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.
Dear Friends, colleagues, readers,
2016 was a year of unending politics, the unexpected deaths of cultural icons, enough global warming to open the northwest passage, and way too many police shootings. Yet here, in the calmer waters of Leadership Matters, we continued to grow. We more than doubled our views, moving from 23,529 in 2015 to 55, 723 in 2016. Although most of our readers live in the United States, people around the globe, from Russia, India, Canada, Uzbekistan, Malta, Greenland, Rwanda and many, many more, continue to find us. Wherever you are, thank you. We’re honored to be part of a community of concerned, open and interested museum leaders.
If you are new to Leadership Matters, here are some of our most popular postings for 2016: Museums and the Salary Conundrum; The Salary Agenda; The Top Ten Skills for Museum Leaders; Do Museum Staff Work for Intangibles?, and When You’re Not a Museum Leader: Seven Ways to Act Like One.
And we didn’t just write blog posts. We finished the manuscript for Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace, which we expect will be published by Routledge in May 2017. We spoke at AAM in May and NEMA in November. We worked with a group of like-minded colleagues to found Gender Equity in Museums Movement or GEMM, and to release the GEMM call for action which you’ll find in a pdf on the right side of this page.
Suddenly it’s a new year, and we have to do it all again, only differently, with equal or more imagination and energy. So we thought we’d begin with a quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the force behind the award-winning musical Hamilton, taken from The Daily Beast, December 27, 2016. Miranda was asked about the soul-crushing (for some) results of the presidential election. Here’s part of his answer.
“But I woke up with a very pronounced case of moral clarity. In addition to the disappointment, it was like, oh, this does not change the things that I believe in. The things that I believe in that this candidate doesn’t means we’re going to have to fight for them. You don’t want to go backwards when it comes to our LGBT brothers and sisters; you don’t want to go backwards when it comes to the disenfranchisement of voters of color. We have to keep fighting for the things we believe in, and it just made that very clear: I know who I am, and I know what I’m going to fight for in the years to come. That felt like the tonic of it.”
We love this answer. It responds to the sadness many of us felt having ended up on the losing side of the Electoral College, but it acknowledges the hope and the energy that museums need to move forward, meaning if you’re an engaged leader of a value-driven organization that’s plugged into your community, you will move forward. You must move forward. You will fight for what you believe in–in museum offices, exhibition spaces, historic sites, and in your programming–and that is a tonic.
How can being engaged with communities or working for equal pay for women of color, as well as queer and transgender colleagues in the museum field be a bad thing? And how about committing to raising museums’ consciousness about bias? Wouldn’t that be an important goal as well? And isn’t it about time all museums were value-driven? Values are not just something left to sites of conscience. Every community has things it cares about, and its museums (and their leaders) should reflect those cares.
So..as we look toward 2017, we’ll leave you with another quote from the poet Mary Oliver in her new book Upstream. “For it is precisely how I feel, who have inherited not measurable wealth, but, as we all do who care for it, that immeasurable fund of thoughts and ideas, from writers and thinkers long gone into the ground–and inseparable from those wisdoms because demanded by them, the responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently. To enjoy, to question–never to assume, or trample. Thus the great ones (my great ones, who may not be the same as your great ones) have taught me–to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly.”
Take Ms. Oliver’s words to heart. Bring passion to your observations, be patient about your work, and live with care for others especially your colleagues.
Be well and best wishes for good 2017.
Before we begin, some good news: Anne and I are doing a workshop with our friends Jessica Ferey and Marieke Van Damme at AAM. It’s called What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Women. Now the bad news: It’s at 8:45 a.m., Saturday, May 28. If you’re going to be at AAM, and up at 7:30 AM, (and we hope to see you) are there tunes that pump you up like a great cup of coffee because we’d like to play them before our session? Email or tweet (#museumwomen) your suggestions for our playlist, then plan to join us on May 28th for a great conversation!
This week we’d like to build on our last post by saying that while mentors–being one, having one–are an important part of museum career planning, they aren’t the whole rodeo. Or to mix metaphors completely, they’re the flour not the entire cake. Besides having a mentor or mentors, you need to be strategic about your career.
Let’s acknowledge from the outset that careers are part of a life, not the whole thing. The rest–partners, husbands, wives, children, parents, friends, lovers, pets–all take energy, devotion and compromise. But within your particular narrative, you still need to be strategic. In addition, let’s acknowledge that museum salaries, particularly for women, women of color, and transgender folk are often ridiculously low. We’ve written about that elsewhere on this blog which you can find here: Museums and the Salary Conundrum or The Salary Agenda. But having acknowledged the demands of family, friends, and the financial strain of salaries that stink, what else should you do?
First, check in, meaning ask yourself if you like going to work. Are you happy? And don’t do it once, make it a habit. Keep a journal, write down your successes and put them in a jar, walk, think, mull things over. Ask yourself how you are. And if you want a fabulous example of personal reflection, read Nina Simon’s current blog: Year Five as a Museum Director. Her things I’m proud of, mistakes I made, and questions on my mind is an excellent template.
Staying in a soul-sucking job just because you earned that master’s degree in museum studies might not be worth it if your commute is punctuated by tears. Do we need to point out that daily crying is not a good thing? But you’re the trailing spouse or partner. Your parents are elderly and you can’t move right now. It took you months to get your apartment, and you can’t, repeat can’t move again. So don’t. Here is where your posse comes in. A posse is a circle of colleagues, folks you like, folks you can go out and have a drink with, but who aren’t necessarily friends. Why? Because they have to be able to tell it to you straight. They will be the people who remind you that you’ve showed up at your favorite watering hole one too many times in a sad mess. They will tell you that you need to turn around and apologize NOW. They will also tell you that you’ve been treated abysmally and that you’re good at what you do.
And, your posse should be able to help you tease apart your skill set. Do you work in a museum department that also exists in other non-profits? Development or communications for example. Is it worth looking elsewhere and building your resume without leaving your parents, partner or really great apartment? Can you reduce your hours, do some consulting and make the same money but have more autonomy? The point is these people will give you advice. You may already have a group like this. If not, invite some colleagues you like and admire, and arrange to meet after work. Last, don’t forget about your boss, department head, team leader. Hopefully she is a person you can talk to. Don’t abuse the privilege, but don’t be shy either.
If you think about everything you’ve read here, it’s clear we are suggesting that you have one or more people who mentor you. They are likely outside your current work environment, and they deal with the big picture–the museum field and your career trajectory. Inside your organization, you should have another individual who knows you and the cast of characters you work with. That person will help with organizational issues and your blind spots. Last, comes your posse. Yes, some of them will become friends, but remember, they have to be able to tell you the truth. And they will offer a network of connections, projects, and ideas. And you’ll do the same back. So be strategic. And if you want to read how business does it, check out these articles: How Leaders Create and Use Networks or Misconceptions About Networking.
Let us know how you network.
Not to beat a dead horse, but among the many responses to our Salary Agenda was an amusing, but ultimately sobering, one from our colleague Ilene Frank, the Chief Curator and Director of Collections and Education at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS). Frank reports that she’s currently slogging through applications for CHS’s Research & Collections Associate position and for an Exhibit Developer job. In the course of reading through 200-plus resumes, cover letters and other attendant personal PR, Frank had a moment. Here’s her advice on what NOT to do when entering the museum job market:
1. Make sure you have real experience. I want to know that you have touched objects, worked with archives, maybe installed an exhibit. Book learning is not enough.
2. If your experience is mostly academic, working in libraries, research centers, explain to me why you want to be in a museum. We are that wacky cousin next to our academic library relations.
3. Digitizing a photo and placing it in an online catalog is no longer revolutionary experience. Yes, I need to know you can scan a document but talk about what digitizing means. How is it creating access? How is it improving record keeping?
4. Write a dynamic cover letter. Avoid templates. Make me want to have a conversation with you. And please do not say you will cover your relocation costs. Negotiate with me if you are offered the position. Don’t sell yourself short at the get-go.
5. Maybe it’s because I’m now a different generation than those coming straight out of school but enough with the exclamation points in your emails. You don’t know me. You may be excited, but please be professional and mature.
We also really enjoyed a link originally posted by AASLH. It’s a dictionary defining terms associated with the hiring process for those who may not be familiar with the nonprofit (or museum) world. You can read the whole piece by going here: Nonprofit Terms for Ordinary People. Our particular favorites were:
We are embarking on a new phase: Everything else we’ve tried has been an epic failure, and you will now save us.
Looking for someone passionate about the field: Applicants should be willing to accept being paid peanuts.
We value professional development: We expect you to perform your usual work while staying on top of trends by attending relevant trainings, workshops, and conferences but there is actually no budget for said activities. And don’t plan to do that stuff on the clock.
And on a more serious note, since this would normally be the post we devote to women, we must underscore that all the baddy badness enumerated in our posts and your comments about salaries are especially bad for women. As many of you noted in an underpaid and under-resourced field, where the philosophy governing hiring is too often a variation of the old saw “We’re a non-profit so we don’t need to make money” women get the short end of the straw. And, when you overlay that with a world where women everywhere are paid anywhere from 78 cents to 84 cents on the dollar compared to men, and you have the recipe for a storm of controversy. As Christine Engel, Chief Human Resources Officer at the Wadsworth Antheneum (CT), shared with us in a recent interview for our new book, it seems that in many museums “there’s no compensation strategy and philosophy. You have to have the intention [to make change] and the current mode in many museums is to ‘pay the average’.”
We should also point out since no one mentioned it in the comments, that the salary food chain goes something like this: white heterosexual men; queer men; queer women; white heterosexual women; black men; Hispanic men; women of color; transgender women.
LEADERSHIP MATTERS Chosen for The Museum Blog Book
This week we learned that Leadership Matters was chosen by Museumsetc.com for its new book on museum blogs. For more about the project click here: The Museum Blog Book
On the blog Art Museum Teaching Mike Murawski writes, “Last week, Joan Baldwin wrote an insightful and widely-read piece entitled “Museums and the Salary Conundrum” via the Leadership Matters blog — a site that emerged in conjunction with the 2013 book of the same name written with Anne Ackerson and studying museum leadership in history and cultural heritage organizations. In her post, Baldwin so clearly and boldly frames the problem of museum salaries:
“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.”
Joan quickly followed her post with another this week entitled “The Salary Agenda,” in which she and Anne take a stab at what they think a Museum Salary Agenda for the 21st Century could look like. I really appreciated this action-focused series of items, which can begin to help the conversation focus on real change — from professional organizations and institutions to graduate programs and individuals. Here is a quick repost of their Agenda, and I invite everyone to read their entire post and add comments to the already-active conversation on their blog.
In his post, “Creativity and Leadership”, at The New York History Blog, Bruce Dearstyne writes that Leadership Matters’ “… most notable feature is the inclusion of the experiences of three dozen leaders whom the authors interviewed for the book. These leaders explain how they became leaders, the challenges they faced, how they addressed them, and how their leadership styles evolved over the years. Their stories are insightful and revealing.”
May 7-10, 2017: American Alliance of Museums Annual Conference, St. Louis. Joan and Anne, along with several of their new book’s interviewees, will be sharing personal insights about the expectations and realities of gender equity in the museum workplace. If you’d like to meet up with us, send Anne an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Ackerson, Marieke Van Damme and I spoke at the New England Museum Association Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Our title was Women|Museums: Lessons from the Workplace, and we were among the opening sessions of NEMA’s 2016 meeting in Mystic, CT. We expected to begin our program buoyed by a Clinton victory the night before. We counted on Clinton piercing the proverbial glass ceiling until sometime around midnight when clearly a different choice was underway, a fact confirmed when we woke much too early to the news of a pending Trump presidency.
When we began our program, the mood was somber, as if we’d all partied a bit too hard the night before, which, of course, we hadn’t. After introducing ourselves with a little story telling, we walked the group through five myths of gender in the museum world. Here they are:
Feminism is all about women being in power.
The contributions of women in museums are self-evident.
The salary disparity between male and female museum workers is a thing of the past.
There are so many women in the museum field now that gender equity will happen on its own.
It’s not about gender anymore; it’s about race, sexual orientation and class.
Then we asked the group to discuss two questions: If they could send a message to their colleagues, institutions, professional associations and graduate programs about gender in the museum workplace, what would it be? And, what is the one thing they are willing to do to make positive change toward gender equity? Each table had postcards for participants to write messages on. There’s a photograph of them at the top of the page, but they also showed up on Twitter, Facebook and various analog spots throughout the meeting.
When the groups reported out, their remarks clustered around some important topics. The hiring process came under discussion as women questioned why they don’t negotiate job offers, and whether that is something that can and should be taught. One respondent pointed out that if you are simply happy to be chosen, you lose all leverage to negotiate.
The road to a museum career also came under fire, particularly the idea that in too many instances students borrow to go to graduate school, and then find themselves working in unpaid internships as part of some additional rite of passage, all so they can earn, at best, a modest salary. One group’s solution: there should be a field-wide refusal to work for nothing. In addition, participants want women to leave graduate programs feeling confident about traditionally male areas of focus like finance. Can’t read a spread sheet from the business office? Grow your skill set.
Sexual harassment in the workplace was also discussed with participants asking where staff at small museums can go when they need help or advice, and what the board’s role is in seemingly condoning workplace sexism. A participant quipped that Boston area museums still have a Brahmin attitude, meaning you’ve been allowed to be part of the boys’ club, now deal with it. And there was also a shout out for not just doing what men do, but finding new solutions to achieve the same end.
And towards the end one woman reminded us all to “Put on our armor and fight like Amazons.” Which brings us to where we were before the election. This fall we created an advocacy group, Gender Equity in Museums Movement, or GEMM. As yet, we have no official affiliation, but we are beginning talks with AAM to see how GEMM can support its equity agenda. If you’re interested in knowing more about our call to action, please read and share our platform paper, A Call for Gender Equity in the Museum Workplace. If it speaks to you, join us via email, twitter or Facebook. Let’s make museums the poster child for women’s (and that’s all women, not just white women’s) equity. We’re not giving up and neither should you.
And if you were out of the country, living off the grid or you simply stopped reading post- election, you may want to look at:
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,
“I want everybody to close their eyes and think of a dirty word, like a really dirty word. Now open your eyes. Was any of your words ambition? I didn’t think so. See, I just kind of started wondering why female ambition is a trait that people are so afraid of. Why do people have prejudiced opinions about people who accomplish things? Why is that perceived as a negative?”
Reese Witherspoon @ the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, November 9, 2015
This month put me in contact with a number of young museum and non-profit folk looking to advance in their careers. All of them are women–not a surprise given that Anne Ackerson and I are focused on our manuscript for Women|Museums to be published by Left Coast Press next year. At the same time, we constantly read pieces primarily written for the for-profit world about job getting and job leaving. In short, about ambition.
Here’s what we know about ambition in the for-profit world. Everybody has it to begin with, men and women. Everybody wants to be the best, get the office with the windows and the big salary. Then something weird happens. According to a 2015 survey by Bain and Company women’s ambitions drop by a whopping 60 percent. Before you jump to the conclusion that’s the result of the mommy track, it’s not. The results were the same for women who were married, not married, parents, not parents. Worse, while women’s confidence plummets, men’s does not. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next. Women’s confidence and aspirations, which begin higher than men’s, drops so that by the time they are senior leaders their confidence that they can reach the top spot is 29 percent versus men’s which is 60 percent. If you want to read more about this go here: Bain Study.
So we know what happens in business, but because of the museum world’s abysmal data keeping and seeming inability to turn a lens on itself as a workplace, we have no way of knowing if it’s true in museums. Then, if you add the fact that museums aren’t one world, but many, the narrative becomes more complex. Art museums that draw staff from the academy have a different culture than history, science or children’s museums although we know from AAMD’s 2014 study that women’s ambitions are thwarted in the art world as they move up the leadership ladder. Anecdotally, that also appears to be true in the history museum world even though its population is almost evenly split between men and women.
Here is what we’ve noticed: Preparation for strategic thinking about one’s career is often absent or downplayed at the graduate and early career level; getting the first job seems to be an end in itself; too many spend too little time strategizing about what taking and staying in a given position means for the long haul; choices often seem born out of enthusiasm–a sense of I’m so glad to be here–rather than a step toward something bigger and what bigger means; and there is an unspoken agenda, that leaving a position may hurt the organization and its needs come before an individual’s do. Most jarring of all–sometimes it feels as if we, as a field, are kind of proud of the idea that we’re non-profits so being openly ambitious, especially openly ambitious young women, isn’t what we do.
Of course that might be true. Unlike the business world, museums offer median salaries somewhere around $45,000. There are few perquisites and leadership positions can be demanding. Moving up the ladder may mean literally moving which may be easier for some than others
So…as leaders what’s our role? Are you a mentor at work and outside work? Do you push staff to chart a course for themselves? Are they comfortable talking with you about career next steps? Are you comfortable listening? Conversely, as a leader do YOU have a mentor or mentors? Do you talk career strategies with them?
This week as we gather with family and friends, let’s make a pact to be more intentional about museums as workplaces. Let’s do our best to encourage upward mobility, salary negotiation and career strategizing. The field will be better for it. And as always, let us know your thoughts on ambition and charting career choices.