Anne 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 Workplace. If 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:
In a summer that’s seen a White House Summit on the United States of Women, the first-ever nomination of a woman candidate for president by a major party, and the President penning an op-ed on his own feminism for a national magazine, isn’t it time the museum world got on the bus? Can you imagine if museums were the gold standard for gender equity in the non-profit world?
Wouldn’t it be remarkable if museums–that are on the cusp of becoming a pink collar profession or one dominated by women and beset by low-paying, undervalued jobs–reversed course and went out of their way to become leaders in gender equity? For over a century the heroines of this field, from Laura Bragg to the Hewitt sisters, to Susan Stitt, and more recently Elaine Heumann Gurian, Adrianne Russell and Monica Montgomery, have worked tirelessly for inclusivity. Each worked or works within her own time and culture, but the goal remains the same: Museums are for all, visitors and employees. Wouldn’t it be stunning if rather than being places where only those with entitled parents or partners choose to work, museums were an example to all non-profits for their policies about equal pay, paid sick leave, paid family leave and child care?
If you are a museum leader, board member, teacher in a graduate program or an employee, consider what you can do to further the field’s gender equity goals within your own organization. That may mean looking at everything from recruitment and hiring policies to work evaluation, to workplace tone, and mentoring.
As a result of our session, “What we talk about when we [don’t] talk about women in museums” at the 2016 American Alliance of Museums conference in Washington, DC in May, Anne Ackerson, Jessica Ferey, Marieke Van Damme, and I want to continue the conversation about gender equity in museums. If you’re interested too, we would like to hear from you.
If you missed our presentation, you can purchase the session recording here. (Since a good chunk of the session was audience conversation and report out, the recording might leave you wondering what was happening for 30+ minutes!) But, you can access a free copy of our slides here.
Want to Join in the Equity Conversation?
At AAM, we also discussed the idea of bringing back some kind of women’s caucus–first launched by Susan Stitt in 1972– and we’re continuing to talk about this. One of our ideas is to create a Gender Equity Committee (GenComm) in the coming year. If you would like to help, please fill out this short contact form and survey, and be sure to tell us what a group like GenComm, if initiated, could do for gender equity in the museum workplace.
Once we’ve heard from everyone, we’ll be back in touch with updates about the the way forward. In the meantime, feel free to email us with any questions, comments, or ideas!
Enjoy the last weeks of summer,
Joan Baldwin with Anne Ackerson, Jessica Ferey, and Marieke Van Damme
It’s almost December and time for Leadership Matters to turn its lens on gender to highlight work we’re doing for Women|Museums scheduled for publication by Left Coast Press in 2016. First, an apology to our international readers: because data is so difficult to extract, our work is primarily focused on the U.S., and what little data there is in this blog post is U.S.-based. Second, the American museum world is not aggressive regarding workplace data collection, and that is never more obvious then when you try to trace personnel trends. Last, although perhaps this is true internationally as well, the world of American museum work is more honey comb than melting pot. Children’s museums have a different culture than living collections, and living collections than art, and so on, making it dangerous to compare apples to tangerines.
That said, what comes to mind when we say the words “female-dominated profession.” Nursing? Elementary School teachers? Social Workers? If those were your first thoughts, you are correct. Those are the top three female-dominated careers in the country. And what does that mean beyond the fact that if your child is in elementary school chances are good that both his teacher and the school nurse will be women? It matters because they are known as the “pink collar” professions. There are roughly 20 of them dominated by women.
Then there are the museum world’s sister professions–libraries and archives–where women have gained ground since 1950. Today 61 percent of all library directors are women, and women now outnumber men 3-1 in the archives field. But wait: Leadership Matters isn’t a fan of female dominated professions. Instead we’re raising the flag because if you believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for our own field, it is now about 45-percent women. We think we might be at the tipping point. And with more women finishing college than men, and more museum studies programs dominated by women, it is likely that in another decade or two, museums will join libraries and archives as pink collar professions.
As a field, we express concern about our lack of diversity. While this probably shouldn’t be a surprise when museums are by and large traditional, hierarchical organizations, where a graduate degree is the professional entrance fee, where the median salary is $45,000, and where the vast majority of jobs are in medium to small history museums outside an urban orbit, it is concerning. And Leadership Matters supports these concerns. We believe museum staffs should reflect their communities. So if you’re in a small New England city with a large immigrant population, perhaps your staff or volunteers should have faces that resemble the folks you serve. But that is a different question than gender which is rarely asked or talked about.
Are we comfortable becoming a female-dominated profession? Leadership Matters isn’t, at least not without a conversation or two, and we wish it were something AAM and AASLH would talk about. Why do we care? Economists and workplace psychologists warn that gender balanced workplaces are more efficient, more inventive, more productive. Second, research shows that men in female-dominated professions are paid more (yes, that again) and promoted more quickly, leaving their female colleagues behind. Last, female-dominated professions carry a social stigma. In plain English that sometimes means women are paid less because they are in women’s jobs, and women’s jobs are paid less because they are done by women. And to make matters worse, as late as 2011 a study done by Elsesser and Lever, shows us that 54-percent of their respondents said they didn’t care about the gender of their boss, yet 31-percent still preferred working for a man. What does this type of deep-seated behavior mean for our field?
What should the museum field do? In a word, talk. Let’s acknowledge what is happening and make changes to create a gender-balanced work force that reflects the many communities served. Let us know your thoughts.
Anne and I are away this week speaking at the Intercom: Leadership for a Sustainable Museum conference. We’re presenting with Marsha Semmel, who wrote the foreword to Leadership Matters, and David Young, the ED of Cliveden in Philadelphia and one of the book’s interviewees. We’ll report on the conference when we return.
In the meantime, here is a quirky list of what we’re reading, watching or listening to, in addition to a list of things we haven’t quite gotten to yet, but we will. Enjoy. And share your list please!
Joan Baldwin & Anne Ackerson
What We’ve Read or We’re Reading:
Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay (Harper Perennial, 2014)
We Should All Be Feminists, Chiamanda Ngozi Adiche (Anchor Books, 2014)
“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Atlantic, July/August, 2012.
“What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?” Nikki Waller and Joann S. Lublin, September 30, 2015
What Works for Women at Work, Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey (NYU Press, 2014)
“Boys Don’t Cry..But Should CEOs?” Roger Jones, October 24, 2015
The Danger of a Single Story Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ted Talks, July 2009
What’s On the To-Read List:
Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums. Frank Vagnone and Deborah Ryan (Left Coast, 2015)
“Centered Leadership: How Talented Women Thrive,” Joanna Barsh, Susie Cranston, and Rebecca A. Craske, McKinsey Quarterly, September 2008.
“The Bamboo Project,” Michele Martin’s career advice blog that’s chock full of great insights and creative solutions to divining and defining work you love.
It’s mid-June and it’s time to talk Women+Museums again. As many of you know, Anne Ackerson and I are writing a new book to be published by Left Coast Press in 2016. You can read more about the project by here. Because of that project, we’ve dedicated one post a month to all of you–men and women alike–who consider yourselves feminists and/or want to think, read or learn more about gender and the museum workplace. If you’re bristling at the use of the word feminist, the point of this post is to talk a little about gender and language.
Perhaps you don’t think you’re a feminist. Perhaps it conjures up visions of angry, shouting women who left home without shaving their armpits? Maybe not a picture we in the museum world want to align ourselves with? And yet, ponder this: As background for Women+Museums I’ve been reading a great deal and one writer who strikes a cord is Roxanne Gay, author of a collection of essays called Bad Feminist. In an article in The Guardian which you can find here, Gay quotes Kathy Bail’s succinct definition of feminists as women who don’t want to be treated like crap. Actually Bail and Gay use a slightly more descriptive word, but you get the idea, maybe meaning that being a feminist in 2015 doesn’t have a lot to do with the way you dress or whether you wear make-up , but whether you are ready to stand up for those who aren’t treated equitably. Like those who make 77 cents to the male dollar. See how much baggage eight letters can carry?
Understanding some of the facets of the word feminist brings me to the actual point of this post and that’s another freighted word:”soft.” As in soft skills. Soft skills, in case you let your Harvard Business Review subscription lapse, are the ones long associated with women. These are skills like collaboration, the ability to read social cues, empathy, inclusion and intuition. They are often possessed by women and were once marginalized–think Mad Men’s Joan Harris and Peggy Olsen–but somehow the pendulum swung the other way and those soft skills are now the stuff of the new leadership even though they come with the girly label “soft.”
Here’s what we know about those “soft” skills. Once upon a time companies, and museums too, were interested in hard skills. At the leadership level, they wanted people with a demonstrated understanding of content who could also manage money. Typical leaders were sometimes double-degreed former curators with a gift for reading spreadsheets. Leaders learned content in graduate school and depending on what decade of the 20th century we’re talking about, sometimes learned the money piece as well. Hard skills stay the same from job to job. If your specialty is the Civil War, you can go to a number of Civil War museums and put your knowledge to use. Of course, your board might discover that while your knowledge is encyclopedic and your money management skills fantastic, that your interpersonal skills are dismal. And that’s where the “soft” skills come in.
They are, in fact, the womanly skills of interpersonal relations. And with the flattening of hierarchies, they are increasingly important. Whether we like the girliness of the word “soft” or not, women utilize them far oftener than men. People in business started to notice this a while ago. In a 2010 McKinsey Global Study the company reported that 72-percent of executives believe that there’s a direct connection between a business’ gender diversity and its financial success. And among Fortune 500 companies those who promote women to executive positions have a 69-percent higher return than those who do not.
So….I have a two-fold question for all of you out there in museum land: First, knowing this, why do the oligarchs who select men as CEOs and Presidents for museums with budgets over $10 million, and, in a profession that is 45-percent female, why are we women not better at valuing the soft skills we bring to the table? Last, let’s stop calling them “soft.” Let’s call them core leadership skills because that’s what they are. Let us know your thoughts about language, about the workplace, and about gender.