. If she is an educator, should she give a mini-lecture?

On the other hand, if you are the interviewee, do you interview strategically? Do you ask questions that go beyond content; questions that address how people work? Do you ask how new ideas are launched or how the organization deals with change? How often does it (department/team/organization) meet as a group? How much autonomy will you have? You get the gist.

You can interview at the most idyllic place in the world, but the objects won’t save you if the leadership is crippled. And if you’re a leader, money is too tight to invest in the wrong person. Do you want the person with vast experience, who seems like a loner, or the less experienced person who charmed everyone and could probably get the staff and the objects out of a burning building? The final, final message: Interviews are short; don’t squander the moment.

And share your thoughts,

job interview

Staff: Investment or Cost?

staff with tigers

This weekend Anne and I joined a group of museum friends for dinner. During the meal conversation turned to this blog and to the question of how museums and heritage organizations, especially those strained financially, could and should address the question of equitable wages. It was dinner and not the moment for solving field-wide issues, but it made me think.

I wondered whether part of this problem has to do with understanding and valuing staff. That made me think of the myriad feel-good stories that often end news programs. The ones where an urban school with crumbling plaster, wonky technology and a gym the size of a living room graduates 90-percent of its students many with college scholarships. The answer is always implied, but rarely said: faculty and staff who are passionate about what they do. And do it well. If your eyebrows are in your hairline and you’re wondering what troubled urban schools have to do with financially strapped museums and heritage organizations who pay less than a living wage, perhaps it is the administration or board’s attitude toward staff.

Let me pause here to say that there is NOTHING about this topic that can be solved overnight. But for organizations who really want change, it might be interesting to press the pause button, and gather a group together to examine what change — meaning a new attitude toward staff — might look like. Should you choose to do that, you might want to begin by talking about the purpose and value of staff. It seems obvious, but sometimes, particularly in very small organizations, employing staff means the board is freed from the various tasks of running a museum. Dedicated as they might be, moving from task-oriented volunteer to micro-managing board member is not a healthy transition. So forgive the obvious and spend some time talking about why. Why were the doors opened in the first place? What is the mission? Who do you serve? These are sometimes thorny conversations, but it’s easy to see why organizations fail to move forward when a board’s unspoken mission is to be pleasant to one another rather than serving its community.

The next step might be to make three columns–hopefully on a white board or flip chart where everyone can see them. They are: Staff you have; staff you need; and staff you want. Remember, this is a blue-sky conversation. “We can’t”and “we tried that” are banned from discussion.

People struggle with the difference between needing and wanting. Think of it in comparison to real estate. You need to stop paying rent; owning property is more cost effective; you want a house at the beach. Buy the house now. Save for the vacation house. Once you’ve filled the columns, then ask the group to think about how staff change might happen. Assign a committee member to research the living wage  for your area. If you must offer less than living wage, understand what that means.

This is the moment when prizes should be awarded for the most out-of-the-box ideas. Again, it’s not about ideas you floated out years ago that no one liked; it’s about how to get the best staff you can afford.  Can you partner with a neighboring graduate program in arts administration and develop a fellows program? If the salary you currently offer for a particular position is woeful for someone who’s experienced, but good for a student completing the degree, then could you be transparent and say this is what we have? We’ll take change we control rather than the revolving door and inexperience of folks who invest too little and leave too quickly. Are there positions you can share with other organizations? Business manager? Events? Programming? Is your organization located in a pricey area? Are there ways to solve staff housing and thus add to a less than appetizing salary? Would you be better off hiring consultants for some tasks rather than full or part-time staff? If you did that, could you pay your remaining staff more?

There is no one-size fits all answer here. Every board and its museum is different. But one thing is surely true: Organizations that grow and change are the ones that want to grow and change. People make change, not buildings. Press the pause button and make getting a happy, talented staff a priority.

Let us know your thoughts.

Joan Baldwin

Our Top 10 for Job Seekers

Help Wanted

As we work our way toward completion of the Women|Museums manuscript, we’re struck again and again by the difficulties of the 21st-century museum job market. The days of the neatly-typed tri-fold letter with the professionally printed resume are almost things of the past. There are openings everywhere yet access seems limited. Emerging leaders polish their LinkedIn pages, tighten the privacy settings on Facebook, while promoting causes on Instagram and Twitter, and network. And network some more. We’ve heard about some graduate programs that seem to do an excellent job as students move from coursework to the real world. And we’ve spoken a lot in these pages about the need to negotiate, to speak up, and to take risks. So here’s our top-10 list for job seekers:

  1. Be strategic. Know what type of job you want and what you want to learn. (If you’re not learning, you’ll be bored quickly.) If you’ve really thought about what you need as opposed to what you want, you may find that the assistant to the big-time director may be a better learning experience than being the lowly member of a 10-person department. With each job advertisement, ask yourself what you might learn. Pit that against what you know.
  2. Know where you can live and where you can’t. If moving to a town of 3,000 that’s three hours from the nearest small city makes you feel secretly nauseous, don’t apply. Conversely, if you’re someone who needs the great outdoors, don’t focus on urban museums. Seems lame, but sometimes our desire for a job overrides our best instincts and we end up employed, but sad because we’re not really in the place we want to be.
  3. Make a budget. Use the MIT living wage calculator and Time Magazine’s gender gap wage quiz to see how your industry and age group are affected. Yes, we understand that many museum positions don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to salaries, but saying no is a form of negotiation. Is it better to stay with your parents or be unemployed for an extra month or two or to struggle to get blood from a stone because you can’t pay student loans on what you’re making in a job that makes you miserable?
  4. Know yourself. Take stock. After 18 plus years of school, internships, part-time and full-time employment, who are you? What matters to you? Routine? Risk? Stability?Creativity?
  5. Interview a lot. Think of it like dating. In fact, interview for a position you’re not that enthusiastic about. Knowing you don’t care passionately takes the edge off and practice is practice. If you have friends or mentors who will rehearse an interview with you, take it. Treat Skype as if you’re interviewing in person. You are.
  6. Don’t just ask about the position, ask about the department and organization you’ll be working with and for. How do they make decisions? How do they come to consensus? How often do they meet as a group? How many exhibitions, programs, projects do they do in a given year? If someone comes up with a good idea, how long does it take before implementation?
  7. Read the organization’s value statements, HR policies, and mission. Do they mesh with your own values? Is the mission something you can support?
  8. Use your network. Who do you know who knows someone at the organization you’re interested in? Can they help? Can they offer insight into any of the questions in number six?
  9. Are you someone bound by geography? Are you the trailing spouse or partner? If so, are you looking at all the edges of the museum field, other arts organizations or complementary fields like development, communications or arts education?
  10. If you get an offer, don’t say yes unless you’re completely and totally sure. Say thank you. Think. Talk with friends, mentors, professors if you’re still in school. Will the money work? Is there something else you need that’s not money? An extra week of vacation because your parents are sick? Call back and ask. You’re in the sweet spot. If they say no, what will that tell you? Will you take the job anyway? Do you have other options?

And last, remember, this isn’t just about getting an organization to want you although admittedly it feels like it. Ultimately, the best matches happen not because you “got hired”, but because you not only found a livable salary and benefits, but equally important, you found a place that promises community, creativity and challenge that may ultimately make you a better (happier) person. We all want that.

Do you have a top 10? Share it with us here at leadershipmatters.

Joan H. Baldwin


Why Becoming a Pink-Collar Profession Doesn’t Answer the Museum World’s Gender Equity Problems

Mind the Gap

Recently we’ve had a few conversations suggesting some of you believe that now the museum field is on the verge of pink collar profession-dom, its issues with gender are solved. In other words, all you need is a bunch of women–(the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the field now hovers somewhere around 46.7-percent female although the recent Mellon study of art museums pegged women at 60-percent of their employees)–and voila your problems are over and museums can focus on the real 21st century issue: diversity. We disagree. Not that we disagree that diversity is a major issue for museums, we don’t. And it is.

As we’ve written here in the past, in a perfect world, the museum workforce would reflect the communities it serves. Children, families and individuals would engage and learn from staffs that are as diverse as they are. But acknowledging the lily-whiteness and the frequent privilege of our field does not mean its issues with gender have disappeared. Were the field to try to consciously solve its gender problems, it certainly wouldn’t hinder the battle for a more diverse workforce.

The term pink collar joined common speech during the second world war, but rose to prominence in 1977 when writer Louise Kapp Howe published Pink Collar Workers: Inside the World of Women’s Work. The book was nominated for a National Book Award and the term joined its cousins, blue and white collar, referring to workers who perform manual labor and professionals or administrators respectively. Other traditionally pink collar fields include teaching, nursing and counseling. For an entire list, see Pink Collar Jobs.

But take it from us, being a pink collar profession isn’t a good thing. And a field dominated by women does not mean it ceases to have issues with equal pay, with maternity/paternity leave, with childcare, with sexual harassment. Think those things don’t happen in the museum world? Do its trappings of Waspy privilege protect it from unpleasant and unwanted groping or inappropriate language? No, not really. It may be a third space, but the museum world isn’t immune to the problems of the world at large. Nor does the world of museum workers equal what happens in urban museums on the two coasts. There are worlds in between, some sophisticated, some not. But this April 12 women museum workers coast to coast, regardless of color or the gender binary, will join together knowing they’ve finally earned as much as their male colleagues did in 2015. If you’d like to know more about the pay gap, click here: 2016 Pay Gap.

This week AAM issued its 2016 TrendsWatch report. It nods to salary discrimination writing: “Museums can’t compete with the private sector on wages, but if they are willing to abandon outmoded practices, they can become the ultimate cool, creative place to work, so much so that the best and brightest are willing to sacrifice income to work in the field.” (p.15) Really? And then later…”Given traditionally low museum salaries, it may be realistic for much of our sector to focus on employee happiness and wellbeing, as well as trying to budget financial incentives.”(p.44) But how do we make employees happy or feel ultimately cool when we pay them less than many other fields, while still demanding a graduate degree?

We’ll close with one last thought: Diversity and gender are not mutually exclusive, and a workforce dominated by women does not mean women’s workplace problems are solved. In our opinion there’s still work to do.

Joan Baldwin



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 731 other followers