By Rosa Pineda – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55223488
Museums aren’t known for workplace self-examination, so it’s possible the title of this piece makes you cringe. But in the wake of all the press surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s debacle, maybe it’s time to focus on sexual harassment in museums and heritage organizations.
To begin, while museums are places of imagination, creativity, and discovery, they are first and foremost workplaces. In short, they possess all the wonderful characteristics we want them to, until they don’t. And when it comes to being workplaces, they are not dissimilar from many other job sectors where one in three women is sexually harassed. Just to be clear, this is what Title VII of the Civil Rights Act defines as workplace harassment: “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
In researching our book, Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace, we heard numerous stories of harassment. And when we spoke, along with interviewees from the book at the AAM and AASLH annual meetings, more than half the room raised their hands when we asked if they had experienced workplace sexual harassment. So much for the polite, deferential museum world. Not to mention that two of our four panelists were included in that number, one photographed inappropriately and repeatedly until she blew the whistle on her harasser, and another told her career advancement was dependent on her having sex with her boss.
These were not the only stories. There were many more. What was particularly disturbing is that a lot of women who shared their experiences were told to keep quiet. There are variations on this theme of if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you, you-won’t-talk. They range from: “You’ll damage your career,” to “We’re taking care of it,” to our particular favorite “Well, stuff like that happens.” Really?
All of these excuses play on the reasons women are afraid to reveal sexual harassment in the first place. Many fear retaliation. What makes these situations doubly sad is that women not only fear retaliation from the abuser, particularly if that person is in a position of power–a board member or a director–but many times they are also afraid their colleagues won’t support them. In fact, according to a 2016 Harvard Business Review survey 71-percent of women who experienced workplace harassment didn’t report it. And significantly, their colleagues who witnessed the behavior also failed to report it, something that’s known as the bystander effect, meaning individuals in a group are less likely to come to someone’s aid than if they were alone.
Clearly, the museum field needs to acknowledge that harassment happens and support women who are its victims. So what can the museum field do to change this behavior and compel museum boards and directors to protect women?
- All museums and heritage organizations need to understand that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to non-profits as well as for-profits and it applies whether your organization employs one person or 2,000. A civil rights violation is a civil rights violation no matter where it’s committed.
- All museums and heritage organizations need to have personnel policies that explain what employees should do in the event of sexual harassment. Check your policy today. These policies should spell out anti-retaliation provisions under state law, and more importantly, how victims file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the equivalent state agency.
- All museums and heritage organizations should understand that while the majority of sexual harassment claims are brought by women against men, Title VII protects everyone.
- All museums and heritage organizations should take sexual harassment claims seriously. Personnel policies should define sexual harassment, state that it will not be tolerated, and that wrongdoers will be disciplined or fired.
- All museums and heritage organizations should offer sexual harassment training for employees annually. If your organization is too small, join forces with another museum or non-profit to pay for the trainer. And know that if you live in Connecticut, Maine or California and employ more than 50 people, there are state laws regarding sexual harassment training.
These are not difficult or expensive fixes. Be proactive. Protect your employees and your organization.
There’s been a lot of attention paid to courageous museums and their leaders lately. Witness Puerto Rico where the Art Museum decided to open a week after the hurricane. Their idea? That despite the devastation around them, the museum was a place of safety, renewal, and happiness. Or how about Eastern State Penitentiary’s exhibit Prison’s Today, which knew it was tackling a volatile subject, and rather than ignore the elephant in the room, decided it would take a point of view, advocating from the opening panel that “Mass Incarceration Isn’t Working.” Or, curators like Rainy Tisdale after the Boston Marathon Bombing or Aaron Bryant at the African American History Museum who refuse to wait for history to “get old,” but document it as it happens? Or most recently the Queens Museum’s Director Laura Raicovich’s stance on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
While these individuals and organizations deserve our deepest respect and thanks, we need to talk about another aspect of courage. We need to talk about courage in the museum workplace as opposed to the museum itself. We need to talk about courage “backstage” as opposed to “on-stage.” Because decisions like the ones listed above affect an organization’s brand, donor base, and gate, they are rarely made alone. Instead there is a calculus involved, measuring mission and vision versus damaging PR, institutional values versus organizational gain. That doesn’t diminish the courage of these decisions, but they aren’t the same as those made in the museum workplace. There, it’s all about individuals. And it’s also about fearlessness.
This week we read a piece published on Incluseum called “LETTER TO YOUNG MUSEUM PROFESSIONALS OF COLOR OR WHAT TRANSPIRES ON A LONG-HAUL CAREER WHEN CONFRONTED WITH RACISM IN THE MUSEUM,” by longtime museum consultant, Radiah Harper. If you haven’t read it, you should. Appearing less than a week after Alliance Lab’s piece on attrition from the field, Harper’s letter opens with the lines:
You know when someone or something has crossed the threshold of your sanity in the workplace. At that moment, you have to make decisions, even when in a senior position. Has there been an irrevocable offense? Is it racism or oppression and intolerable? We ask ourselves, can I afford to quit?
I believe that most of us think that museum work is about doing good. We teach, we preserve, we research, we enlighten, we spark imagination, we provide beautiful spaces where families and friends gather. I suspect, when asked about our work, we think more about that public good then we do about our workplaces. And yet ours is a field where every day someone experiences racism or bias, gender stereotyping or sexual harassment.
Is it possible we spend way too much Facebook time decrying Charlottesville and whether or not monuments to the Confederacy should stay or go, and not enough thinking about what it’s like to be non-white in a museum workplace? Do most museum employees even know that one in three American women is sexually harassed at work? Do they understand that museums and heritage organizations aren’t exempt from sexual harassment? And what about employees who deal with multiple layers of bias and prejudice –women of color, lesbian or queer women, transgender women.
This is where we need personal courage. We need courage to stand beside and stand up for our colleagues; to interject when someone says something racist, unkind and biased. And if, for whatever reason,we are among the museum workers who are privileged, we need to use that privilege to make changes in workplace behavior. Maybe our small acts of conscience will change the museum field for the better.
Stop talking. Just act.
There is a trope in leadership literature that says you can learn from bad leaders just as you can from good ones . It’s cold comfort though when you are stuck in a soul-sucking job with a boss who doesn’t know how to lead. You find yourself raging or crying, lists full of things to do, but little authority to do them. You’re alternately placated or bullied so every workplace interaction is a walk over eggshells. In short, you’re so miserable it’s hard to learn anything until you’re safe in your next position where hindsight is a great teacher.
The vast majority of us watch events in Washington, D.C. from a distance, but it is possible to learn something about leadership just by observation. So, here Leadership Matters distills 10 lessons from the disruption and chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
- Planning really helps. Today’s museum leaders juggle an absurd number of plates. Having an agreed upon plan and policies is something board, staff and volunteers can support and depend on.
- It’s a given that museum leaders should surround themselves with the most talented team they can attract and afford. The lesson is listen to the talent. If they’re really so smart, if they really have particular areas of expertise, use it. Don’t make decisions without them.
- Check your biases at the door. If you secretly long for some stereotypical workplace where sparkling white women in tailored dresses laugh discreetly, while white men in expensive suits make weighty decisions, keep it to yourself. The world has changed. Join the 21st-century. Your organization needs a unifier, not a divider. Be the unifier.
- Deal with your anger somewhere else. We all get angry. As leaders, mostly we don’t show it, especially the personal, whiney variety.
- Respect social media. It’s a powerful thing. If you choose to ignore it, you’ll pay a price. If you choose to participate without a communications plan, you’ll pay a different price.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not a good speaker or writer, have staff help you craft your remarks. The more important the event, the more important your remarks. Ditto if spreadsheets drive you to distraction. Staff can’t get you off the hook, but they can and will support you. Again, use their expertise.
- Respect your office. Understand on whose shoulders you stand, literally and metaphorically. Know the history of your organization, know its subject matter. Believe in it.
- Don’t take it personally. Being a leader means a lot of anger, complaint and crankiness floats in your direction. Pay scales to parking, health benefits to number of exhibitions, exhibit content to stock in the shop, it all comes back to you. Or rather to you as the executive director. Separate your emotions from your job.
- Be ready to apologize. You’re not perfect. Leaders who can’t apologize breed staffs who can’t trust, and bad karma abounds.
- Be kind. Yes, as a museum leader your plate is full, but you model the behavior you want in others. A warm, kind leader tends to attract a warm, kind staff. Not so kind leaders tend to attract different folks. Ask yourself–am I the person I want to work for?
The President’s post-Charlottesville remarks are a slow-burning fuse. AAM, AASLH, and many state arts councils have written responses. And this week the Committee on the Arts and Humanities walked off the job in protest. Leadership is tough enough without steering the ship of state into an ocean littered with anger and racism, a place where everyone feels entitled and emboldened to utter the first thought that comes to mind. And it’s an especially strange world where it’s possible to learn leadership by doing the opposite of what the 45th president does.
Maybe it’s just Leadership Matters, but it seems as though the museum field might be pulling its head out of the sand about its salary problem–like it’s been sleeping but now it’s woke? The last few weeks we’ve seen blogs, online discussions, and press releases, all discussing the low salaries in the field.
The prompt may have been the press surrounding American Association of Art Museum Directors’ (AAMD’s) 2017 salary survey released in June. Although it’s collected data for a century, this was the first time it made the results public. And yes, it’s a small survey–219 North American art museums–and, as the name implies, we’re talking art, not history. But the good news is it’s free. Of course there’s always AAM’s salary survey, which is a massive collaboration between 10 regional museum associations, and the most comprehensive of any museum salary survey. Of AAM’s 1,000 respondents many come from history museums, however, it also includes staff from zoos, botanical gardens, and science museums. There’s only one problem, and it’s not with the survey itself, but if Facebook posts from emerging professionals are any indication, its cost sometimes makes access prohibitive.
Just for fun we Googled “salaries museum jobs.” We got 548,000 hits and a surprising amount of information from outside the field, information that ought to put the fear of god in many graduate student hearts. Payscale.com which claims its data was updated in June 2017 offers not only salary information, but hourly pay, and pay by institution. Admittedly it’s a tiny group, and many of them are large urban or suburban organizations, but information is information. Clearly it’s better to work for the Smithsonian at $26/hour then just about anybody else on Payscale’s list. Not to mention, that despite the current administration’s best efforts, the Smithsonian is here to stay. And yes, there are more than a few organizations on Payscale’s list where choosing a career at Panera Bread or Target might offer a better starting salary, more predictable raises, and where there’s no need for a graduate degree.
So what should you do if you’re new in the field and clobbered by the fact that maybe your grandma was right and you should have learned a trade like plumbing or gone to medical school? Well, pulling the covers over your head is an option, but here are some other thoughts.
- We do believe change starts from the bottom up so even though it’s a small thing, start talking about the salary issue. Talk with your colleagues. Talk with your boss. Practice ways to say what needs to be said that aren’t confrontational, but still get the point across. Your museum’s leadership won’t listen if they think they’re liable to see you with a picket sign on the front steps.
- We are fierce advocates for higher wages, but it’s important to love what you do. It sounds dopey, but honestly, no matter what you do–in or out of the museum field–if you don’t love it, you’re going to feel like your soul’s being sucked out of your body a bit at a time. Change doesn’t happen overnight except in fairy tales, so if a big salary means more to you than a life in museums, you’ll never be happy. Try investment banking. Then you can be a museum board member. Just be honest with yourself.
- If you’re in museum leadership, you need to be a fierce advocate for your staff. Your organization–and the field as a whole–is only as good as its staff. You want the best you can afford, and you want them to be happy, not covertly job hunting at their desks. Lobby your board for equitable salary and benefits. Take a page from academe and endow some of your key positions. If you lead a small organization, are there creative ways you can band together with local arts organizations and hire one person to do the same task at several places? Collaboration brings its own rewards, but that’s another post.
- If you teach in a graduate program, we hope you make AAM’s salary survey available to your students.
- Last, if you’re new to the field, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Yes, big city salaries are often higher, but are they higher for entry level employees? And will your expenses be higher too? Do you want to work two jobs and share an apartment? The bottom line: know where you will get the best deal for you. And negotiate your offer. Again, know what you need: Is it more personal time off? Health benefits? Opportunities to travel? Or just cold hard cash? Whatever you choose, it’s not a life sentence. Get as much experience as you can and move on.
This is an issue that shouldn’t go away. Let’s all do what we can to make museum salaries equitable and livable.
There are people thinking deep thoughts in almost every field around the globe. Some share with their colleagues. Others write books, give TED Talks or get interviewed by National Public Radio. The museum field is lucky to have its own thought leaders. Perhaps you read or follow Nina Simon, Frank Vagnone, the Incluseum or Maria Viachou. Principle among the museum field’s thought leaders is Elaine Heumann Gurian. If you don’t know Elaine, you have some reading ahead of you, but don’t worry. It’s good stuff.
Heumann Gurian is now retired. That just means she’s not collecting a regular pay check any more. She was, in fact, a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Museums at the Smithsonian, Deputy Director for Public Program Planning at the National Museum of the American Indian, and Deputy Director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Now she thinks for a living. If her recent talk “The Importance of And,” delivered at MuseumNext’s conference in Australia is any indication, she remains committed to change. And so should you.
And don’t say I don’t read stuff like that. It’s like food you think you don’t like. Try it. And here’s why: Heumann Gurian asks us to think not so much about what we do, but why and how. She doesn’t care whether your visitors get tickets, stickers or buttons. She’s not necessarily interested in your board development policies, your admission pricing structure, your digitization program or your collections management software. In “The Importance of And,” she talks about applying complexity theory to museums to break the cycle of one object/one label/one point of view that dominates so many museum exhibits, leaving vast swaths of the public underwhelmed, bored or sometimes angry by narratives that are relentlessly mediocre and opaque. She wants exhibit narratives that leave visitors arguing, questioning, writing their own questions on sticky notes. She wants visitors to find the universal stories and add their own. She wants museums to be places where people understand that every story has multiple points of view: the artist, the creator/maker, the curator, the object’s cultural context, the viewer and his or her cultural context. She wants us to internalize that wherever we stand, our view is different.
And Leadership Matters would like you to try one more thing: After reading “The Importance of And,” think about applying complexity theory not just to exhibit and program development, but to what happens in the offices at your museum as well. The world we live in is endlessly complex. So is 21st-century leadership. Complexity theory as applied to leadership asks us to think about leadership as leadership of the many by the many, rather than of the many by the few. And by few, we mean you. Being the sage on the stage 24/7 is wearying. But what if you think of leadership as a team or an orchestra, where you are the quarterback, the conductor or maybe the first violin, whatever metaphor works for you? The point is if you can accept complexity, you widen your leadership circle, more voices are heard, and the result is a more nuanced response to just about everything.
Confused? Think of it this way: Say your institution is faced with a big question–to build, to renovate or leave your building as is. Traditional leadership would say that you, the director, possibly with your assistant directors, gather and hash out responses to each possibility. You take them to the board. It hashes them out and decides which way to go. Leadership that’s more complex might put together focus groups that involve everyone from your institution’s guards and grounds folks to its shop assistants, volunteers, education staff and community, mixing the groups so museum leadership and trustees hear from a variety of voices and experiences. Yes, both paths may lead to the same conclusion, but the information gathered, and the trust and buy-in generated in the complexity approach yields its own rewards: a staff who knows it’s respected; new ideas from individuals who museum leadership might never come in contact with; new pathways of communication that lead to change.
And change is what you’re after. Who wants an organization that stays the same year after year, decade after decade? Tell us how you tackle big decisions and whether your process is messy and iterative or hierarchical and direct. And tell us why.
It’s March, 52 days into the new administration: Lead well. It matters.
Or What We Did at the American Alliance of Museums Meeting May 28.
We promised a recap of our AAM adventure and here it is. For those of you who were there, it was an awesome event. Over 100 engaged, committed women, all interested in how to make the world of museum work a more equitable place, participated. Along with Anne and myself, our co-presenters were Marieke Van Damme, the Director of the Cambridge (MA) Historical Society, and Jessica Ferey, Communications Manager, AEA Consulting; Deputy Director, Global Cultural Districts Network. Our format? After a brief outline of the morning’s schedule, we presented our audience with six myths about gender and the museum world.Following that brief presentation, we turned the program over to participants, asking each table to discuss the following questions: If you could send a message to your colleagues, to institutions, to professional associations and grad programs about gender in the museum workplace and what they could do to level the playing field, what would that be and what is the one thing you are willing to do to make positive change toward gender equity?
Thirty minutes later, each table reported out to the full group, but not before AAM’s new President Laura Lott (pictured right) dropped by to share some thoughts on being the organization’s first female leader. The workshop closed as participants completed postcards with their wishes for a woman in the museum world of the future.
What follows are comments and memories from us four presenters.
As I said to my three colleagues, rarely do things in life turn out the way you imagine they will especially when four busy women from four different states don’t have an opportunity to meet as a group before the actual event. But it worked. I hope we laid to rest some of the myths people struggle with, while providing ammunition for women battling bias, sexist language and inequitable treatment in their workplaces. Our goal now is to create a framework that will carry this work forward. I know Anne, Jessica and Marieke join me in promising that we don’t want to be in the same place next year. In the coming months, we plan to re-vision the short-lived, early 1970s Women’s Caucus with a more inclusive equity mission, and we’re hoping that you will support our efforts. Beyond that, we need to know what will help you as working museum women. Please take a moment, and send us your top three choices for making change for women in the museum world. You can use the comment feature on this blog or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, we’ll continue to need your great ideas and talents to keep this effort going. Let us know how you can help.
Now feels like the right time, doesn’t it? Our AAM 2016 conference session, “What We Talk About When We (Don’t) Talk About Women in Museums,” definitely captured the essence of the conference attendees. Addressing directly the conference theme of “Power and Responsibility” we talked openly about several myths surrounding women in the museum workplace, from what it means to be a feminist to the passive approach our field takes to creating pay equity.
And it felt good! It felt good to talk about these myths, and it felt really good to debunk them. This was the first time I’ve talked about these issues in a cavernous, poorly-lit convention center conference room. What was once a head-shaking, “can you believe it?” conversation between colleagues, work buddies, or spouses is now out in the open! It definitely felt like the right first step in a very right direction.
Here’s what I’ve been talking with colleagues about since I got back home:
It was a young, female crowd. As I looked out into the sea of faces, the group looked female and under age 45. Why did this group self-select to talk about this issue? As a mid-career professional, I crave the knowledge and wisdom of the museum workers who have gone before me. Why didn’t our more experienced colleagues join us?
Our colleagues have families, and they bring them to conferences! Laura Lott, President and CEO of AAM, told a story about bringing her (well-behaved!) daughter to a work event. It was met by many nodding heads in the audience. The morning after our session, I noticed several families –with mom wearing an AAM lanyard–in line to get pancakes in the hotel’s breakfast line. And a bunch of little ones on hips at the closing party. Should there be a distinct work/life break at the conference or can it blend like our work/life balance does back home? Maybe there should be a daycare center in the Expo. I for one would love some kid-therapy in the middle of a day of sessions. We could even put them to work…testing exhibit prototypes, telling museum knock knock jokes, sharpening colored pencils for our adult coloring books…the possibilities are endless! All joking aside, is there a way to better acknowledge, accommodate, and leverage the family power coming to our conferences?
We *can* talk about women in museums. Our session title was tongue in cheek, but it felt really good to know this is a situation we are all in together, and that we can talk about it. Maybe it was a result of the crowd skewing younger, but it felt like the group really wanted to talk about these issues openly, on social media. And not in a closed Facebook group, the museum workers who came want to talk about these issues on Twitter, a very public, global channel. It’s great and scary at the same time. How do we transform a once-hidden problem into a movement for change with our colleagues from across the world watching?
I know I speak for my fellow presenters when I say we don’t want this session, these raw emotions, this push for change to languish until we see you all again in St. Louis next year. We’re working on it, and we know you are, too. Thank you for coming to the session and voicing your thoughts; your presence did not go unnoticed. Remember: together we can make museum work better!
Marieke Van Damme
I had the privilege of standing alongside Joan Baldwin and Anne Ackerson of Leadership Matters and Marieke Van Damme of Joyful Museums to discuss gender equity in museums at the American Alliance of Museums conference in DC this past weekend.
At first, we were a bit worried about the fact that our session was slated for 8:45am…on a Saturday. During Memorial Day Weekend. But our worry subsided when over 100 people showed up (mostly women, but also some allies in the room) and everyone was ready to share their stories and discuss issues of gender equity in museums. There was a LOT to talk about, as you can imagine.
We had several goals when walking into our session:
- To empower attendees (and those Tweeting in or those who will listen to the recording later) with stories and information;
- To help make a change in our careers and institutions;
- And to spark a movement towards gender equity in museums…with everyone in the room, not just the women.
I believe we’re really on to something with that last one. The energy in the room was one of hope and confidence in the ability to move this agenda forward. There was a sense of camaraderie, an acknowledgement among many of these women that, “Hey, we’re not alone.”
This all feels like a reboot of something that should have been rebooted long ago: In the early 1970s, the Women’s Caucus was created within AAM. Yet, within a few years, the caucus was dissolved because the women leading the charge thought the goals of the caucus had been accomplished.
Here we are, some 40 years later, and the reasons for creating the caucus are still prevalent today. And after AAM 2016, I think we’ve found some great inspiration to start something up again. We just need to make sure we keep up the momentum!
With that in mind, we’d like to ask you, the AAM attendee, the blog reader, the museum worker: how do we move forward? What does change look like?
In the Twitter world, quite a few people have expressed interest in a monthly Tweet Chat around this topic.
In the real world, many have expressed interest in starting up another caucus or coalition. Or of putting together some “best practices” or a manifesto about making museums more equitable.
We’d love to hear more from you about what we can do next. Please take a minute to send us your ideas!
For more notes about our session, check out Museum Hack’s live notes.
You can also see what people were talking about on Twitter in our Storify, here.
This week Anne and I take off for AAM’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. where we will join Marieke Van Damme and Jessica Ferey in presenting a workshop called “What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Women.” That takes place Saturday morning at 8:45-10 a.m in room 152 of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. If you’re attending AAM, please join us for what promises to be a lively discussion about gender equity and the museum field.
In the meantime, we’ve written a lot here recently about career strategies, about mentors, posses and advisors. For those of you going to AAM, particularly if it’s your first time or you haven’t been in a while, it is a perfect opportunity to think about you, not just your organization or area of special interest. These meetings provide a window into the field. They act as giant reunions, gathering folks who went to graduate school together or had first jobs together. But don’t just stick to who you know. Nina Simon has written memorably about this here: Want to Meet People for Real Conversations and here: Hack Your Hellos: The Unofficial Way to Meet. And if you aren’t going to be in Washington, it’s still meeting season, and you will likely attend a local, state or regional meeting between now and the fall, so make the most of your time.
To add to Nina’s posts, here are Leadership Matters five top things to do at a meeting:
- Download the program and plan your route through the meeting events. Identify speakers, writers or workshop leaders you want to meet. Plan to arrive early or stay a little late so you can talk to them. If you’ve already identified a possible mentor, ask if they are also attending, and whether you can meet.
- Bring business cards, use your phone, whatever method works to contact people you’d like to speak to later.
- Get out of the hotel/conference center. Visit museums. It’s what we do.
- Don’t be shy, and be sure and do one thing that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
Bonus: On the way home, identify one way, big or small, you will make change when you return to work.
See you in the Nation’s Capital tomorrow!
Joan Baldwin & Anne Ackerson