It’s January, and it’s the time of year when museum staff and leadership can turn cranky in a heartbeat. Here in the northeast our days start with dark mornings, and are often accompanied by snow and cold. You get the picture. It’s a time for fuzzy slippers and a good book. And if you’re not a book person, I can heartedly recommend the Emerging Museum Professionals Facebook page. Scrolling through their posts, I always find something interesting and/or inspiring to read.
This week Alison Little posted a job description followed by a six-question poll. She asked readers to guess the type of job described –exempt or non-exempt–the salary range or whether it’s not a paid job at all, but rather a volunteer opportunity. Thankfully, she didn’t identify the job’s source since it’s the HR equivalent of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, a Frankenjob of tasks that may need doing, but have no connection to one another. As of January 8 there were 35 comments.
If you are a museum leader or a board member, if you plan to hire sometime in the coming year, you owe it to yourself to read these comments. You need to understand the world of museum HR, and, perhaps most importantly, regardless of your museum role, you need to make a passionate case for investing in staff. Why? Well, the obvious answer is because without staff your museum will grind to a halt. You may have fabulous collections, you may have a great narrative or you may have both, but collections can’t speak on their own. They are mute. They need smart, imaginative folks to knit together all the ideas an individual object, site, experiment, invention or living creature generates, and engage your audience. In short: you need the best staff you can afford, not the most staff for the least amount of money; the best, so you can pay them a living wage so they won’t burn out waiting tables on the side, and so they won’t spend their free time looking for better paying museum jobs.
If you are a museum leader or a board member do not ever laugh ruefully about low salaries and say, “Well, we’re a nonprofit,” as if your 501c-3 designation permits you to pay less than the living wage. Being a nonprofit means the government recognizes the public benefit your organization provides society. Your concern is the trust you hold for the public, not for your shareholders like a for-profit organization. To fulfill that trust you need a decently paid staff. It’s time the museum world addressed this problem. So whether you’re an emerging professional or a mid-career staff member, a museum leader or a board member, when you think of your museum, don’t think of a hierarchy of collections first, followed by buildings, and then staff. Put staff at the top. Value them. Pay them a living wage. (As we’ve said many times here, using MIT’s Living Wage Calculator will help you.) Let’s make 2017 the year museums and heritage organizations commit to raising salaries and benefits. Idealism won’t pay the bills.
Last week the Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) blog wrote about the museum workplace. Specifically their Tuesday post takes on the issue of Volunteers and Museum Labor. The piece begins by referencing two earlier posts also about the museum workplace: What Is the Fair Market Value of a Museum Job? and the truly original Museum Sacrifice Measure. As a result, I re-read these two earlier posts.
I almost didn’t respond. We write about the museum workplace a lot here, and more specifically about museum workers, gender, and pay. But I couldn’t stop thinking about these posts, particularly the one titled “What is the Fair Market Value of a Museum Job?” Here is what I struggled with: First, CFM asks “…why some people are happy with the sacrifice they made (lower pay) to work in a museum, while others aren’t, and in a bigger sense, what constitutes a fair wage for museum work?”
My question: How do you know who is happy? If you look at Joyful Museums, you discover that its creator actually tried to figure out whether museum folk are happy or not, and more importantly, why. Joyful Museums 2014 survey reveals that 88-percent of respondents defined work happiness as either engaging with projects and tasks or enjoying working with co-workers. Among the most happy were the Millennials and the Boomers. When respondents were asked how work culture (and remember this is museum work culture) could be improved, the list is long, but the majority believe they are not getting paid what they’re worth.
CFM writes, “I suspect many people in these roles went into museum work with a vision of the job based museum norms that were anointed as “norms” decades ago. Or they believed in a semi-mythical version of museum work that was compelling and attractive but never entirely true.” And yet according to Joyful Museums, it’s the Boomers who are by and large, happy. We suggest that it is the world that’s changed and museum workplaces have failed to keep up. It seems a dated notion on CFM’s part to think of museums solely as stewards of collections where people work and not workplaces where culture is cared for and interpreted.
CFM suggests fair market value is “is the compensation (cash + intangibles) an employer and a job applicant agree on when both parties are knowledgeable, willing and unpressured.” So if you’re job fails to offer either cash or intangibles it lacks fair market value? The museum world isn’t known as a high-paid paradise. A look at AAM’s salary survey confirms that. Does that mean if you’re poorly paid in comparison to the for profit world you make it up in intangibles? And what does that mean? We’re pretty sure it is not paid maternity/paternity leave, excellent health care, or on-site day care. CFM seems to believe that museum workers survive on psychological rewards–creativity, beauty, power, authority. Yet intangibles don’t pay off graduate school loans or write day care checks or car payments so that leaves us with a really dark view of museum workers. Seduced by beauty, history or scientific discovery, they took out loans, received the required degrees, and miracle of miracles found jobs where 88-percent of them say they’re happy. And they’re living off fumes?
Here is what we think is missing with CFM’s argument: Museums are about meaning yet they remain traditional, hierarchical workplaces because we allow them to be that way. That isn’t the fault of the workers who have every right to enter the field with big dreams. But too often the beliefs we espouse in exhibition halls don’t extend to our offices. We collectively wring our hands about the lack of diversity in the field, but fail to examine long-standing hiring practices. Too many museum employees don’t make a living wage. And as the field reaches a tipping point between gender balanced and pink collar, we allow women to make significantly less than men. Our visiting public may dine on intangibles every day as it wanders galleries, zoos, and historic houses, but museum workers need an equitable, living wage coupled with adequate benefits. They’re smart enough to find the intangibles on their own.
Do you agree?
We 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.
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?
As we work our way toward completion of the Women|Museums manuscript, we’re struck again and again by the difficulties of the 21st-century museum job market. The days of the neatly-typed tri-fold letter with the professionally printed resume are almost things of the past. There are openings everywhere yet access seems limited. Emerging leaders polish their LinkedIn pages, tighten the privacy settings on Facebook, while promoting causes on Instagram and Twitter, and network. And network some more. We’ve heard about some graduate programs that seem to do an excellent job as students move from coursework to the real world. And we’ve spoken a lot in these pages about the need to negotiate, to speak up, and to take risks. So here’s our top-10 list for job seekers:
- Be strategic. Know what type of job you want and what you want to learn. (If you’re not learning, you’ll be bored quickly.) If you’ve really thought about what you need as opposed to what you want, you may find that the assistant to the big-time director may be a better learning experience than being the lowly member of a 10-person department. With each job advertisement, ask yourself what you might learn. Pit that against what you know.
- Know where you can live and where you can’t. If moving to a town of 3,000 that’s three hours from the nearest small city makes you feel secretly nauseous, don’t apply. Conversely, if you’re someone who needs the great outdoors, don’t focus on urban museums. Seems lame, but sometimes our desire for a job overrides our best instincts and we end up employed, but sad because we’re not really in the place we want to be.
- Make a budget. Use the MIT living wage calculator and Time Magazine’s gender gap wage quiz to see how your industry and age group are affected. Yes, we understand that many museum positions don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to salaries, but saying no is a form of negotiation. Is it better to stay with your parents or be unemployed for an extra month or two or to struggle to get blood from a stone because you can’t pay student loans on what you’re making in a job that makes you miserable?
- Know yourself. Take stock. After 18 plus years of school, internships, part-time and full-time employment, who are you? What matters to you? Routine? Risk? Stability?Creativity?
- Interview a lot. Think of it like dating. In fact, interview for a position you’re not that enthusiastic about. Knowing you don’t care passionately takes the edge off and practice is practice. If you have friends or mentors who will rehearse an interview with you, take it. Treat Skype as if you’re interviewing in person. You are.
- Don’t just ask about the position, ask about the department and organization you’ll be working with and for. How do they make decisions? How do they come to consensus? How often do they meet as a group? How many exhibitions, programs, projects do they do in a given year? If someone comes up with a good idea, how long does it take before implementation?
- Read the organization’s value statements, HR policies, and mission. Do they mesh with your own values? Is the mission something you can support?
- Use your network. Who do you know who knows someone at the organization you’re interested in? Can they help? Can they offer insight into any of the questions in number six?
- Are you someone bound by geography? Are you the trailing spouse or partner? If so, are you looking at all the edges of the museum field, other arts organizations or complementary fields like development, communications or arts education?
- If you get an offer, don’t say yes unless you’re completely and totally sure. Say thank you. Think. Talk with friends, mentors, professors if you’re still in school. Will the money work? Is there something else you need that’s not money? An extra week of vacation because your parents are sick? Call back and ask. You’re in the sweet spot. If they say no, what will that tell you? Will you take the job anyway? Do you have other options?
And last, remember, this isn’t just about getting an organization to want you although admittedly it feels like it. Ultimately, the best matches happen not because you “got hired”, but because you not only found a livable salary and benefits, but equally important, you found a place that promises community, creativity and challenge that may ultimately make you a better (happier) person. We all want that.
Do you have a top 10? Share it with us here at leadershipmatters.
Joan H. Baldwin
Greetings from the frozen Northeast where we woke up to minus-zero temperatures and brilliant sunshine. With more than 7,000 views in the last two weeks and 30 comments it seems an appropriate moment to respond to some of your thoughts.
More than a few of you wrote saying that despite what might be right or desirable, when it comes to salaries, a leader can’t get blood from a stone. True enough. And that works the opposite way too, which one reader pointed out: If you’re an applicant and the salary is set, it’s set. No amount of clever negotiating will garner you a better offer, but you can always ask. If you’re told that the salary is non-negotiable, ponder what else that tells you.
After reading all the comments, first, something for those doing the hiring: Unlike, the reader who suggested museums can’t invest in staff, we firmly believe they can. These are decisions that begin with the board, which starts the process when it invests in a leader. While leadership, vision, equity and creativity incubate around the board table, the board shares those characteristics with its director. In a perfect world they live in a symbiotic state passing energy, ideas and vision back and forth.
Boards make decisions all the time. They can decide to hire an inexperienced leader who will take a lesser salary and reap the reward when that person leaves frustrated and underpaid; they can hire that same leader and literally invest in her leadership training or, if they are able, they can commit to a bigger offer to attract a more experienced candidate. Yes, she may leave too, but if she was worth the investment, hopefully the organization will have grown along with her. And that is the goal, to move the institution forward not keep it treading water in a sea of mediocrity.
And boards can invest in salaries. Colleges, universities and schools do it. When was the last time you heard of a smaller museum raising money for an endowed position? How many museums list the amount they spend each year on professional development and staff travel on the “About Us” tab on their websites? Yes, money has to be put aside for these things, but museum leaders also have to believe they are important, and in the end, create a stronger, more able staff, hopefully, reducing turnover, which costs money, time, and brain power.
Here, we’d like to underscore that there is no one fix for the many salary-related problems. But, we agree with those of you who suggested that there are too many museum studies graduate programs, and no way for eager undergraduates to sift through the myriad choices to figure out which one is better.
We all own a piece of this pie. And if the top of the page was directed toward museum leadership, this half is for individuals. Sadly, there is no Consumer Reports to help you decipher a good museum studies program from a lame one, but you can ask a lot of questions. And if you’re already in the field, be careful. Listen to what one of our readers said, “My advice to anyone entering this field is to find a job that will let you develop skills, take ownership of projects, push initiatives. These are the skills and accomplishments that will make you stand out when you try to take the jump to the next level within your career.”
Your job shouldn’t make you feel like an indentured servant. Be strategic. If the salary stinks, but your Linkedin project list page continues to grow, you get to go to regional or national meetings every year or so, you’re encouraged to network, etc., maybe it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. And, we assume you are thinking about what you need in your next position. Hint: the answer is not necessarily the opposite of what you’ve got now.
So…to return to where we began: Wherever you are in the museum food chain–a white, male leader with a livable salary, a female leader earning less, an employee having trouble paying your graduate school loans–we urge you to own your part. If you’re a leader, be creative around the issue of salaries. Do you have a trustee who wouldn’t ever build a wing on your building but could endow a position? Are many of your staff parents? Would a trustee donate to a matching fund for daycare? Would your board create a professional development fund or take a lesser rent for a property she owns to be used by staff in return for a tax deduction? If your board says, “But that’s not what we do,” are you ready to respond, “Oh, but it is.” We hire good, talented staff because we believe they will get the job done. Helping create better salary/benefit packages tells staff they are valued. Valued staff respond with good work.
And if you’re not a valued staff person, take every opportunity to build your resume, strategize about what kind of museum job would be perfect for you, and make a plan to find it.
Keep writing to us.
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.