Choosing a new executive director is a big deal. Whether you’re a teeny tiny historical society or the Metropolitan Museum of Art much rests on the selection of a single human. This week, both in conversations with a colleague, and in class discussion with our Johns Hopkins University students, it became clear that a lot of museums and heritage organizations don’t allow staff to meet the candidates. Too often, that opportunity seems to belong to the board and the board alone.
It’s hard, however, to see how that makes any sense. Admittedly, I work at an organization that’s taken the interview process to extraordinary levels. Except for the lowliest positions, every candidate spends at least five or six hours on site, moving from meeting to meeting, and often participating in the proverbial lunch where she or he is asked to eat while simultaneously answering questions from well-meaning staff. At day’s end, everyone submits evaluations to their direct reports. Could staff really sway a decision? I don’t know, but I can tell you that everyone feels as though they’ve participated. At the very least, they can put a name to a face when the final decision is announced. Why does any of this matter? Because “they,” whether they are a leadership team at a huge organization, or the entire staff at a small one, will be the candidate’s team. And the team is important.
One of the many misconceptions about interviewing is that it’s something that happens to you. And it does, but it’s not an entirely passive experience, nor should it be. Too often the whole job process feels like a do-or-die proposition. You turn on the charm and hope they pick you out of what must be — in your imagination at least — hundreds of capable applicants. But you’re also interviewing them, whoever they are. And how they come off, especially at a moment when everybody’s on their best behavior, matters. What does it tell you if you spend half a day on site, and never meet the staff? Granted, if you’re interviewing at the American Museum of Natural History, The Henry Ford or the Victoria and Albert Museum, you couldn’t possibly meet many staff. But, at the very least, shouldn’t you meet your future peers and/or direct reports? And what does it say about the board and the leadership if you don’t? At the very least, ask for those opportunities if it appears they aren’t on the agenda. (You never know, the staff could have fruitlessly pushed for meetings. If you ask for and get meetings, you could become the staff’s hero.)
Sometimes organizations can’t seem to get out of their own way. And boards, like an abandoned spouse after a divorce, sometimes hire quickly, frequently selecting a version of the person they just lost, perpetuating a host of organizational ills. So, if you’re a museum board member or a museum leader, and 2019 is going to be your year for an important hire, think about the following:
- Know what qualities you’re looking for. Sounds obvious, but these aren’t the standard qualities that every job advertisement lists — courage, vision, intelligence, self-awareness — they are the qualities that will take your museum or heritage organization and move it forward. And they shouldn’t be confused with qualifications. Only you, the board and the museum leadership know what your organization needs. Is it experience as a collaborator with other organizations? Is it the ability to be decisive and carry out a strategic plan? Is it an understanding of how digital and web-based content can impact your organization?
- Be open about where you might find this person. It might not be in a traditional spot. Try to shed your biases or at least acknowledge them, and be willing to look outside the box.
- If this is the top spot, decide how to engage your leadership team and/or staff. Who will give candidates a tour? Who will meet with them in small groups? Who will answer questions about living in your area?
- How can meetings with staff and candidates give you the most bang for the buck, providing information for the interviewee, while also giving staff the opportunity to listen and ask questions?
- Does your staff or board need coaching on which questions are legal and appropriate and which are not? A refresher never hurts.
Hiring, particularly for the top spot, is a time-consuming and sometimes expensive process. Presumably, you’re proud of your museum and the work it does. So showcase it. Let candidates meet with staff. Give them a mechanism to report back. Listen. Listen. Listen. Choose wisely. Choose for the team you have and the organization you want.
This week, along with five colleagues, I helped run a discussion about pay at the New England Museum Association’s 100th anniversary meeting in Stamford, CT. The meeting opened at the same time as newly-unionized hotel workers staged a picket line as part of their ongoing wage negotiations. As a result, our session was one of many that left the Hilton in solidarity with the hotel workers, holding our discussion across the drive in a small park.
It was the first day that felt like fall, but bright and beautiful. Attendees gathered in groups to discuss issues around unpaid internships, emerging professional pay, gender and pay, diversity and pay, and salary negotiations. Towards the end, groups reported out on their top thoughts. Ultimately those will make their way to NEMA in the hopes they will continue to spur action toward raising the field’s salaries.
One thing that struck me listening to the report-outs was how important negotiation or at least human interaction is in launching or continuing a job successfully. Ilene Frank, COO of CT Historical Society, and Diane Jellerette, Director of the Norwalk Historical Society, both commented afterwards how few people seem to know their own worth when an offer is on the table. Too many view that moment as if there is still a line outside the door of equally qualified people all clamoring for the position. “They don’t understand, we don’t want our second choice,” Frank said. “And they don’t understand their power,” Jellerette added.
Their point? Too few, and particularly too few women, understand the power job applicants possess when the offer is on the table. Job searches are time sponges. Work is neglected. Money is spent. Teams–and sometimes boards of trustees– assembled and focused. After a process that can last weeks and occasionally months, no one wants a no. As an applicant, you weren’t chosen as one of many, you were chosen because you were the best for this position. USE THE MOMENT. It is potent.
In fact, the way you negotiate your offer sets a template for your future. Your salary and benefits recalibrate from whatever you and your new employers decide. Years from now your retirement package will be determined by how you behave in this moment. So…no pressure, but DON’T LEAVE MONEY ON THE TABLE. If you’re in the job search process, particularly if you’re new to the museum world, here are some things to think about when someone picks you for what hopefully is your dream job.
- Be grateful. You aren’t the only ones who’ve been through a lot to make this happen, and these folks picked you. Say thank-you.
- Ask to think about it. The little person in your head may be doing your happy dance, but you’re in the sweet spot. Press pause.
- Go home. Talk to the people who matter to you. Look at your budget. Calculate your expenses. Can you live in this town/city/region on what they’ve offered? If you don’t know, find out how much that costs.
- DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE. Know what the field is paying. AAM, along with many of the regional museum and statewide nonprofit associations, do salary surveys. Find them and use them. And for goodness sake, if you’re in a field like development or IT that moves across the non-profit world, know what organizations outside museums pay.
- Some of us are epically bad at math. Because your offer also includes monies dedicated to state and federal programs and taxes, use sites like this to calculate your net take-home pay.
- If you haven’t already asked, read the Employee Handbook. Know what working in this particular place will mean to you. If you have an elderly relative you care for, if you’re planning a family, if your partner works long hours, these questions are all part of the calculus. Does it offer paid leave or only FMLA? Things you wouldn’t have mentioned during the interview like you have a toddler and day care is $100/day are now fair game as you decide what you need.
- Time is also money. What if your new employer offers full benefits at 35 hours/week? Your offer is 40 hours/week, but you have two kids in kindergarten and first grade. Can you negotiate for fewer hours? Yes.
- Ask for assistance with moving. What if you don’t know a soul where you’re moving and you literally can’t afford movers? Ask. A $2,000 or $3,000 one-time expense is better than losing a great candidate.
- Ask for time. Do you need time off before you start to clear your head and settle your family? Ask.
- Know your own value relative to the field. Are you the second coming when it comes to exhibit design or conservation? Do others call you with questions? Is the reason you’re job shopping because you know you’re worth more? Well then, don’t throw it away. Use it.
Image: Molly Brown House Museum
This Wednesday I will attend the New England Museum Association’s 100th Annual Meeting in Stamford, CT. Along with panel moderator Scott Wands (CT Humanities) and co-presenters Grace Astrove (Jewish Museum), Kelsey Brow (King Manor Museum), Ilene Frank (Connecticut Historical Society), and Diane Jellerette (Norwalk Historical Society), I will help lead a session titled “Low Pay, No Pay, and Poor Pay: Say No Way!”
Despite the alliterative and slightly confrontational title, our goal is to bring people together to talk honestly about one of the most difficult aspects of museum work: salary. We will lead table discussions on the following topics: emerging professionals and pay; unpaid internships; salary and benefits negotiation; race and pay; and gender and pay inequity.
Our goal is to give participants the opportunity to move from table to table potentially participating in multiple discussions before reporting out to the whole group. In part, that’s because there is no one size fits all compensation story. Pay is personal and pay is organizational. Pay relates to your personal narrative, your personality, and hugely to bias.
For many board members, staff represent a yawning cavern of expense and escalating benefits. And while boards may adjust an executive director’s salary and benefits package to attract and keep the multi-talented person they believe their museum deserves, beyond the aggregate numbers, they rarely dip into compensation for staff further down the food chain. Thus, for the most part, pay is an executive director versus current or potential staff question, meaning when an offer is made both individuals need to be at the top of their game. The executive director needs to fully understand her budget, know whether she can negotiate and how far she’s willing to go. The individual needs to have some sense of salary range–which is why posting salaries and ranges is so important–and how much it costs to live in the area in question and meet expenses. She also needs to know what she thinks she’s worth, and whether she’s willing to walk away if an offer is too low.
Negotiations like these are made more complicated by gender and race. Job applicants have to find ways to ask whether the museum has completed a pay equity survey and adjusted salaries accordingly. Presumably any organization that’s already had a Marc Benioff-like moment would be overjoyed to talk about it, but you can’t be sure. And in some organizations, too many questions — from women and particularly from women of color — translate into a stridency organizations want to steer clear of.
Then there is the whole issue of new professionals negotiating for the first time, or those still in graduate school who want or need internships. We would like to announce that unpaid internships were as antiquated as the rotary phone, but sadly they’re not. NEMA has been stalwart in its support for mutually beneficial internships, but the museum world is still riddled with epically bad The Devil Wears Prada experiences. And being treated like crap when you’re being paid is one thing, but being treated like crap for donating your time seems like the definition of insanity.
One of the blue-sky hopes for this session is to actually come up with a series of proposals that will help move the salary debate forward. Since not all of you will be in Stamford this week, if there are changes you’d like to see — organizationally, regionally, and nationally — let us know. Let’s make some noise and make some change.
Image: Most Frequent Forms of Gender Discrimination (in the museum workplace), from THE SURVEY: Gender Equity in the Museum Workplace, conducted by Anne W. Ackerson and Joan Baldwin, 2018.
Last week, I participated in a panel at the Southeastern Museums Conference in Jackson, Mississippi. Organized by Heather Nowak and titled “Women on the Rise,” the panel included AAM President Laura Lott, Betsy Bradley, Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, and me. I was there not in my Leadership Matters capacity, but as the co-author of Women in the Museum, and one of the co-founders of the Gender Equity in Museums Movement (GEMM). The audience was all women.
Laura Lott opened the session, speaking about AAM’s salary survey, but perhaps most importantly about the gender bias she encountered serving on a national search committee. She also spoke about being a working mother, and the times when she’s ended up bringing her child to work. Lott’s background is in finance, and I don’t think I’m misquoting her when I say she’s still surprised at how patriarchal and old-fashioned the non-profit world is around issues of gender.
I spoke second, reviewing some of the myths associated with gender in the museum world — myths about pay equity, about feminism itself — and the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that women are now 50.1-percent of the museum workforce. The latter is particularly disturbing since a pink collar field is not necessarily a healthy field, and with wages in the museum world already suppressed, trending toward all-female could be the final nail in the salary coffin.
Betsy Bradley closed the session. Tall and elegant, Bradley describes herself as a polite Southern woman. She’s lived and worked in Jackson, MS, most of her adult life. After outlining her career, Bradley talked about three things: Not feeling guilty about being a working parent; asking for what you want; and #MeToo. Her #MeToo story was so unexpected that the room, which included several of Bradley’s staff, fell silent. Following the incident, Bradley took care of herself, but she told only a few people, two board members and a family member. Ultimately the accused resigned his position.
Our session took place a week after Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. No matter where your allegiances lie, for many, Ford’s testimony brought back their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault. Tuesday in Jackson, MS nerves were raw So it is no wonder that during the concluding Q&A, the second question never really got asked because the woman, who’d been assaulted, broke down while trying to speak.
My question to all of you is how long can this go on? We like to say how much we love our work, how important it is, how special and wonderful the museum field is, and yet two 2018 surveys, one by Anne Ackerson, and one by nikhil trivedi and Aletheia Whitman report that 49-percent and 55-percent respectively of museum workers identifying as female have experienced sexual harassment, assault or abuse. So when is enough enough? If you or your organization is looking to make change, we suggest……
- Make sure your board understands that operating a museum or heritage organization means Title VII or the EEOC apply to you. You owe it to your organization to know how.
- Create or update your HR policy. Make sure you and the Board know what steps an employee who’s experienced sexual harassment should take. Is the reporting system clear, understandable and equitable?
- Talk with your staff leaders. Help them understand that if 50-percent of museum workers experience sexual harassment, assault or abuse, they need to know how to deal with it. Suggesting an alleged victim go talk to her alleged harasser is not the answer. People who’ve been hurt, violated and humiliated aren’t interested in being hurt, violated and humiliated a second time.
- Make sure your organization stands for something. Do you have a values statement? Is it clear you stand for a code of behavior? It’s hard to excuse or explain sexual harassment, when an organization is clear from the beginning about its code of conduct.
There are a lot of issues that swirl around gender in the museum workplace, but no one should come to work to be hurt, abused or harassed. Museums and heritage organizations have been complicit in a system that oppresses women for too long. We’re overdue for change.
Along with 999 or so folks, we’re back from Kansas City, MO and AASLH’s Annual Meeting. There we caught up with old friends, celebrated change in the history museum field, and bemoaned the state of the world. Some of us enjoyed some Kansas City barbecue too.
Leadership Matters went–in part–to lead the annual Leadership Forum. One of a number of pre-conference workshops, the Forum, as distinct from the History Leadership Institute which happens in November, is a four-hour intensive on one or more aspects of leadership. This one moved from the broad-based to the particular, from organizational to personal, covering three big topics: Empathy & Equity in the Workplace; Staff as Assets or Liabilities; and finally, a look at Career Alignment and Choices.
The empathy and equity section asked participants to define the two words, to address how and where they were found at participants’ museums and sites, and whether it’s possible for a workplace to have empathy without the equity. Section two addressed questions of staff: Whether boards, CFOs, and EDs look at staff and see a great, yawning cavern of salaries, benefits and issues or whether they see creative, entrepreneurial folk devoted to the organization and each other. The last section was based on a personal career narrative, and asked participants to think about their own museum practice. Questions like what are your career constants, what makes you happy, what do you want to create circulated around the room. The group also talked about kick-in-the-pants career change, how upending it is, and how sometimes it brings great joy.
Here are some completely unscientific observations:
- Gone are the days where history museum leaders haven’t got a clue about leadership. They get it. They may lead fraught, overwhelmed lives, but they get it.
- History museum professionals don’t press the pause button often enough.
- Some history museum leaders spend too much time alone.
- Talking about why we do what we do is as important–if not more so–than talking about how we do it.
- Pay equity makes some leaders nervous and fires up others.
- Based on listening to this room of 30 individuals, too few think intentionally about their careers with any regularity.
- A lot of people seem to think once they are parents or partnered or both, their careers are stuck.
- The vast majority of the room seemed to feel they have audience empathy knocked. Empathy on the back stage side–for staff, board and volunteers–appears trickier.
- Brene Brown’s short video on the differences between empathy and sympathy was a fan favorite.
- Best line: A participant telling her supervisor she was quitting. “I have one short, precious life, and it’s too short and too precious to work for you.” The original included a strategically placed f-bomb which gave the whole sentence a lot of zing.
As we told the roomful of leaders, it was an honor to participate. Although admittedly this was a self-selected group, people seem to embrace leadership at all levels. By that we mean the doing of leading, not seeing the director’s position as a conclusion. And that’s a blessing. While there is always work to do–especially back stage, especially on workplace race and gender issues–without sounding too Pollyanna-like, it feels as though there’s finally a sea change taking hold on the leadership front.
A million years ago when I was a young, museum director, I worked a lot. It was hard not to. I lived on site, and work–to bastardize William Wordsworth–was with me late and soon. Even having friends over meant discussing work because conversations began with questions like what’s it like to live next door to the period rooms? What’s it like, besides mortifying, when the dog barks at the sound of 4th graders on the other side of the velvet ropes?
While I was grateful for housing as part of compensation, it definitely affected my ability to separate work from life. It was all too easy to settle down after dinner for a cosy hour writing a grant application as opposed to reading or a walk. My circadian rhythms for what is known in HR as work/life balance were messed up. But that was then. Now you can work 8 hours a day, add on a two hour-plus commute, during which you scan and return emails or phone calls, and you never leave work. It’s there on the device of your choosing, and depending on the culture of your organization, you may be criticized or applauded for checking email, texts, and voicemail when you’re not officially on the clock.
Americans as a group work hard. According to a Gallup 2014 poll, Americans work 47 hours a week, one of the highest numbers in the world, and significantly higher than folks in, say, the EU countries. Most Americans get at least two weeks off each year, in addition to federally mandated holidays, but for financial reasons many end up not taking the full two weeks. The museum workforce is no exception to the hard work/too much work conundrum. Elizabeth Merritt, director of AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums, wrote about a facet of this in 2016, terming it “the sacrifice measure.” In Merritt’s scenario, the young and presumably privileged, are willing to accept ridiculously low salaries simply to gain a toehold in the museum community. Although it’s unspoken in Merritt’s piece, we have to assume that along with the tiny salary comes a huge expectation in terms of workload. The combination of low wages and a ridiculous amount of work is not dissimilar to the Grimm’s fairy story where the aspiring princess is told to empty a pond with a spoon full of holes. And as soon as a few agree to that scenario, it becomes increasingly difficult for others to say whoa, no way, I’d have more time off waiting tables and presumably no one would text me that the salt and pepper shakers needed refilling.
What kind of culture does your museum or heritage organization have around work? Is there a sense that you’re doing something noble? Is there life and death drama to every project? Is time managed sensibly? Or conversely, do you work in a place where deadlines are mutable, where few are held to account? Are you compensated adequately? Do you and your colleagues complain, but still work an extra day’s worth each week?
Social media sites are used by one third of the world’s population. It’s likely since you’re reading this blog, that you scamper around the Internet with the best of them. If that’s true and you aren’t thinking about how Silicon Valley and social media changes your brain — not to mention your workday — then you have some more reading to do. You might want to start by listening to this.
In the meantime, if you are a museum leader do you model good work practice? Apart from dire events, do you unplug at home and on vacation? Do you talk about your workplace culture with your staff? Do you counsel staff who seem to spend countless hours working and question those who seem to need to work all the time?
As museum leaders you don’t need one more thing on your to-do lists, but workplace culture matters. If the work week extends from 40 hours to 60 because you can always get something done at midnight or 5:30 am are you really managing time well? Some advice:
- Tackle your own addictions first. Barring fire or flood, unplug at home and on the weekends.
- Try not being a museum leader part of every weekend. Be a partner, a parent, an athlete, a friend instead.
- Talk about your work culture in a generative way at work. Acknowledge the weak spots. Encourage behavioral change.
- Discuss how texts from home, Facebook and Twitter intrude on work as well.
- Talk about not taking work home. And if there’s a reason for that—like too many interruptions at work–how can that be fixed?
- Support breaks, walks, the occasional yoga class.
We all want happier, more productive workplaces. And working more isn’t always the answer.