Woman in Circle

This week I have been thinking a lot about gender and leadership. The school where I work is involved in a search, and never in its 125-year history has it had a female head. This is not a surprise since for 85 of those years it was an all male institution; but, after 40 years of co-education people are starting to ask if it isn’t time.  Although nothing is as simple as casual conversations with colleagues sometimes make things sound, recently there are hints of “Well, if we only had a woman leader, life would be good.” I am not convinced even though I am passionate about women as leaders in museums as well as schools. Why? Because independent schools like museums sometimes promote people without the training to do justice to the position. And just because the “soft skills” are often co-joined with the double X chromosome, does not mean women are all fabulous, dynamic leaders. Nonetheless, it would be comforting to know the search is equitable: that both genders are interviewed, and that the finalists are finalists because of their core values not the given attributes they cannot change.

I’d like to pause a moment here and congratulate the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) for its 2013 report “The Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships.” Now that we are well and truly into research for our book Women+Museums, I can say with some certainty that data about gender and leadership in the museum field is scarce. Actually, data about personnel issues is scarce. So we should be doubly grateful to AAMD for not only making the data public, but taking the time to highlight an issue that’s more or less hiding in plain sight. Selfishly, I might also wish that AASLH and AAM would join forces to do something more comprehensive so we could have a sense of women’s leadership across all sectors of the museum world. Until that happens we have AAMD and data based on a survey of 211 institutions.

Here’s what’s odd though—unless you’ve been in Kimmie Schmidt’s bunker–you know that women hold their own at least in terms of directorships among those AAMD organizations until you get to the ones with the really mammoth operating budgets. Those positions are all held by men. So there’s that issue. Are we to believe that the richer and better endowed an art museum is, the more hierarchical and traditional it is? Are those institutions where power is just traditionally a male thing and there’s no changing that? Is it because when that type of museum begins a search it looks to its peer institutions–meaning museums in the $15 million pool and up– for leaders and since they’re almost exclusively men, it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Then there is the truly awful statistic of female director’s salaries versus male director’s salaries. In its 2012 salary report AAM reported that 52.7 percent of museum directors were female, but they earned only 78-percent of men’s salaries. AAMD breaks its data down into finer increments leaving us with the depressing fact that women who actually move into a $15-million annual budget museum, make even less than male directors, earning 71 cents on the dollar. Of course, this shouldn’t shock us since many women in museums, non-profits, and business make roughly 78 cents to a man’s dollar.

Will this change? Not unless we all recognize it as a problem. So…if you’re applying for jobs, whether it’s your first or your fifth and you’re female, know how much it costs to live where you are applying and know how much you’re worth. Don’t take the first offer. If it’s not enough to live on, say so. And if you’re a director or a board hiring a director, don’t offer a woman less than a man unless she’s significantly less experienced and then ask yourself why you’re doing that. Hire the best person and pay them what they’re worth.

Are you a woman who’s negotiated for salary recently? Do you know if you’re getting equitably paid? Share your thoughts here at Leadership Matters.


Joan Baldwin


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