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.
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.
If museum salaries are not what they should be–and in far too many cases they’re not–then the dark underbelly of museum and heritage organization employment must be internships. Rarely defined, at least in any universal sense, they are sometimes discussed as if they were the pupa stage of a museum career–somewhere between a national history project prize and a first job.
Long ago in museum history, trustees used to look happily around the board table and say some variation of “We can get a grant for that.” That was code for we know there is public money available, we just need to find it. Those sentiments were frequently followed by “Maybe we can get an intern!” or another more recent variation, “Maybe we can get a high school student.” The latter is often in reference to projects involving IT, video creation, social media or coding, the assumption being that students facile with their cell phones might become students who create beautiful web pages for free or at least for less than full price. Sadly, at some institutions interns are the go-to for thankless, repetitive work, marketed to make it look resume-building. In fact to paraphrase the inimitable Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a museum in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of an intern.”
Let’s be blunt: Here at Leadership Matters, we’re not fans of indentured servitude of students. They need to be paid. And they need the same respect you offer any employee. Being young or inexperienced doesn’t mean you don’t have good ideas. It just means that the context for those ideas may be a little ill-defined.
An internship is a complicated proposition. First, an excellent internship is some brilliant combination of teaching, mentoring, and learning by doing. It weaves together equal amounts of respect, experimentation, failure and independence. And in the end it’s a gift to museums as a whole. Why? Because you and your organization, serve as that person’s introductory chapter to museum work. If you are dithering, disorganized, unimaginative or demanding in the tradition of Cruella de Vil, your intern may u-turn right into another field.
Second, if you are going to manage an internship, you need to be a good teacher. And you need the time to teach otherwise your failure to explain clearly will mean extra work for all involved. When you write your internship job description, create a week-to-week syllabus to help you and your potential intern see what they will learn and how. If you need help writing internship announcements, we recommend the New England Museum Association which offers sample templates and job descriptions.
Last, pay your intern. Internships usually take place over a finite period of time–a semester, a summer, a winter term. If your organization can’t afford $200-$250 a week which is not even close to minimum wage in many states, or housing (which is often necessary for out-of-town/state interns, perhaps you should reconsider. Is it possible that in your organizational heart-of-hearts, you want cheap labor more than you want the responsibility of an internship?
The museum field is increasingly hard to break into. It doesn’t necessarily pay well, but it requires a graduate degree as an entrance ticket. The other entrance requirement is a string of seemingly endless internships and volunteer projects. Don’t be the organization that offers mindless work capped with a hollow recommendation letter. Be the place where work is interesting and really matters. Be the place that teaches. An internship is a choice, for both individual and organization. Choose wisely.
Full disclosure: We’re white. In addition, we’re straight, and we’ve been in this field a long time. That means for some of you, we’re old enough to be your grandmas. We’re putting that out there because a) knowledge is power and b) in the age of Facebook, you may want to measure your response to issues of gender (and race) based on who’s doing the talking. So here are a few thoughts about women and the museum world in response to recent happenings.
- First, kudos to AASLH for insisting that museums and heritage organizations advertising on its Career Center page must now post salary ranges. Leadership Matters has long lobbied for wage increases in museum salaries, but understanding salary is tricky when organizations aren’t transparent about what they pay. And what does this have to do with women? A lot. Women are not paid equitably in this field or any other. Before you eye roll, and say that’s not true, it is. If you don’t believe us, Google it. Everyone from Pew Charitable Trusts to The New York Times has written about it many times over. And it’s important here because that $1/85-cent gap isn’t only about white women versus white men, it’s about white men and Latina women, for example, where Latina women make 53.8-cents for every white man’s dollar.
By posting salary ranges AASLH provides a framework and a mutual understanding about what’s on the table ahead of the hiring process. That helps applicants, but particularly women, negotiate. The Wage Gap didn’t happen overnight, and according to some agencies, it will take centuries to fix. While we wait, a big thank you to AASLH.
- Our friend and colleague Bob Beatty put our recent post on social media. Having Bob post something is meaningful because he reaches a lot of people. Not surprisingly, one of his readers responded. He asked whether graduate programs in museum studies were as overwhelmingly female as they appear, and whether AASLH or anyone had figures to prove that? He also said that his own museum is 77-percent female. He thinks someday soon his institution (and many others) might be majority female, thus (he said) ending the gender equity problem. He remarked that “demographics is destiny,” meaning that a lot of women or maybe just a homogeneous workplace equals an equitable one. Last, he suggested that for Leadership Matters to imply that there are still boatloads of bias in the museum field was hyperbole.
Here’s our answer:
- An all-female field is not something anyone should wish for. It’s professional suicide. Traditionally female fields like nursing and libraries are known as pink collar fields. These jobs are traditionally devalued in the economy. (I know–eye roll here–who doesn’t value a nurse, but it’s true.) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the museum field is 46.7-percent female, meaning it’s at a tipping point, but not entirely pink yet.
- Statistics from graduate schools are hard to come by. We don’t know any service organization who’s tried to count the number of students in the pipeline much less their gender. Given that more women than men go to college and graduate school, it wouldn’t surprise us if museum studies programs are disproportionately female, but, again, that’s not healthy. Healthy and creative fields are equitably balanced for gender, race, and age.
- Don’t conflate demographics with equity. We could have a 77-percent female field and men would still be paid more, and hold the highest paying positions. See our comment above on the gender wage gap. Nor does a majority female field eliminate bias.
- Channel your empathy. “A boatload of bias” may seem harsh from where a (white?) male writer sits. And he may be kind, empathetic, and humble, but until he (or anyone of privilege) tries to understand the way the museum field’s unconscious bias ambushes people of color, and LGBTQIA+ employees, the boatload of bias will remain an impenetrable mystery to him. Although getting woke can be uncomfortable, we recommend “I Am the Person Sitting Next to You,” from the blog Incluseum as a place to start.
Last, a month or so, we posted the infographic above. We also sent it to service organizations and numerous media outlets because we’d just finished a survey of more than 700-plus museum workers. The results were disturbing. Yet, it prompted no response from AAM, AASLH or AAMD. What does that say about the field? Does the fact that 62-percent of our respondents have experienced or witnessed gender discrimination not matter? And if 62-percent of museum workers experience gender discrimination, how are those problems compounded for persons of color, native/indigenous women, LGBTQIA+, and non-binary, non-conforming persons? How should we interpret that silence?