Some Thoughts About Museum Women—ALL Women

gender-equity-survey_v2Full disclosure: We’re white. In addition, we’re straight, and we’ve been in this field a long time. That means for some of you, we’re old enough to be your grandmas. We’re putting that out there because a) knowledge is power and b) in the age of Facebook, you may want to measure your response to issues of gender (and race) based on who’s doing the talking. So here are a few thoughts about women and the museum world in response to recent happenings.

  • First, kudos to AASLH for insisting that museums and heritage organizations advertising on its Career Center page must now post salary ranges. Leadership Matters has long lobbied for wage increases in museum salaries, but understanding salary is tricky when organizations aren’t transparent about what they pay. And what does this have to do with women?  A lot. Women are not paid equitably in this field or any other. Before you eye roll, and say that’s not true, it is. If you don’t believe us, Google it. Everyone from Pew Charitable Trusts to The New York Times has written about it many times over. And it’s important here because that $1/85-cent gap isn’t only about white women versus white men, it’s about white men and Latina women, for example, where Latina women make 53.8-cents for every white man’s dollar.

By posting salary ranges AASLH provides a framework and a mutual understanding about what’s on the table ahead of the hiring process. That helps applicants, but particularly women, negotiate. The Wage Gap didn’t happen overnight, and according to some agencies, it will take centuries to fix. While we wait, a big thank you to AASLH.

  • Our friend and colleague Bob Beatty put our recent post on social media. Having Bob post something is meaningful because he reaches a lot of people. Not surprisingly, one of his readers responded. He asked whether graduate programs in museum studies were as overwhelmingly female as they appear, and whether AASLH or anyone had figures to prove that? He also said that his own museum is 77-percent female. He thinks someday soon his institution (and many others) might be majority female, thus (he said) ending the gender equity problem. He remarked that “demographics is destiny,” meaning that a lot of women or maybe just a homogeneous workplace equals an equitable one. Last, he suggested that for Leadership Matters to imply that there are still boatloads of bias in the museum field was hyperbole.

Here’s our answer:

  1.  An all-female field is not something anyone should wish for. It’s professional suicide. Traditionally female fields like nursing and libraries are known as pink collar fields. These jobs are traditionally devalued in the economy.  (I know–eye roll here–who doesn’t value a nurse, but it’s true.) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the museum field is 46.7-percent female, meaning it’s at a tipping point, but not entirely pink yet.
  2.  Statistics from graduate schools are hard to come by. We don’t know any service organization who’s tried to count the number of students in the pipeline much less their gender. Given that more women than men go to college and graduate school, it wouldn’t surprise us if museum studies programs are disproportionately female, but, again, that’s not healthy. Healthy and creative fields are equitably balanced for gender, race, and age.
  3.  Don’t conflate demographics with equity. We could have a 77-percent female field and men would still be paid more, and hold the highest paying positions. See our comment above on the gender wage gap. Nor does a majority female field eliminate bias.
  4.  Channel your empathy. “A boatload of bias” may seem harsh from where a (white?) male writer sits. And he may be kind, empathetic, and humble, but until he (or anyone of privilege) tries to understand the way the museum field’s unconscious bias ambushes people of color, and LGBTQIA+ employees, the boatload of bias will remain an impenetrable mystery to him. Although getting woke can be uncomfortable, we recommend “I Am the Person Sitting Next to You,” from the blog Incluseum as a place to start.

Last, a month or so, we posted the infographic above. We also sent it to service organizations and numerous media outlets because we’d just finished a survey of more than 700-plus museum workers. The results were disturbing. Yet, it prompted no response from AAM, AASLH or AAMD. What does that say about the field? Does the fact that 62-percent of our respondents have experienced or witnessed gender discrimination not matter? And if 62-percent of museum workers experience gender discrimination, how are those problems compounded for persons of color, native/indigenous women, LGBTQIA+, and non-binary, non-conforming persons?  How should we interpret that silence?

Joan Baldwin

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3 Comments on “Some Thoughts About Museum Women—ALL Women”

  1. Carrie Bowers says:

    I applaud AASLH’s insistence to add salary ranges to jobs. I know it may not be the focus of the article, but as a former (and at some point a future) job seeker, the single most irritating/frustrating aspect of applying to jobs was the statement in the announcement, “please list salary requirements”. Well…. I don’t know what the institution is offering and I’d like to negotiate. It’s frustrating (and often terrifying) that if I did list something, I always wondered “Did I immediately price myself out?” without the institution even talking with me? I have no idea what an institution would be offering, so why should I make the first move?

  2. Douglas Caswell says:

    It’s hard to accept your statements without more details. Afterall, this is only a survey done on people’s opinions. People who, I’m guessing, didn’t take the time to ask why they were treated the way they were or why others seem to have higher salaries than themselves. How could they know someone was discriminating against them without knowing what was truly going on in the other person’s mind? Just blaming someone else or an entire group of people that they don’t know, without any real proof, isn’t justice, it’s harmful.

    Also, there are other things not considered in studies like this. They don’t consider how having children could affect the pay gap. They don’t consider how different cultures and gender’s family views could affect it either. Also, telling someone else that it is ok to blame others for their problems instead of trying to build those people up so that they can overcome their problems is not helping them. It’s telling them to give up, be angry, and wait for someone else to solve their problems for them. That causes dependency, not independence.

  3. Cecelia Ottenweller says:

    Hey Joan,

    I’d really like to see the statistics of men vs women in the different subsets of the museum field. What’s the breakdown in the categories of Collections, Exhibits, Education, Visitor Services?

    In my experience, men have a tendency to be in Admin and Exhibits while Education can be a pink ghetto, but that’s only in my limited experience.

    Thank you for your column!


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