Women in the Museum (The Book): It’s Here and It’s Not Just About Us

Women in Museums

We’ve waited two and a half years and the moment’s finally here: Our new book, Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace has arrived.

While it is still listed as a pre-order on Amazon, Routledge assures us it really is available. So first some thank you’s: To all of you who answered our short and long surveys, who participated in our focus groups, who took time out of your busy lives to share data and thoughts, and those who were interviewed, A VERY BIG THANK YOU. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Although there are days when writing a book seems like an out-of-body experience, we’re proud to have taken a long overdue step in the gender and museum discussion. We hope it serves as a catalyst for ongoing conversation about these issues.

You may think this is not a subject that has much to do with you. Our response? If you’re working in the field you need to know who you’re working with. If you’re female, and you’re part of the 47.6 percent of museum workers identifying as female, you may have already discovered that as a woman you lead differently, make decisions differently, and often have family and sexual harassment issues that are different from your male counterparts. If you identify as male, you may want to explore how the other half of your workforce thinks, decides and works, and more particularly, how the long history of women in the museum field has influenced the way it conducts business.

You may think there are already too many women in the museum field. That’s almost true. And this book discusses the dangers of a pink collar workplace. Perhaps you have an understanding of women’s contributions to the museum field. While that was not our only goal in writing Women in the Museum, we tried to give a sense of the almost century and a half of women’s contributions as volunteers, collectors, philanthropists, founders, directors and staff. We believe it’s important to know on whose shoulders we stand.

You may believe the salary disparity between genders doesn’t exist in the museum world or that it did, but it’s over. It isn’t. The data is real, and the problems of low pay affect everyone — museum workers, their families, and ultimately, their desire to remain in the museum field. Salary disparity is especially acute for women of color. If you are a trustee, a director or department head, and you are struggling to make your workforce more diverse, you may want to read the chapters on stereotyping and on women at work in museums today.

Last, you may think this is too much feminism or too much white privilege. We hope you’ll read the book and then decide. As women, we need to support, guide, mentor, hire, and help one another. We need to solve our own salary issues first by making sure that all the women in our organizations are equitably paid. Once that goal is accomplished, we can tackle the gender divide. We want to make sure that everyone is at the table, and that once there, they are treated fairly.  How can your institution preach organizational open-mindedness if the staff break room tolerates cruel remarks or the HR policy is rife with inequity?

If you care about these issues, we’ll be at AASLH Thursday, September 7 at 1:45 pm with four of our interviewees for Workplace Confidential: Museum Women Talk Gender Equity. In addition, you can join the Gender Equity in Museums Movement, a group we started in 2016 to encourage dialog on these issues: https://www.genderequitymuseums.com/.

Joan Baldwin & Anne Ackerson

Museum Salary Equity: If You’re A Woman, What Does It Mean?

eeo_pay_equityWe have written a lot about gender issues in museums on this blog, but the most obvious and also the most difficult is salary equity. Just in case anyone believes that in a field well on its way to being majority women that women are paid on a par with men, think again. This is a case where becoming a majority does not help unless everyone does something about equitable pay. And don’t get us started about how gender, race and sexual orientation influence salary equity. The gap just grows.

Don’t talk about how important it is to “diversify” your staff if you don’t address the salary equity question first. Whose problem is this?  Everyone’s. Those of you receiving your graduate degrees this spring and looking for a first “real” job, and those of you who are board members, HR leaders, directors and staff members.

So what should you do? Well, not to sound too woo woo, but it depends where you are in the circle. If the ink is barely dry on your degree, make sure you have done your research as your job search narrows. Use AAM’s salary survey. If your grad program doesn’t own it and you’re not an AAM member, find someone who is. They can access the 2012 survey for you online or purchase the current survey (2014) for $60. Several of the regional museum service organizations have also issued salary surveys. Guidestar recently published its 2016 compensation report.  With a $374 price tag, it’s beyond the reach of most individuals, but know that many nonprofit associations publish statewide statistics for the nonprofit sector.  Use them. Find the job area you’re interested in and look at the salary range. Then use the MIT Living Wage Calculator to figure out how expensive it will be to live in a particular area. An acquaintance of mine is a finalist for an assistant director position at a big non-profit in Washington, D.C. It’s a chance to work with a mentor and she is one of three semi-finalists. She’s thrilled as she should be. Using the MIT Calculator, she will need to make $32,000 just to meet her expenses (fifty percent of which will go towards housing), and that list of expenses does not include school loans or lunches out or drinks after work or incidentally an apartment with a high charm quotient. If you are looking at jobs in less competitive markets, your living wage will be lower, but so will your expenses.

If you already have a job, but are looking for a new one, you will want all the same information; however, when you get to the interview stage, don’t provide your previous salary information. The relative wealth and culture of your previous employer and its failure to pay you adequately or not isn’t relevant when it comes to your job performance. (If you’re lucky enough to live or interview in Massachusetts, the new pay equity law which goes into effect in 2018 will prevent employers from asking about your previous salary.) And, if you are asked, all your research into cost of living will pay off when you turn the question around and tell the interviewer the salary range you are interested in. Whatever you do, don’t start to negotiate and than back down. There is only one sweet spot, and unless there are a dozen family and personal reasons to say yes, don’t. Your dream job won’t be your dream job if the only rent you can afford is a 40-minute commute away from work, so be prepared to say no thank you if you don’t get the offer you want.

What about women who suddenly discover they’re grossly underpaid? Say you run into the man who had your job before you and find out he was paid considerably more than you are. What do you do? Don’t rush into anyone’s office. Take a breath. Pull all your research together: for the working world, for the field, and for your organization. Ask for a meeting about your job performance. Presuming the results are positive, then reveal your discovery. If your board, CFO, director or HR person says no to a 20-percent raise in a year (assuming that’s the gap) see if you can get it guaranteed at 10-percent annually over two years. Remember, your base salary haunts you forever, prompting future raises, driving Social Security and retirement packages. If they say no absolutely, clearly it’s a red flag.

And what if you’re a board member, director, CFO or head of HR? We presume you believe in gender equity; and that you want to govern and or lead an equitable organization. What can you do? Figure out what the salary imbalance is across the staff, and how long it might take you to even things out. Create a values statement and a wage equity statement so gender equity becomes part of organizational policy. And let people know. Issue a press release, do a session at your regional service organization’s annual meeting. Taking a stand on these issues is rare. Heck, even acknowledging them is rare. How could it possibly hurt a museum, historic house or heritage organization if women knew it was committed to paying equitably? If the worst that might happen is that you are besieged with applications from bright, talented women (and men) who want to work for you, is that a problem? But we have huge capital problems and deferred maintenance you say? Maybe, but if your staff is unfocused and surreptitiously looking for work during the work day, they aren’t happy and you’re not getting your money’s worth. Get the best staff you can afford. What staff member does less for an organization after a salary bump, especially one tied to universal values?

Is your organization committed to a gender equitable pay scale? Write and tell us your story.

Joan Baldwin

Museums, the Gender Question and You

Gender on Pedestals

In May I attended the Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO) annual meeting. In November, Anne and I, along with our friend Marieke Van Damme, go to the New England Museum Association’s  (NEMA) annual meeting. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics if we could put everyone who works for a museum in one place, there would be 353,000 of us. If given a binary choice–46.7-percent of us–would identify as women. At meetings and conferences like CLHO, NEMA and huge events like AAM, there are a lot of women, and that visual makes many people believe our gender issues are solved. Done. Finished. There are so many women, what’s to complain about? We’ve arrived. Life is good.

We don’t believe  that’s true, and before we say why, indulge us. We’re going to digress. Every week new readers find this blog. As its writers and designers, our focus is on what we’ve written most recently, but readers troll the archives looking for topic headings that interest them. Sometimes they comment. This week we received a comment from a women in response to the post “Can Museum Women Have It All?” It’s a heart breaker. If you’re inclined, you can scroll the 21 other comments for that post, some funny, some angry, some hoping for change. And if you’ve read it, you’re probably thinking, this woman’s problems are her own and don’t have anything to do with her job, whether it’s in museums or not. Yes. Sort of. Yet a field with notoriously poor salaries, especially for women, and more particularly, weak benefit packages, can leave anyone with family responsibilities (and I don’t just mean children) on the ropes.

Here’s what we believe about the gender question. A growth in population in a particular field doesn’t mean a problem is solved. Open doors don’t mean as much as we want them to–just think about museums and race. Fine to say we hire everyone, but oh, guess what? You need a graduate degree? How hard is that? Very, depending on your circumstances, and whether it’s intended to or not, it acts as a sifting mechanism.

But back to gender. A surfeit of women simply means more women in the late twentieth century invested in graduate school and found the museum field, but it doesn’t guarantee job equity, no siree. Think things are good where you work? Maybe they are. But ask yourself if your museum has the following:

  • An organizational values statement.
  • A board that has ever discussed any aspect of gender for any reason–organization, staff, exhibitions, board composition.
  • An open salary scale, committed to avoiding bias and to equitable pay.
  • Vacation and personal time off that allow staff to care for families and themselves when they are ill.
  • Paid maternity and paternity leaves that allow parents to compete more equally in the job market.
  • A private space for nursing mothers that’s not a bathroom stall.
  • Flex time for staff.

After reading that list is the thought bubble over your head full of –but we have no money for paid leave, and my board would never discuss gender; it wouldn’t know how, and how can you have an open salary scale when your staff is tiny, and, and, and? Stop. Is it so radical to think about making museum human resources the center of a conversation? How might your workplace change if staff were less stressed about family and more focused on work? Think about the time lost when staff (or young directors) leave and the organization needs to re-group, re-hire, re-train. Grapple with the idea that your organization may require a master’s degree to apply, but pay less than a for-profit administrative job where a college degree isn’t required.  Understand that your organization will never have a diverse staff if your job advertisements and subsequent job descriptions are best suited to someone with little graduate school debt and a well-off partner who provides benefits.

These are not problems you or your board will take care of in a day, a week or a month. But a willingness to acknowledge a problem and start down the path toward change will make the field better for everyone. Don’t wait for business to solve this problem. Let’s make museums the place that addressed the gender issue first and worked to solve it.

What are you doing to make museums better, more equitable ,workplaces?

Joan 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


Gender at the Museum Table

gender word cloud

Over the last month, this blog has seen an intense, and we believe, healthy discussion of museum salaries, but it’s been weeks since we’ve spoken about gender. For those of you who are first-time readers, we are finishing the manuscript for Women|Museums: Lessons from the Field. As a result, we are in the habit of writing about gender every four to six weeks. This week, while working on Women|Museums, we had an inspiring conversation with members of Museum Workers Speak. So here are some slightly random, but inter-related thoughts on gender prompted by that conversation.

For those of you care about the museum field, both its work spaces and its content-rich exhibition spaces, you should know what MWS is doing. You can find it on Twitter and on the Web at the incluseum. Its members are activists. They are courageous. They are queer, black, brown, straight and transgender. They are the people you want around your museum table.  Did we agree on everything? Probably not. But we’re pretty certain they are a voice for the future.

Over the course of the conversation, MWS expressed concern that like the rest of the museum world, it too is seen as a white women’s group. Not true. MWS is a fierce advocate, pushing HR offices, boards and directors to hire people who reflect a museum’s community. And while MWS has been an advocate for paid internships, it is also a supporter of salary equity across the field.

Here at Leadership Matters we believe that there is a dissonance between the field’s content and the world of museum offices and HR. And like MWS, we don’t think tokenism is a way to solve the field’s diversity problem. We applaud the intent, but as we’ve written here before, if you want your museum to reflect your community, you have to know that community. In creating alliances with your city or town’s many racial and ethnic groups, you will also create opportunities for internships, community meetings, family gatherings and mentoring. Change like this isn’t sudden. In fact, it can seem glacial because you aren’t just changing the museum field, you’re changing society.

But here’s where we likely part company with MWS. It argues that the field’s whiteness creates barriers for a more diverse workforce. We agree, but the implication that the museum field’s white women are a privileged lot is one we dispute. Yes, the field’s low salaries have attracted legions of privileged white women, who are sometimes trailing spouses, but whose partner’s salaries allow them to manage on terminally low salaries. But not every white woman is a person of privilege. Nor is every white woman in the museum field. And our research points to a workforce of museum women who regularly experience inequitable treatment. We ruffled some feathers a week or so ago when we published a salary food chain, which began with straight white men, and ended with transgender folks. Yes, white women are ahead of women of color on that food chain, but that’s not saying much.

At several points during our conversation with MWS we spoke about “intersectionality,” the multi-dimensional nature of gender, identity, and race. At Leadership Matters we believe that for the field to heal itself, not only do we all need to be at the table, but–to quote Emma Watson’s HeforShe speech–we need to stop defining each other by what we’re not. In short, we need to worry more about inclusivity than diversity. We’ll end with a quote from Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist which sums things up for us: “To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgment of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered.”

Let us know what you’re thinking.

Joan Baldwin


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


What’s A Museum Board Got to Do With It?

Painting of woman

Last week a reader asked us whether board behavior might contribute to the museum field becoming a pink collar career. For those of you who missed our missive–we questioned whether the museum field should address the fact that it’s almost at gender parity–according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics–and plan and talk about that. And to respond to our reader who asked such an important question: yes, yes, yes! While we wish the museum field’s principal service organizations were more aggressive in their approach to gender, that doesn’t mean we’ve let boards off the hook.

Boards are powerful. And it’s not necessarily the power you expect, meaning it’s not only about money and being power brokers. Certainly boards fill that role. They select the director and set an organizational tone and culture, but boards also exercise power by doing nothing. Inaction becomes action when boards allow gender issues to burble under the surface, either through pay inequity, a weak or absent personnel department, or a failure to conduct thoughtful discussion about gender in the workplace. This kind of inaction does all organizations a disservice.

In preparation for our book Women|Museums, we conducted a survey on gender in the museum workplace, resulting in more than 400 responses from both men and women.  Sadly, only 21-percent of our respondents indicated their boards considered gender equity within their own ranks, much less within their museums. Some respondents indicated that boards were more comfortable questioning issues of race than gender. Like workplace diversity, gender is often reduced to numbers. How many women or people of color are on staff? If the numbers seem right, discussion is frequently over.

We would argue that workplace gender issues are not solely about box ticking, and that the importance of gender equity and inclusivity on the board and in staff leadership has a lot, if not everything, to do with the value message it sends to museum employees and volunteers, as well as to visitors, program participants and funders. It is absolutely critical that boards create pathways to leadership for women at the governance level and to advocate for similar pathways for women at the staff level.

Does your organization talk about gender at the board or leadership level? If so, what action has it taken? Are you satisfied? Does your organization have a personnel statement? Has it ever made a statement about gender and leadership?

Share your thoughts.

Joan Baldwin