We 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.
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?
When I talk to museum professionals, especially those just establishing themselves
in the field, there is often a romanticized view of consulting work. You get to focus
on your passions, you keep things fresh, you have flexibility. And you can make a
living. All of these can be true, and working as an independent professional can be a
wonderful fit for many. However, I think it does all of us a disservice if we gloss over
the unique challenges independent professionals face, whether they remain for
many years or see themselves returning to employee status in the future
“Consultant” and “Founder” is a title that I’ve held for four years, starting when I left
my full time job to stay home with my baby. I was lucky I had that choice, the
position I left would have meant long hours away from home, and an uneven
schedule that I didn’t want. However, I also knew that I had professional passions I
wanted to nurture. The best (and most fiscally reasonable) way to balance giving up
a full time income was to become a consultant.
That makes it seem so simple, but of course it is more complicated than that. I was
lucky that my professional networks kicked in at the right moment, and I landed a
fulfilling project that helped me jumpstart. There was also the fact that we could
depend on my spouse’s income. It also doesn’t address the long stretches where I
had no projects to work on or the project I lost when I became pregnant again.
That is my story, but I knew that other independent professionals had a different
experience. I created a survey that I shared online to get feedback from others on
the benefits, challenges and motivations for getting into consulting.
The results came in fast and furious, and people were eager to share the many
benefits of being an independent professional. You have independence and
flexibility in your schedule, pay, location and projects. It can help bridge the gap if
there is a lack of full time work or give you a chance to collaborate with
organizations you are interested in. You can also focus your work on your passions.
Along with the benefits, the survey provided a cleareyed look at the challenges.
Freedom and the flexibility is often the main draw of independent work, but it is
exhausting to maintain. Balancing multiple projects sometimes results in a “feast or
famine” scenario where you are either overwhelmed with work or trying to keep
busy. You may be constantly on the hunt for projects or trying to prove your worth
on just one so when it’s time for a contract renewal you feel secure.
Sick days don’t exist…or parental/caregiver leave. Those are just times when you
aren’t working and aren’t getting paid. If you are the primary breadwinner it may
not feel stable. I’ve also experienced a different feeling as the trailing partner, I feel
like I need to pick up all the slack at home to compensate for my lower paycheck.
Within projects it can be hard to feel part of the workplace social aspect. Maybe you
aren’t onsite, maybe you are in at odd times or move from project to project. The boost you get from colleagues can be vital to mental wellbeing at work, and is often
missing from contract work.
That seems like a long list of negatives, but it is not meant as a complaint. Instead, it
is meant as a reminder of the challenges that come with all those benefits. If you are
considering contract work it is important to think about how it will affect all aspects
of your life including personal and longterm professional. If you are already an
independent professional, it is good to remember that the challenges you face are
unique to this type of work, and it is ok to acknowledge them, and look for solutions
that work for you..
The number of independent museum is professionals is growing. At the 2015
American Alliance of Museums conference 18% of attendees identified as
consultants, the largest group represented (Museum Magazine July/August 2015),
but it isn’t something that is frequently talked about or well understood by people
entering the field. For every person who does it by choice, there are others who
consult because jobs don’t exist or they aren’t able to take a full time position and
meet other responsibilities.
As contractors or potential contractors, we need to know our rights so we can
protect ourselves legally and financially. As independent contractors, we must speak
up when we need support from our professional networks, so that we are informed
and make sure potential employers are also informed. We also need to acknowledge
specific challenges we face in the work/social environment, and in our personal
lives. One of the points that survey respondents made again and again was not to
undersell your talents or the value of your time just because you believe in the cause or have a passion for your work. Your expertise deserves to be acknowledged and
your work fully compensated.
If you are a museum leader, you need to make sure that you know the legal
definition of “contractor,” and also think about why the position you’ve advertised
should be filled by a contractor not a staff person.. Keep your oversight expectations
in mind, (Are you a hands on or hands off manager?) and the scheduling needs of the
organization. Also, don’t forget the social aspect of work. Do you want your
contractors to participate in the daily life of the museum? Is it a requirement or a
choice? Remember, you are bringing in a consultant because they have expertise
and can provide you with a service. Respect their contribution and skills.
Including independent professionals in museum work can be a huge benefit to both sides. The contractor does work they are interested in, on a schedule that meets
their needs, while the museum gets some outside expertise and completes a project
that might otherwise get left behind. However, it isn’t a perfect fairytale fix, and it
doesn’t look the same as a staff position. If we acknowledge that, and keep it in mind
going forward everyone will be better off.
Employee vs. Independent Contractor: Who Am I?
The IRS is the final arbiter of whether someone is an “employee” or an “independent contractor.” There are lots of resources on their website , but the details can be a little confusing. In general, if you provide a service to an organization, you are
probably an independent contractor. However, if the organization controls what will
be done and how it will be done then you are an employee. They have three
guidelines that you should assess to determine what your relationship with the
1. Behavioral : Does the company control or have the right to control what the
worker does and how the worker does his or her job?
2. Financial : Are the business aspects of the worker’s job controlled by the
payer? (These include things like how worker is paid, whether expenses are
reimbursed, who provides tools/supplies, etc.)
3. Type of Relationship : Are there written contracts or employee type benefits
(i.e. pension plan, insurance, vacation pay, etc.)? Will the relationship continue and
is the work performed a key aspect of the business?
For independent contractors in museums, it is critical to look at the “type of
relationship” assessment. The IRS specifically details that if the person provides
services that are “key aspects of the business” then they are more likely to be
controlled by the organization and therefore are employees. Also, the permanency
of the relationship needs to be looked at. “If you hire a worker with the expectation
that the relationship will continue indefinitely, rather than for a specific project or
period, this is generally considered evidence that the intent was to create an
It really does matter whether you fit the legal definition of employee or independent
contractor because it changes the tax and compensation responsibilities of you and
your employer. If you aren’t sure, you can file IRS Form SS-8, Determination of Worker
Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding
(PDF) but it may take 6 months to get a determination. For additional help, you can
also see if there is a small business development center, state office or nonprofit that provides guidance.
Sarah Erdman is a mom, museum professional and early childhood educator. Her research and professional practice explores how museums and educators can connect to make meaningful experiences for young children. She writes at cabinetofcuriositiesva.com/blog/
Recently there have been a number of questions from Gen Xers on Museum-L and AAM’s Museum Junction about getting a job. You can find some of them here: Museum Career Ideas. As people moving toward the end of their careers, we’ve found these discussions distressing. First, there’s the whole issue of not being able to get a job with an undergraduate degree, and then there’s the discussion of whether getting a master’s degree is in fact worth it. And last, there’s the whole demographic thing about whether the Boomer generation is ever really going to retire, and whether millennials and Gen Xers will move into their spots. It is, to put it bluntly, a hot mess.
Here are some thoughts for those out there contemplating a dream job because honestly when you walk around the Phillips Collection or the Kansas City Art Institute, Hancock Shaker Village on a crystal summer day or a gazillion other organizations, how can you not imagine what it would be like to work there, and how perfect it would be?
So…if you’re recently in possession of a bachelor’s degree in art history, American history, science or education, and think you want to work in a museum, some thoughts: Yes, you can try to get an internship or possibly a job interacting with visitors, as a guide, docent or museum teacher. Try. If that’s what you want: try. But be strategic. Recognize that a lot of the same skills needed to work in non-profit communications, development, even education, also apply to museums. So if you’re a writer longing to work in a museum, but failing to get a job, expand your search to all non-profits. Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, then apply to a museum or to your favorite museum. That goes for development and education too. Searching for money in a development office takes the same skills, just a different mission. And if you’re an educator or a wanna-be educator think about how you can leverage and grow that same skill set in a museum or a similar organization.
Graduate school is tough call. There are more than a few museum jobs where you need a graduate degree. And you’d have to have lived in a Kimmy Schmidt bunker not to realize it’s going to cost you a bundle. So, again, be strategic. You’re about to make an investment. A big one. Measure what you’re going to get at each university you look at. Can you move or are you restricted to programs in a particular region? Does the school you’re contemplating offer job counseling, internship placements, mentoring? What percentage of graduates get jobs post graduation? Can you work while participating in an online program? Know what you want, and more particularly what you need. Would you be better off at the Bank Street College of Education or in a public history program? Are you an art history major? Go online and look at the educational backgrounds of staff in museums you wish would hire you. Best of all, if you know you want to work in education at the Smithsonian, for example, contact someone on staff and ask for a chance to talk. This is not an interview. This is a chance to ask a staff member what she would do differently if she were to begin her career again.
Should you volunteer while you are applying for jobs? Again, tough question. Are you able to volunteer? What will you give up to volunteer? Will you gain more than just work experience with no pay? Will you have the opportunity to meet and interact with museum staff? Are there mentoring opportunities built into your volunteering?
Our advice? Be strategic and be a bit selfish. Give, but get something back. If you’re not sure what museum department’s calling you, consider volunteering in the director’s or CFO’s office if that’s a possibility. You will see more and it may help you make a decision.
Some final thoughts:
- Learn everything you can about the field.
- Don’t be too starry eyed.
- Understand your own skill set and how it applies to the museum field.
- Understand how your skill set applies to other non-profit work.
- Be strategic in your choices.
- Find a mentor or mentors.
- Meet people who do what you want to do, and ask them questions.
- Understand the job market. Have a plan B.
It happens in many careers: the thing that called you in the beginning disappears as you climb the ladder. You become a teacher because interacting with students charges your batteries, but when you’re catapulted into administration, those opportunities diminish. You become a librarian because you love research, but you’re good with people so you’re promoted. Soon you rarely interact with the public. Now you manage staff and go to meetings. Sound familiar? How many of us have similar stories? They are the professional equivalent of an origin myth–the moment you understand people actually —create exhibits, catalog collections, study insects–you fill in the blank–for a living? Your answer is count me in. But then things change. And on one hand, that’s good. You got a promotion! That’s great. But is it?
What brought you to the museum world in the beginning–passion for history, art, natural science, good people skills, combined with imagination, humility, humor and self-awareness–pushes you up the museum ladder, away from objects, plants, rare books, paintings, whatever drew you in the beginning. Suddenly you’re miles from what once delighted and inspired you. Your new skill set includes HR minutia you never knew existed, combined with anecdotal information on fire suppression, and how best to motivate staff when it’s 90 degrees and the air conditioning fails. And then there’s the constant drum beat of money. Who’s got it. Will they give it? Under what conditions?
We can’t tell you the number of people who have told us that scenario is not something they want. Yet the pattern repeats. And in a field with chronically low salaries especially for women, leadership and advancement go hand in hand. So what should you do? Not to sound too apocalyptic, but how do you accept leadership without losing your soul? Be strategic. Be aware.There’s a lot we can’t control in life, but there is a lot we can. And your career isn’t as arbitrary as next month’s weather map. So here are some things to consider when you are pushed to move beyond your passion.
- Understand your field. The museum workplace has many subsets, regions, communities under a very big umbrella. Do you know where you want to go?
- Do you understand your current organization, what its leadership opportunities are and what they entail. If you take the opportunity offered, where will it lead?
- What about your own life? What changes will more money and more responsibility bring? Do you have support outside of work to cope with those changes?
- Have you done a self-check in? Does it seem as though the stress of a leadership position is manageable at this point in your career? Is there time for what brought you to the field in the beginning? Can you retain that connection in a way that is meaningful?
If the answer to the last question was no, can you foresee a time when it might be yes? When your children are all in elementary school? When your parents don’t need you as much? When your organization’s building project is complete?
The point is leadership comes to many of us, and like most things, it’s better if it’s planned rather than having it feel accidental. And it comes in many forms. Being department head is not the same as being a lone leader at a small organization. Your skill set may fit one, but not the other. And more importantly, it may fit one now and the other later.
So embrace the old adage, “Never say never.” Instead, recognize responsibility when it’s handed to you. Know that you wouldn’t get it if folks higher up the workplace food chain didn’t think you could handle it. Organizations need good leaders at every level from project to program, department to museum wide.
And tell us how you choose…
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.
As part of our 100th post celebration we asked readers to tell us what was on their minds. One reader sent us an email that included this question: How do you work for an organization you love, with a mission you believe in, and cope with the horrible struggle of poor management behind the scenes? First, let’s acknowledge up front that there are often times in our lives when we don’t want to or can’t get a new job. If you are the trailing spouse or partner, if you have family ties that will be exacerbated by moving, or if you’ve only just begun a job and discover it isn’t the bowl of cherries you thought it would be, you may find yourself stuck when, in other circumstances, you would apply for a new job immediately.
So…what do you do? You’re doing work you like in a field you adore for a person whose idea of great is your idea of mediocre. Or worse, you work for a person who can’t get out of her own way, and who manages to make things worse not better. First, some coping strategies: These types of leaders can’t be depended on for much except confusion and mismanagement. As a result, don’t be rude, but try to avoid hallway conversations or spontaneous chats. You aren’t going to get the support you need and you will likely leave more confused than when you began. Poor leaders often don’t think strategically. That means you need to do the heavy lifting. Make sure your meetings are scheduled ahead of time. Make lists, and use them to guide conversation. Take notes during the meeting. Once it’s over, email a thank you and follow up with “This is my take-away.” That way, your job/role/project is down in black and white. Should anything go wrong or there’s any kind of misunderstanding, you’ve left the door open for your director to comment.
Second, make sure you have a mentor/advisor. This can be someone internal or better yet someone external. Remember, mentors aren’t therapists; they are there to help you navigate work and career situations. Don’t personalize or demonize your bad leader–that’s for drinks with your friends. Use time with your mentor to sort out your own communication style. Perhaps the way you ask questions is too oblique and you need to be more direct. Perhaps you are waiting for acknowledgement of your excellent work from someone who doesn’t recognize excellence, her own or anyone else’s. Perhaps you need to let go of things that aren’t your responsibility; in other words, play your position.
Once, when I launched into a rant about a co-worker, a very wise director looked at me and said, “People don’t change.” I sputtered to a halt. Of course people could change, and besides it’s for the sake of the organization. Why wouldn’t they want to moderate their behavior? Her answer: most of the time they don’t and they can’t. If you’re going to be good at the non-content part of your job, then you need to be adaptable, someone who can size up staff no matter where they are on the food chain and get along.
Last, here are some suggestions about how to make the external part of working for Mr. or Ms. Mediocre better.
- Don’t be the servant employee. Be a bit more self-centered. Think about your job as a resume builder. What can the job offer you–training, travel, mentoring–that makes you a better you.
- If you work in development, communications, HR or any field museums share with other non-profits, are there job opportunities that build your skill set away from the field, but allow you to stay in your community, city, town?
- Read last week’s post on More Than a Mentor and make sure you have a posse.
- Consider taking on an outside project as a consultant or a volunteer. Again, be strategic. What will it do for you? Allow you to work with folks you admire? Be a resume builder? Earn some extra money to fund either a vacation (re-charging in these situations is important) or professional development that your institution might not pay for.
- Look for opportunities and take them. Is it your turn to schmooze trustees through your department? Don’t avoid it because the trustees hired the incompetent leader in the first place. Meet them and sell your own piece of the pie.
- Finally, as we said last week, always check-in with yourself. Only you can know how sad, angry or tortured a job is making you. If it’s making you sick, step aside. You’re smart, well educated. There are other jobs in other fields. This may be the universe telling you to press pause on the museum field, so listen.
Are you working for the stress-you-out director? How do you cope?
When we asked for possible topics as part of our 100th anniversary post, one of our readers suggested mentoring. Characterizing AAM’s page on mentoring as “sad,” she rightly called us out for mentioning mentoring often enough, but never really explaining it. So here goes.
First, if you care, mentoring is a gerund–meaning a verb form that functions as noun– and usually refers to advice or training offered by the old to the young. Second, we believe in it. And we think for the museum world in particular, mentoring should not be a generational thing. Too many of us think of being mentored as something museum Boomers should be doing for museum Millennials. While that’s a good idea, we would like to suggest that you don’t have to be a certain age to be mentored. Everybody needs one, likely more than one over the course of a career. And before we go any further, here is what mentoring is not: It’s not therapy. If you need a therapist, we hope you find one. And your mentor is not going to get you a job. That’s not a mentor’s job. Of course that may happen organically because of your mentor, but that’s not why you have one. You have a mentor so you can check in, talk, and receive counsel from someone who’s wiser, smarter, and more experienced than you are.
While it can and should be supported by graduate programs, employers, and service organizations, mentoring is an individual thing. You find them. You connect with them. Mentors don’t have to be your friends, and it’s often better if they’re not. They need to be folks, whether in the museum field or not, who can offer clear-headed career advice and a strategic 30,000-foot view of the profession.
And how do you get one? Don’t be shy. And don’t think if your graduate school professor is your mentor for a year or two, that she needs to be your mentor for life. Mentors change, just as you will. If you meet someone at a conference, seminar or workshop who seems smart, imaginative, and approachable, do not hesitate to ask them if mentoring is something they do. If the answer is yes, ask if they would mind if you called for an interview. If that goes well, you may want to set up quarterly calls, email exchanges, Skype, whatever works for you. But mentoring isn’t a once-a-year check in. You need regular contact to build trust in order for your mentor to keep pace with your career narrative.
If you and your potential mentor live in the same area, you may want to meet regularly face-to-face. And speaking of your local area, whether it’s a major city or a rural area, if there is someone you’ve admired from afar, you should feel free to contact them as well. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? They politely say they’re too busy? And we want to underscore that while this is traditionally the old(er) offering advice to the young(er), it doesn’t have to be that way. If there is a young, dynamic leader with a skillset different from your Boomer collection of talents, approach them.
What should museums or heritage organizations or service organizations do about mentoring? They should support it. It’s part of good leadership. In larger organizations it’s possible to offer internal mentoring opportunities. These have the advantage of access, but you may find yourself paired with someone who doesn’t work for you. Again, don’t be shy. If it’s not working, say so. On the other hand, some organizations offer one-to-one leadership training for their department heads that may come with mentoring. Or, if you’re in a less urban area, don’t forget about the Chamber of Commerce. It frequently offers leadership training and may also have opportunities for mentoring. And we support our reader in believing that AAM and AASLH should take a robust stance on mentoring, particularly at their annual meetings where the number of meet and greets is exponential.
We are always advising readers to read outside of the museum world. So here are some great mentoring pieces. If you’re not a Harvard Business Review reader, you should be. Read this piece: Demystifying Mentoring or this one Mentoring in a Hypercompetitive World. If you are a museum curator, the Association of Art Museum Curators, AAMC, has a formal mentoring program. In addition, the Center for Curatorial Leadership developed a Diversity Mentoring Initiative, and don’t forget about Museum Hue. In its role to increase diversity in operations, governance and staffing, it too provides mentoring opportunities. Last, we’d like to point to the UK’s museum organizations. We recommend these pages: Resources for Museum Mentors and Professional Development and Mentoring. Finally, there are people like Linda Norris who pay it forward by mentoring.
In closing, not everyone prospers in a mentoring situation. So know what you need. In order to work, mentoring means time, and a level of self-awareness so you understand enough about yourself to ask questions that are helpful. Don’t ask for a mentor if you can’t make the time to meet with one. Conversely, you may want to think about your life, if you know you need a mentor, but can’t find the time to talk with someone, perhaps something needs to change.
There is a lot in the wind these days about women–particularly young women–who interview in the museum field and fail to negotiate. I don’t know if it’s true. Or rather, anecdotally we know it happens, but that’s different from having the statistics to prove it’s true. Maybe repeating women don’t negotiate is another way of blaming salary inequity on them. If only you’d asked, you would have the same salary as your male colleagues. Lest you think I’m making this up, be sure to check out this article: Transparency and Gender Bias
That aside, we thought we’d build on last week’s blog on the value of staff, and talk about the value of an interview. This was prompted, in part, by Fast Company’s article about odd job interview questions. You can find it here: Weird Interview Questions. As you’ll see, these are questions prospective employers asked applicants. Some are specific to the job. Obviously, if you are hiring a Whole Foods meat cutter you want someone who has spent more than a nano-second thinking about efficient ways to dismember things. Ditto for the propulsion analyst and hot dogs. But what should museums, science centers and heritage organizations ask to find out how their applicants think? And do you ask those type of questions?
One of our interviewees in Leadership Matters, Bob Burns, the director at Connecticut’s Mattatuck Museum, reported that he sometimes gives interviewees a mock disaster scenario and asks them what they would do. Why? Because Bob isn’t a micro-manager. He knows he wants an independent staff and he is prepared to offer them authority and responsibility, but he needs to know they can cope. One way to find out is to ask what happens when an elderly volunteer has a heart attack just as three buses arrive for a school visit. Nightmare, right? It might be an opportunity to find out that in another life your prospective candidate took EMT training, but you’ll also hear her think out loud and perhaps get an inkling about whether she thinks logically and can move an idea forward in a linear fashion. So as leaders preparing to hire, consider questions that demonstrate how an individual thinks, behaves and responds. If the job description calls for her to lead a team, perhaps she should run a meeting for you–agenda provided, of course. If she is an educator, should she give a mini-lecture?
On the other hand, if you are the interviewee, do you interview strategically? Do you ask questions that go beyond content; questions that address how people work? Do you ask how new ideas are launched or how the organization deals with change? How often does it (department/team/organization) meet as a group? How much autonomy will you have? You get the gist.
You can interview at the most idyllic place in the world, but the objects won’t save you if the leadership is crippled. And if you’re a leader, money is too tight to invest in the wrong person. Do you want the person with vast experience, who seems like a loner, or the less experienced person who charmed everyone and could probably get the staff and the objects out of a burning building? The final, final message: Interviews are short; don’t squander the moment.
And share your thoughts,
As we work our way toward completion of the Women|Museums manuscript, we’re struck again and again by the difficulties of the 21st-century museum job market. The days of the neatly-typed tri-fold letter with the professionally printed resume are almost things of the past. There are openings everywhere yet access seems limited. Emerging leaders polish their LinkedIn pages, tighten the privacy settings on Facebook, while promoting causes on Instagram and Twitter, and network. And network some more. We’ve heard about some graduate programs that seem to do an excellent job as students move from coursework to the real world. And we’ve spoken a lot in these pages about the need to negotiate, to speak up, and to take risks. So here’s our top-10 list for job seekers:
- Be strategic. Know what type of job you want and what you want to learn. (If you’re not learning, you’ll be bored quickly.) If you’ve really thought about what you need as opposed to what you want, you may find that the assistant to the big-time director may be a better learning experience than being the lowly member of a 10-person department. With each job advertisement, ask yourself what you might learn. Pit that against what you know.
- Know where you can live and where you can’t. If moving to a town of 3,000 that’s three hours from the nearest small city makes you feel secretly nauseous, don’t apply. Conversely, if you’re someone who needs the great outdoors, don’t focus on urban museums. Seems lame, but sometimes our desire for a job overrides our best instincts and we end up employed, but sad because we’re not really in the place we want to be.
- Make a budget. Use the MIT living wage calculator and Time Magazine’s gender gap wage quiz to see how your industry and age group are affected. Yes, we understand that many museum positions don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to salaries, but saying no is a form of negotiation. Is it better to stay with your parents or be unemployed for an extra month or two or to struggle to get blood from a stone because you can’t pay student loans on what you’re making in a job that makes you miserable?
- Know yourself. Take stock. After 18 plus years of school, internships, part-time and full-time employment, who are you? What matters to you? Routine? Risk? Stability?Creativity?
- Interview a lot. Think of it like dating. In fact, interview for a position you’re not that enthusiastic about. Knowing you don’t care passionately takes the edge off and practice is practice. If you have friends or mentors who will rehearse an interview with you, take it. Treat Skype as if you’re interviewing in person. You are.
- Don’t just ask about the position, ask about the department and organization you’ll be working with and for. How do they make decisions? How do they come to consensus? How often do they meet as a group? How many exhibitions, programs, projects do they do in a given year? If someone comes up with a good idea, how long does it take before implementation?
- Read the organization’s value statements, HR policies, and mission. Do they mesh with your own values? Is the mission something you can support?
- Use your network. Who do you know who knows someone at the organization you’re interested in? Can they help? Can they offer insight into any of the questions in number six?
- Are you someone bound by geography? Are you the trailing spouse or partner? If so, are you looking at all the edges of the museum field, other arts organizations or complementary fields like development, communications or arts education?
- If you get an offer, don’t say yes unless you’re completely and totally sure. Say thank you. Think. Talk with friends, mentors, professors if you’re still in school. Will the money work? Is there something else you need that’s not money? An extra week of vacation because your parents are sick? Call back and ask. You’re in the sweet spot. If they say no, what will that tell you? Will you take the job anyway? Do you have other options?
And last, remember, this isn’t just about getting an organization to want you although admittedly it feels like it. Ultimately, the best matches happen not because you “got hired”, but because you not only found a livable salary and benefits, but equally important, you found a place that promises community, creativity and challenge that may ultimately make you a better (happier) person. We all want that.
Do you have a top 10? Share it with us here at leadershipmatters.
Joan H. Baldwin