Museum Leaders: The Words You Use

Words Matter

This week a colleague posted the following on social media: “Five words to use when describing what others would call a bitch: Formidable, assertive, dominant, powerful, decisive. I proudly claim all of those attributes. Screw the bitch one.” Since it’s Women’s History Month and also the time of year when many of you will either be doing performance reviews or participating in them, we thought we should focus on language, gender, and performance.

You may believe you’ve got this particular issue covered. You wore red on International Women’s day; your museum is all over Women’s History Month; you’ve gotten approval from your board to revise your organization’s personnel policies with an eye toward mitigating gender bias. And the vast majority of your staff–particularly in education and collections– is women. What more can you do?

The answer is plenty. While the list above is laudable, a lot of gender bias happens unconsciously which is why it deserves more work, particularly when it comes to language. Are you aware, for example, that in a 2014 study of tech industry performance reviews  women were far more likely to receive critical feedback then men–71-percent vs. 2-percent? Worse, the criticism was associated with perceived personality traits. In other words, even when men and women both received suggestions for improvement, and, after all, that’s in part what performance reviews are about, those for women were tied to perceived behavior. They included words like bitchy, bossy, brash, abrasive and aggressive. To the woman on the receiving end that translates to “improve your staff presentations and, by the way, stop being so (insert-your-adjective-here.)”

And let’s be clear: Women are not immune to unconscious bias so this isn’t a male leadership versus a female leadership thing. Women also tend to evaluate men on their potential rather than behavior, offering constructive criticism, while being supportive. Women’s evaluations, whether done by men or women, tend to be more focused on behavior causing the women being evaluated to prove themselves again and again. What this means is women are evaluated by the way they have done something while men are evaluated by their capacity to improve.

And bias isn’t something that only rears its head in relation to others. When I asked permission to use the opening quote, I discovered that its author, Ilene Frank, Chief Curator at the CT Historical Society, had actually used the word bitch about herself. She explained it this way: “I had a moment the other day where, after making a comment that needed to be made, I felt bad about the tone I used and the force with which the statement came out. No one criticized me for it, but I felt bad. I texted my girlfriend and wrote ‘I think I was just a bitch.” To which she, in her wisdom, responded, “How about assertive?'”

Here are some suggestions for combatting workplace bias throughout the performance review season:

If you’re a leader:

  • Review your staff assessments for the last several years. Make a list of the adjectives you use for men, versus women. Is there are difference?
  • If your staff is large, you may want to repeat the exercise breaking down assessments by age, race and LGBTQ. Remember, you’re not looking for Title IX violations; you need to identify your own way of “seeing.” Who is your tone gentler with? Who is it easier to be direct with? Why?
  • We’re going to assume all your employees receive annual performance reviews, and have access to them. If not, think about fixing that.
  • At the end of the day or the week,  as you reflect, refine, and prepare to try again, think about the language you use about yourself. There is a reason it’s called unconscious bias.

If you are a staff member:

  • Review your own assessments. Look for the places where you feel you were judged on personality, gender, race or age, rather than performance.
  • If there are adjectives that bothered you in a previous review, and still bother you, write them down. If those words are used again, feel free to smile sweetly and ask your director if she would like to choose another word or whether that is a word she would apply to–for example–an older, straight man?
  • If you report to more than one individual, you may want to ask about the possibility of a 360 review from your multiple direct reports. Studies show that more and varied feedback helps level the playing field.
  • At the end of the day or the week, as you reflect, refine and prepare to try again, think about the language you use about your self. There is a reason it’s called unconscious bias.

Tell us about bias at your museum, unconscious or not.

Joan Baldwin


Counterintuitive or Ways Museum Workers Can Resist Bias at Work

confirmation-bias

We haven’t written an equity piece in a while, and given that in a few weeks when the administration changes in Washington, D.C., gender equity may move from the back seat to the way, way back, we thought we’d take a final opportunity to remind readers that we all bring biases to the office. Even in museums where we are uber careful to engage and embrace our community at the front of the house, bias may be alive and well in the staff room. And if your hair is starting to smolder, bias isn’t a gender thing, meaning it’s not something men do to women. It’s something we all do, whether we mean to or not.

Think of bias as a lot of small suitcases that we carry around with us. As babies and toddlers, those bags are empty. Over time, experience, our parents, our extended family, our peer group fill those bags. Some are packed with deep-seated angry thoughts with no basis in fact, some with yearning for particular individuals who symbolize larger issues, some with our ability to deflect and hide from situations that upset us. Don’t believe me? Try serving on a jury. It’s an excellent place to see bias at work. Why do you think there are jury consultants? Because whether we admit it or not, we judge people and situations all the time.

But isn’t just going to work difficult enough some days? You betcha. We all wish we had privately endowed funds that would permit us to work or volunteer on our own schedule. And don’t museum workers have enough on their plates? There’s raising money, raising more money, strategic planning, board building, being there for community in contemporary and meaningful ways, connecting to community, being catalysts for imagination and inspiration. And behind the scenes, away from the public, there is strategic planning (again), working in teams, reaching across disciplines and departments, saying thank you, and being respectful of colleagues. And yet through it all those little bags of bias accompany us.

Are you aware that taller people make between 9-15 percent more than their shorter colleagues? That blond women make 7-percent more than their brunette or black-haired peers? That overweight employees make less than their slimmer co-workers? This is especially true for women where extra weight costs women workers between $9,000 and $19,000 annually. It’s doubtful anyone hiring for museum positions would admit to preferring tall blonds who could be extras in Viking movies, but that’s the thing about bias, it’s not necessarily something we control. That’s why it’s called unconscious bias.

As museum leaders, acknowledging workplace bias is the first step in making it less of a problem. So here’s a Leadership Matters to-do list to send bias packing in 2017:

  1. Know yourself. Do you prefer one employee over another? Instead, spend time with the person you prefer less. Make an effort to understand them and their point of view. Identify your own bias so you can keep things equitable.
  2. Remember that as a leader you model behavior for your staff, team, department. Bias toward an employee may lead to the entire group isolating that person.
  3. Research shows that white Americans associate positivity with white folks and negativity with black folks. That may not be what people say they believe, but it is the result when psychologists test for implicit bias. If you’re a white American, unpack those bags before you interview, hire, or do an annual performance review.
  4. A lot of people are biased against women in leadership positions. That is not code for men don’t like women leaders, that’s a sentence that means a lot of men and women are unconsciously more comfortable with a male leader. You may want to take AAUW’s Implicit Association Test to help you sort out your own feelings.
  5. Know that having a diverse team or staff doesn’t eliminate bias. That’s how your staff looks. How they behave is something else. Self-awareness, empathy and understanding are all necessary weapons against bias. Work at developing them.
  6. You may think you’re a great communicator, but find out if that’s true. Provide feedback so you know whether your staff, team, department has the safety and sense of belonging it needs.

Leadership Matters will be back next week with a Holiday Reading List to tide you over until 2017. In the meantime, be well, and tell us how you eliminate bias in your museum workplace.

Joan Baldwin


5 Gender Myths and What Happened at NEMA

gemm-nema-conference-2016-editedAnne Ackerson, Marieke Van Damme and I spoke at the New England Museum Association Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Our title was Women|Museums: Lessons from the Workplace, and we were among the opening sessions of NEMA’s 2016 meeting in Mystic, CT. We expected to begin our program buoyed by a Clinton victory the night before. We counted on Clinton piercing the proverbial glass ceiling until sometime around midnight when clearly a different choice was underway, a fact confirmed when we woke much too early to the news of a pending Trump presidency.

When we began our program, the mood was somber, as if we’d all partied a bit too hard the night before, which, of course, we hadn’t. After introducing ourselves with a little story telling, we walked the group through five myths of gender in the museum world. Here they are:

  • Feminism is all about women being in power.

  • The contributions of women in museums are self-evident.

  • The salary disparity between male and female museum workers is a thing of the past.

  • There are so many women in the museum field now that gender equity will happen on its own.

  • It’s not about gender anymore; it’s about race, sexual orientation and class.

Then we asked the group to discuss two questions: If they could send a message to their colleagues, institutions, professional associations and graduate programs about gender in the museum workplace, what would it be? And, what is the one thing they are willing to do to make positive change toward gender equity? Each table had postcards for participants to write messages on. There’s a photograph of them at the top of the page, but they also showed up on Twitter, Facebook and various analog spots throughout the meeting.

When the groups reported out, their remarks clustered around some important topics. The hiring process came under discussion as women questioned why they don’t negotiate job offers, and whether that is something that can and should be taught. One respondent pointed out that if you are simply happy to be chosen, you lose all leverage to negotiate.

The road to a museum career also came under fire, particularly the idea that in too many instances students borrow to go to graduate school, and then find themselves working in unpaid internships as part of some additional rite of passage, all so they can earn, at best, a modest salary. One group’s solution: there should be a field-wide refusal to work for nothing. In addition, participants want women to leave graduate programs feeling confident about traditionally male areas of focus like finance. Can’t read a spread sheet from the business office? Grow your skill set.

Sexual harassment in the workplace was also discussed with participants asking where staff at small museums can go when they need help or advice, and what the board’s role is in seemingly condoning workplace sexism. A participant quipped that Boston area museums still have a Brahmin attitude, meaning you’ve been allowed to be part of the boys’ club, now deal with it. And there was also a shout out for not just doing what men do, but finding new solutions to achieve the same end.

And towards the end one woman reminded us all to “Put on our armor and fight like Amazons.” Which brings us to where we were before the election. This fall we created an advocacy group, Gender Equity in Museums Movement, or GEMM. As yet, we have no official affiliation, but we are beginning talks with AAM to see how GEMM can support its equity agenda. If you’re interested in knowing more about our call to action, please read and share our platform paper, A Call for Gender Equity in the Museum WorkplaceIf it speaks to you, join us via email, twitter or Facebook. Let’s make museums the poster child for women’s (and that’s all women, not just white women’s) equity. We’re not giving up and neither should you.

And if you were out of the country, living off the grid or you simply stopped reading post- election, you may want to look at:

What Does President Trump Mean for Feminists

Hillary’s Concession Speech

SNL’s Cold Open Nov. 12

For Women, Glass Ceilings and Glass Walls

Joan Baldwin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Baldwin


Museums, the Gender Question and You

Gender on Pedestals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Baldwin


And Something More for Women…

Gender Equity Principles

Department on the Status of Women, City and County of San Francisco

For us, the last weeks of June mean scouring our manuscript for misplaced footnotes, erratic grammar, and broken links before sending it off to the publisher. Its title is Women|Museums: Lessons from the Workplace, and it’s a book about the working lives of women in museums.  And it’s not surprising that in reviewing the text, it’s impossible not to reflect on women’s work lives in the museum field.

In thinking about our manuscript and our recent AAM presentation (What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Women), here are the three areas where I think change needs to happen in women’s work lives: wages; how women treat one another, and childcare. You don’t need to be an astrophysicist to realize those problems affect women no matter where they work. They do. But as we’ve said here before, museums are peculiar environments that often advocate big values up front, while back stage employees languish.

But pause for a moment. Are those the areas you would pick if you had to pick three? If not, tell us. Here’s why: As we explained at the close of our AAM presentation, we hope to create a caucus group under AAM’s tent that will advocate for all women in the museum field. (We should note that AAM has advocacy groups for diversity and LGBTQ, but not for women who make up 46.7 percent of the field’s employees.) On the other hand, a caucus without a cause is pretty sad, so if you’re behind us, let us know and please tell us what is on your mind.

**************

So…in the spirit of equitable wages, I want to alert all of you who haven’t followed the Obama administration’s change in the overtime laws, that now might be the moment to focus, especially if you are a woman, and/or a female leader. To be fair, AAM has been at the forefront of this discussion, urging museums and heritage organizations to prepare for the change which arrives December 1, 2016. You can read what the department of labor has to say here: The New Overtime Law.  You can also read AAM’s article here: Changes to Overtime Eligibility. Why bring this up now? Because it’s going to happen to everyone, no matter your opinion, and because it may involve many museum women in discussions about salary over the summer.

By the way, my understanding is that if you are currently an exempt employee, paid less than $47,476, which is the new threshold for workers needing overtime protection, your employer does not have to return you to hourly pay come December. It can choose to keep you as an exempt employee, but clock and pay you time and a half for any hours over 40/week. Since returning to non-exempt status may affect your benefit package, you may want to investigate this option, particularly if your hours are steady throughout the year with one or two predictable exceptions. Last, and perhaps most importantly, if you are called to individual or group meetings where this topic will be discussed, read about it before hand so you can ask informed questions, and see if you can take the opportunity to ask about salary equity. Are women and men in your organization paid at the same rate for similar tasks? Does your board have a value statement about gender equity that it shares with employees? And let us know how an Equity Caucus could help.

Finally, and more on this in the future, be supportive of your sister museum employees. Life will never change for working women until we realize how similar our problems are, and reach out to help one another. Need inspiration about how a positive, happy workplace helps us all? Visit Joyful Museums.

Joan Baldwin


Why Becoming a Pink-Collar Profession Doesn’t Answer the Museum World’s Gender Equity Problems

Mind the Gap

Recently we’ve had a few conversations suggesting some of you believe that now the museum field is on the verge of pink collar profession-dom, its issues with gender are solved. In other words, all you need is a bunch of women–(the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the field now hovers somewhere around 46.7-percent female although the recent Mellon study of art museums pegged women at 60-percent of their employees)–and voila your problems are over and museums can focus on the real 21st century issue: diversity. We disagree. Not that we disagree that diversity is a major issue for museums, we don’t. And it is.

As we’ve written here in the past, in a perfect world, the museum workforce would reflect the communities it serves. Children, families and individuals would engage and learn from staffs that are as diverse as they are. But acknowledging the lily-whiteness and the frequent privilege of our field does not mean its issues with gender have disappeared. Were the field to try to consciously solve its gender problems, it certainly wouldn’t hinder the battle for a more diverse workforce.

The term pink collar joined common speech during the second world war, but rose to prominence in 1977 when writer Louise Kapp Howe published Pink Collar Workers: Inside the World of Women’s Work. The book was nominated for a National Book Award and the term joined its cousins, blue and white collar, referring to workers who perform manual labor and professionals or administrators respectively. Other traditionally pink collar fields include teaching, nursing and counseling. For an entire list, see Pink Collar Jobs.

But take it from us, being a pink collar profession isn’t a good thing. And a field dominated by women does not mean it ceases to have issues with equal pay, with maternity/paternity leave, with childcare, with sexual harassment. Think those things don’t happen in the museum world? Do its trappings of Waspy privilege protect it from unpleasant and unwanted groping or inappropriate language? No, not really. It may be a third space, but the museum world isn’t immune to the problems of the world at large. Nor does the world of museum workers equal what happens in urban museums on the two coasts. There are worlds in between, some sophisticated, some not. But this April 12 women museum workers coast to coast, regardless of color or the gender binary, will join together knowing they’ve finally earned as much as their male colleagues did in 2015. If you’d like to know more about the pay gap, click here: 2016 Pay Gap.

This week AAM issued its 2016 TrendsWatch report. It nods to salary discrimination writing: “Museums can’t compete with the private sector on wages, but if they are willing to abandon outmoded practices, they can become the ultimate cool, creative place to work, so much so that the best and brightest are willing to sacrifice income to work in the field.” (p.15) Really? And then later…”Given traditionally low museum salaries, it may be realistic for much of our sector to focus on employee happiness and wellbeing, as well as trying to budget financial incentives.”(p.44) But how do we make employees happy or feel ultimately cool when we pay them less than many other fields, while still demanding a graduate degree?

We’ll close with one last thought: Diversity and gender are not mutually exclusive, and a workforce dominated by women does not mean women’s workplace problems are solved. In our opinion there’s still work to do.

Joan Baldwin