Why You Need Mentoring and Mentoring Needs You


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.




What’s in an Interview?

job interview

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,

job interview

Our Top 10 for Job Seekers

Help Wanted

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. Read the organization’s value statements, HR policies, and mission. Do they mesh with your own values? Is the mission something you can support?
  8. 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?
  9. 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?
  10. 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


Museum Salaries Redux


woman hanging painting

Not to beat a dead horse, but among the many responses to our Salary Agenda was an amusing, but ultimately sobering, one from our colleague Ilene Frank, the Chief Curator and Director of Collections and Education at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS). Frank reports that she’s currently slogging through applications for CHS’s Research & Collections Associate position and for an Exhibit Developer job. In the course of reading through 200-plus resumes, cover letters and other attendant personal PR, Frank had a moment. Here’s her advice on what NOT to do when entering the museum job market:

1. Make sure you have real experience. I want to know that you have touched objects, worked with archives, maybe installed an exhibit. Book learning is not enough.
2. If your experience is mostly academic, working in libraries, research centers, explain to me why you want to be in a museum. We are that wacky cousin next to our academic library relations.
3. Digitizing a photo and placing it in an online catalog is no longer revolutionary experience. Yes, I need to know you can scan a document but talk about what digitizing means. How is it creating access? How is it improving record keeping?
4. Write a dynamic cover letter. Avoid templates. Make me want to have a conversation with you. And please do not say you will cover your relocation costs. Negotiate with me if you are offered the position. Don’t sell yourself short at the get-go.
5. Maybe it’s because I’m now a different generation than those coming straight out of school but enough with the exclamation points in your emails. You don’t know me. You may be excited, but please be professional and mature.

We also really enjoyed a link originally posted by AASLH. It’s a dictionary defining terms associated with the hiring process for those who may not be familiar with the nonprofit (or museum) world. You can read the whole piece by going here: Nonprofit Terms for Ordinary People. Our particular favorites were:

We are embarking on a new phase: Everything else we’ve tried has been an epic failure, and you will now save us.

Looking for someone passionate about the field: Applicants should be willing to accept being paid peanuts.

We value professional development: We expect you to perform your usual work while staying on top of trends by attending relevant trainings, workshops, and conferences but there is actually no budget for said activities. And don’t plan to do that stuff on the clock.

And on a more serious note, since this would normally be the post we devote to women, we must underscore that all the baddy badness enumerated in our posts and your comments about salaries are especially bad for women.  As many of you noted in an underpaid and under-resourced field, where the philosophy governing hiring is too often a variation of the old saw “We’re a non-profit so we don’t need to make money” women get the short end of the straw.  And, when you overlay that with a world where women everywhere are paid anywhere from 78 cents to 84 cents on the dollar compared to men, and you have the recipe for a storm of controversy. As Christine Engel, Chief Human Resources Officer at the Wadsworth Antheneum (CT), shared with us in a recent interview for our new book, it seems that in many museums “there’s no compensation strategy and philosophy. You have to have the intention [to make change] and the current mode in many museums is to ‘pay the average’.”

We should also point out since no one mentioned it in the comments, that the salary food chain goes something like this: white heterosexual men; queer men; queer women; white heterosexual women; black men; Hispanic men; women of color; transgender women.



Museums and the Salary Conundrum


Since we spent our last post talking about new leaders, here’s another big elephant in the room: paychecks. How little is too little? This week, among the job announcements that float across Museum-L were two from a state museum system. That’s important because state jobs–unlike private employers–list their salaries. They were, broadly defined, educator’s positions, which seem to be among the most poorly paid in a poorly paid field. The starting salaries were $29,500.

Yesterday I interviewed a graduate student. She’s enrolled at a highly regarded program in California. She is one term into her master’s program. She also just got a coveted internship in a distinguished art museum. She is older than the average graduate student, has worked in the museum world before, and already has a subject-based masters. She’s married to someone with a full time job. That’s the good news. The bad news? She has more than $20,000 in loans. She has at least three semesters and a second internship to complete before receiving her degree. She lives in a very pricey area. She loves her program, which admittedly seems dedicated to placing competent students with good museums, but when I asked if anyone had talked to her about how long it will take her to pay off the loans at a starting salary of say $40,000, the answer was no.

A year ago while a group of us were teaching in the Getty Leadership Program at AAM, one of our colleagues completed a hire via phone. Our colleague returned to the group with a new employee on board, but looking puzzled. He reported that the new hire had simply said yes. No negotiation, no questions about benefits. Just yes.

I offer these stories because they are all facets of a bigger problem: we work in an underpaid, under-resourced field. And for too long, too many people have told us that it is such a privilege to participate, that we should suck it up, deal with the fact that we’re thirty and still need roommates to pay the rent, and revel in the fact that we have a museum position.

I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I think it’s time we started talking about what’s acceptable and what is not. So for all you trustees and human resource committees out there, please understand that hiring someone isn’t a solution if the salary you are offering isn’t more than a living wage. Don’t know what that is? Visit MIT’s living wage calculator: Living Wage. When I put in the town where the jobs mentioned above were advertised, I discovered that if, as a newly-minted graduate, you are offered the starting salary of $29,500, you would make approximately $3 more per hour than that municipality’s living wage. And the living wage is just that. You can cover your expenses, but that’s it. Need I point out that the $24 per day in excess of your living wage won’t allow for much in the way of a daily latte, drinks after work much less a new car payment?

Part of good leadership is recognizing the value of staff. Good staff, happy and contented staff push organizations forward. They make change. They make things grow like endowments and visitation. Staff looking for their next (better paying) position aren’t focused on their jobs. They are discontented, worried and cranky, and they always leave sooner than you expect them to. Why? Because they’re discontented, worried and cranky. So…if you’re thinking of starting a museum, don’t hire unless you can pay someone better than a living wage. If you already run a museum, as a trustee or director, maybe it’s time you had a frank discussion about salaries and how they do or do not drive your institution. And if you’re in the job market, for goodness sake use the living wage calculator to find a baseline. To be really fulfilling a job should feed your soul and your bank account.

And tell us what you think and how you’re managing.

Joan Baldwin


The Museum Leadership Pipeline

job_stressThis week I was inspired by Michelle Zupan’s blog posting titled “What They Don’t Teach You in Graduate School”. I love its direct, frank tone. What Zupan glosses over though is how many graduate students with dreams of working with collections and “doing history” end up as museum leaders.

If you use the Smithsonian’s list of Museum Studies Programs–and there are others–there are now 71 programs that offer a master’s level degree in public history or museum studies. I am not delusional and I understand that universities are not in the business of altruism. They open programs to make money, but it seems to me that if you unleash bright, enthusiastic students into the museum world every 18 or 24 months, you have an obligation to prepare them for that world.

I also understand that some graduate programs may do an excellent job at the things Zupan found wanting in her own preparation, and that it’s dangerous to condemn everyone for the mistakes and omissions of a few, but we all bear the brunt of those omissions. So every spring new graduates are hired at museums believing their new job will resemble a graduate school practicum or their internship until it isn’t. Some take jobs and then find themselves catapulted into leadership positions. Others zoom right to leadership because of its allure, and then, as Zupan points out, realize that not only do they get to do everything, they HAVE to do everything. She says that an understanding of HVAC 101 might be helpful while pointing out that new hires might also need a basic plumbing class along with Quickbooks and Excel under their belts. Not only is it stressful for the newly hired, it’s also wasteful. Museums can’t move forward when leadership is constantly learning and re-learning the basic tools of running an organization. It is why, we suspect, some museums and historical organizations hire one beginning director after another. They leave because the job has been enough of a learning experience to launch them to the next rung on the ladder. Or they leave because they can’t learn fast enough and frustrations mount up.

So for all of you out there heading toward your first pay check in the museum world, here’s the Leadership Matters list of skills/knowledge you might want ahead of time.

If you haven’t accepted a position:

  1. Understand what comparable salaries are in the city or region before accepting a position.
  2. Explore the local housing market: Can you afford to live near your job?
  3. Be willing to negotiate if #1 and 2 don’t seem right.
  4. Is there a ready-made network of museum professionals and colleagues in the area? How about other arts organizations and non-profits?

If you find yourself suddenly on the road to leadership, you might use:

  1. A healthy dose of self-awareness.
  2. Courage and a great sense of humor.
  3. Clarity when you speak and write.
  4. The ability to craft a budget and a spreadsheet and a sense of humor if you mess either one up.
  5. The ability to listen without interrupting either in your head or in conversation.
  6. A mentor or boss who sees you as someone to invest in, as someone whose personal and professional growth is important, not just to your new organization, but to the field as a whole. And who will also be someone who will support you when there’s an ice storm and your museum loses power for a week.

Joan Baldwin


Ambition in the Museum Workplace

Finish Line


“I want everybody to close their eyes and think of a dirty word, like a really dirty word. Now open your eyes. Was any of your words ambition? I didn’t think so. See, I just kind of started wondering why female ambition is a trait that people are so afraid of. Why do people have prejudiced opinions about people who accomplish things? Why is that perceived as a negative?”

Reese Witherspoon @ the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, November 9, 2015

This month put me in contact with a number of young museum and non-profit folk looking to advance in their careers. All of them are women–not a surprise given that Anne Ackerson and I are focused on our manuscript for Women|Museums to be published by Left Coast Press next year. At the same time, we constantly read pieces primarily written for the for-profit world about job getting and job leaving. In short, about ambition.

Here’s what we know about ambition in the for-profit world. Everybody has it to begin with, men and women. Everybody wants to be the best, get the office with the windows and the big salary. Then something weird happens. According to a 2015 survey by Bain and Company women’s ambitions drop by a whopping 60 percent. Before you jump to the conclusion that’s the result of the mommy track, it’s not. The results were the same for women who were married, not married, parents, not parents. Worse, while women’s confidence plummets, men’s does not. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next. Women’s confidence and aspirations, which begin higher than men’s, drops so that by the time they are senior leaders their confidence that they can reach the top spot is 29 percent versus men’s which is 60 percent. If you want to read more about this go here: Bain Study.

So we know what happens in business, but because of the museum world’s abysmal data keeping and seeming inability to turn a lens on itself as a workplace, we have no way of knowing if it’s true in museums. Then, if you add the fact that museums aren’t one world, but many, the narrative becomes more complex. Art museums that draw staff from the academy have a different culture than history, science or children’s museums although we know from AAMD’s 2014 study that women’s ambitions are thwarted in the art world as they move up the leadership ladder. Anecdotally, that also appears to be true in the history museum world even though its population is almost evenly split between men and women.

Here is what we’ve noticed: Preparation for strategic thinking about one’s career is often absent or downplayed at the graduate and early career level; getting the first job seems to be an end in itself; too many spend too little time strategizing about what taking and staying in a given position means for the long haul; choices often seem born out of enthusiasm–a sense of I’m so glad to be here–rather than a step toward something bigger and what bigger means; and there is an unspoken agenda, that leaving a position may hurt the organization and its needs come before an individual’s do.  Most jarring of all–sometimes it feels as if we, as a field, are kind of proud of the idea that we’re non-profits so being openly ambitious, especially openly ambitious young women, isn’t what we do.

Of course that might be true. Unlike the business world, museums offer median salaries somewhere around $45,000. There are few perquisites and leadership positions can be demanding. Moving up the ladder may mean literally moving which may be easier for some than others

So…as leaders what’s our role? Are you a mentor at work and outside work? Do you push staff to chart a course for themselves? Are they comfortable talking with you about career next steps? Are you comfortable listening? Conversely, as a leader do YOU have a mentor or mentors? Do you talk career strategies with them?

This week as we gather with family and friends, let’s make a pact to be more intentional about museums as workplaces. Let’s do our best to encourage upward mobility, salary negotiation and career strategizing. The field will be better for it. And as always, let us know your thoughts on ambition and charting career choices.

Joan Baldwin