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


The Salary Agenda

Broken Piggy Bank

Last week’s post on museum salaries left us breathless. In six days over 7,000 of you viewed the blog, breaking all sorts of Leadership Matters records. If we ever had any doubt about the fact that there are issues around salaries in the museum world, this was the confirmation. And just as we predicted there are some cranky, disaffected, and worried folks out there.

In our book Leadership Matters (AltaMira, 2013) and our upcoming book Women|Museums (Routledge, 2016), the manuscripts each end with an agenda. There, we list the changes that could be made by professional associations and service organizations, museums, graduate programs, and individuals to improve the issues surrounding leadership and gender (in Women|Museums) in MuseumLand. Here’s our Leadership Revolution Agenda.

Given the complexity of salaries, and the fact that short of a gazillion dollar gift to all of America’s 35,000+ museums, there is no single answer to the salary conundrum.  So we taken a stab at what we think a Museum Salary Agenda for the 21st Century could look like — consider it a call to action that you can weigh in on.

What Professional Associations and Museum Service Organizations Can Do: 

  • Establish and promote national salary standards for museum positions requiring advanced degrees.
  • Encourage museums to demonstrate the importance of human capital in their organizations.
  • Make salary transparency part of the StEPS (AASLH) and accreditation process (AAM).
  • Support organizations in understanding the need for endowment to support staff salaries. A building and a collection don’t guarantee a museum’s future. People do.
  • Create a national working group for #Museumstaffmatters.

What Institutions Can Do: 

  • Encourage networking and individual staff development.
  • Make every effort to provide salaries that exceed the Living Wage.
  • Educate boards regarding the wastefulness of staff turnover.
  • Make criteria for salary levels transparent.
  • Examine the gaps among the director’s salary, the leadership team and the remaining staff.
  • Offer equitable health and family leave benefits (and make them available on Day One of a new hire’s tenure).

What Individuals Can Do: 

  • Do your homework. Understand the community and region where you plan to work.
  • Use the Living Wage index.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Be prepared to say no. A dream job isn’t a dream if your parents are still paying your car insurance and your mobile phone bills.
  • Ask about the TOTAL package not just salary. If you are the trailing spouse and don’t need health insurance but do need time, make that part of your negotiations.
  • Network. Know what’s going on in your field, locally, regionally, nationally.

What Graduate Programs Can Do:

  • Be open about job placement statistics.
  • Teach students to negotiate salaries and benefits.
  • Teach students to calculate a Living Wage plus loan payments and quality of life.
  • Encourage networking, mentoring and participation in the field.

Leadership from the Ground Up

onward upward

This week my local historical society–full disclosure, I am a board member–spent part of its monthly meeting discussing the American Association of State and Local History’s (AASLH) Standards and Excellence Program or StEPS. Now in its second year in Connecticut, where it is supported by the Connecticut League of History Organizations and Connecticut Humanities, StEPs brings museum 101 to small organizations. The program takes two years and each organization admitted is also partnered with a mentor. Participating organizations are encouraged, prodded and coaxed to meet like organizations around the state to compare problems, projects, and goals. They attend workshops with guest speakers where they are encouraged to bring as many board members as they want for a modest $10 each. All good, right? Well, yes, except for the part about Governor Dannell Malloy zeroing the Connecticut Humanities budget a month ago, it’s better than good. It’s very good, except for–wait for it–you knew it was coming–the program’s governance piece.

One of the bolder statements Anne and I made in Leadership Matters was that if museums and historical organizations had invested as much over the last quarter century in leadership as they had in interpretation and collections management, the field would be in a different place. In fact, we feel so strongly about this that before writing Leadership Matters we wrote an online handbook called “What Comes First?” for individuals charged with starting museums or historical organizations. (It’s available through the Museum Association of New York.) So while we’re totally on board with StEPs, we wish the governance piece were more rigorous.

It’s possible for a volunteer board to emerge from the governance section of the StEPs program, having shed the traditional mission statement of protect, collect and interpret the history of wherever, and yet still not understand the arc of growth that strong organizations take from mission-driven, all-volunteer boards to boards whose goal is to hire a part or full-time director. To us there is a difference. It doesn’t make the former bad people, but it certainly separates the sheep from the goats. And in a subtle way, the organizations that are able to make the leap, have also intuited the idea that as non-profits we hold a public trust. It’s not about the board’s comfort level around the table; it’s not about the parts of local history they are interested in, it’s about their community however it is defined. And it’s about a quality and commitment to leadership–which, granted could be all-volunteer–that keeps the organization on a forward, financially stable trajectory, committed to something more than mediocrity.

Which is worse: A historic house with beautifully organized and cared for collections, but no visitors, or the same historic house filled with laughter, argument, lively discussion, and plenty of people? No, we are not suggesting that collections aren’t important. They are. For most organizations they are the catalysts that spawn ideas. But too many history organizations and their staffs are mired in process to the detriment of leadership. Their leaders manage but do not lead.

So what are we suggesting? Well, for the complete laundry list, see page 201 of Leadership Matters and our Leadership Revolution Agenda for History and Cultural Organizations. In the short term, of course we support more states following Connecticut’s model–not the Governor–but CLHO and CTHumanities–and participating in StEPs or programs like it, but we’d push everyone one step further and ask them to not stop at a new mission statement, but actually talk about where they as a group want to see their organization in one, three or five years. And to jot down the things they need to get there. And to partner with their local Rotary or Chamber of Commerce or bank. Approaching non-profit work as if it were a business isn’t bad. After all, if your “product” is happy people in the galleries, noisy, contented children getting back on the school bus and a growing membership, what’s not to like.

Joan Baldwin


Why is Self-Awareness Important to Museum Leaders?

know yourselfWell, truth be told, self-awareness should be important to all leaders, whether they serve in the museum world, the non-profit world or business. Why? On the face of it, leadership may seem like it’s about leaders knowing their organizations, and that’s true, but successful leaders also spend time studying themselves. This isn’t it’s-all-about-me narcissism, instead it’s an understanding of the minute calibrations that individuals and groups must make as they work together.

Take a leader who has no sense of who she is. Staff meetings are sometimes filled with socially awkward silence; team members react slowly or badly because information is delivered out of context or worse in such obscure, oblique ways that staff fail to grasp important ideas; even compliments to staff are stilted because it’s clear the director has no earthly idea what her staff actually does. A self-aware leader might do any one of those things once, but they’re naturally programmed to replay, to adjust, and to calibrate.

Not everyone understands this from the beginning. Some are lucky enough to work for organizations that encourage them to participate in leadership training like AASLH’s Developing History Leaders@SHA. Others take part in leadership courses in MBA programs or with the Chamber of Commerce. Some hire personal coaches. But all learn a rhythm that includes reflection, self-discovery, and reevaluation–even reinvention. It’s a pattern that once it’s practiced personally also works organizationally. Self aware leaders constantly adjust. They replay interactions, making leadership a journey that involves experimentation, evaluation, and recalibration. It’s a process many find humbling precisely because it’s not about you; it’s about you as part of a whole.

Often self-aware leaders are also servant leaders. They will tell you they “serve” the organizations they work for. Their sense of purpose overshadows ego and personal gain or as one of the leaders we interviewed put it, “Your position is not you.” Self-aware leaders are also folks who recognize that influence works better than control. They may be workaholics, but they hold their staffs equally accountable, also. Ceding responsibility recognizes that you can control who you hire, but not their work pace or their personality.

Last, self-aware leaders aren’t Chatty Cathy’s. They don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, they are listeners. Listening–really listening as opposed to waiting for a chance to talk– provides opportunities for change and that’s what self-aware leaders are good at. As Ted Bosley, director of the Gamble House in Pasadena, California, one of the self-aware leaders interviewed for Leadership Matters put it: “You’re so much more likely to move a project forward when you listen with respect and compassion. You need to humble yourself and listen.”

Joan Baldwin


Is It Different for Women?

femalemale symbol

Hello, fellow readers. This is the first of what will be monthly posts on women’s issues. As you’re aware, we are hard at work on a new book Women+Museums so it seems only fitting that once every 30 days or so we devote some time to the thoughts, concerns and issues of women in the museum field. Today’s post is for women with male bosses. And if it strikes a chord with men who supervise women so much the better.

One of the most disturbing things we’ve noted about men in power and women as subordinates is that if you are the woman in that scenario, you sometimes feel as though you might be losing your mind. Not because of the 8 gazillion demands on your time or your second job at home or the fact that you don’t exercise enough, but because the man who is your boss, CEO, director or department head looks at you with a kind of innocent certainty as if he would never, ever, ever treat you inequitably. As if, he would never pre-judge a situation even though he has just asked you to take the high road and apologize to the (male) subordinate on the grounds that he knows you want to be an assistant director and this is what good administrators do. Really? Why is it that some men in leadership positions think women need a different kind of guidance than the men who also work for them? Why is it we can’t create an accurate rubric of the skills necessary to lead in addition to skills necessary for success that aren’t gender-based?

In researching Women+Museums, we’re reading a lot of literature about women in the workplace. If this type of book isn’t taking up space on your bedside table, take it from us, there are more of them than you could reasonably get through in a year. There are the well-known books like Lean-In and Thrive, there are books about decision making, about women who can’t ask for things, about raising children even though 60 percent of the time someone else is raising them because you’re at the office, and there are countless books about what to do if you’ve been wronged in some way or if you lack confidence.

One we’ve found useful is What Works for Women at Work and here’ s why. The mother/daughter authors, Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey are very clear that while many of the most heinous forms of bias have been eliminated from the workplace, that doesn’t mean sexism has disappeared. Williams and Dempsey site four types of subtle bias. See if any of them sound familiar. They are:  Prove-It-Again, where women are forced to prove their competence repetitively; the Tightrope, scenarios where women are written off because they’re either too feminine or too aggressive; the Maternal Wall where having children marginalizes women and their career commitment is questioned; and last, the complex, Tug of War, where workplace pressures lead women to judge each other as if there were one right way to be a woman. Williams and Dempsey are critical of many earlier books on women in the workplace because in their minds those books ask women to change rather than looking at the institutions the women work for to change. In other words: don’t fix us, fix the system.

This is what we’d like to do, albeit in a small way, with Women+Museums in the museum world: to pull the curtain back, start talking about gender in an open and honest way, and make whatever changes need to be made.

As always, let us know your thoughts.

Joan H. Baldwin