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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Baldwin

Breaking Away from “Stupid”: Maybe It’s New Staff, Not New Data?


Last week our post on bullying brought comments about how bullies and staff in general are hired. Several of the commenters offered potential interview techniques to weed out the mean, the lazy, and the pompous. If you also read Christy Coleman’s blog post “Are History Museums Stuck on Stupid?” you can’t help but wonder if, as Coleman says, “too many [museums] are stuck in pedagogical or operating models that simply don’t work well anymore.” And, if you didn’t read it, you should.

Coleman chastises the field for wringing its collective hands as visitation declines; for meeting locally, regionally and nationally to hear about whatever the next big thing is when there is no one-size-fits-all cure; and for believing data is the magic elixir that will send visitation soaring. She concludes by offering an example of visitor engagement from The American Civil War Museum where she is the CEO. No surprise, its visitation has grown slowly and steadily over the last five years as Coleman and her staff engage their community in its own story. (We profile Coleman in our book, Leadership Matters, BTW.)

One of the smartest things Coleman says is “Museums want to be taken seriously, but often the biggest mistake is framing exhibits and programs for other colleagues.” In other words, don’t preach to the choir. What she doesn’t mention–at least overtly–is museums may be stuck on stupid (or mediocre) because their staff (and boards) need a shake up. We know there’s no shortage of eager, optimistic museum graduate students trying desperately to break into the field. Why then, especially in the world of history museums and heritage organizations, are so many museums trapped doing what they’ve always done: the roped off room; the docent-led tour; the exhibit of like objects with brief, yet grave, labels? What would happen if these same museums broke with tradition and hired an English major, an art major, or a psychology minor? Would our careful world implode if we looked at things differently? What if the English major’s charge was to figure out a house museum’s narrative and the places where it intersects with today’s world. Today the word revolutionary can have a slightly nasty tinge, but what about when it’s applied to 18th-century Boston? How are those revolutionaries different?

To ask these kind of questions you have to have a staff who is creative, non-judgmental, and whose primary concern is making their narrative resonate in their community. And to be clear, their community is the place where their historic house, heritage organization or museum is located. It’s not where the board lives or where the staff lives. If this is the staff you want, then your interview techniques not only have to suss out whether job applicants are vain and lazy, but whether they think in original ways, what books are on their bedside table, what was the last movie they saw, and when was the last time they took a risk, and whether it paid off. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that rule- or tradition-bound cultures drive creative people away. Here’s Lolly Daskel on why they leave: 10 Dumb Rules That Make Your Best People Want to Quit.

To break out you have to want to break out. I’m fond of quoting David Young, Director of Cliveden in Philadelphia (and another Leadership Matters interviewee), who said organizations have to “allow leadership.” I would alter that and say organizations have to want change, and that begins with who you hire.

How is your museum breaking out of the loop?

Joan Baldwin


What Teamwork Means for Museums


If you read anything about leadership, you will hear the words teamwork. It’s used in job descriptions as in “We want a team player,” and in dismissals, “She wasn’t a good fit, not a team player.” In short, it’s the 21st-century building block for organizations big and not so big.

In small museums your team may be everyone–trustees, volunteers, administrative assistant, the director (you) and another staff member–while in larger institutions, the people in your department constitute your team. In giant institutions, your team may be the folks you work with daily. You may see others from your department only weekly or monthly.

Webster’s lists three definitions for the word team: a group of people who compete in a sport; a group of people who work together; and last-for all of you in living history museums–a group of two or more animals used to pull a cart or wagon. By contrast, the Business Dictionary defines team as “A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project.” It goes a step further by pointing out that “A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.”

Let’s pause here to point out that a well-functioning team doesn’t necessarily adjourn to the neighborhood watering hole after work or have pot luck dinners together. It can. But as a museum leader, it’s not your job to create friendships. It’s your job to define the team’s goal and provide the resources (money, additional people/expertise, and time) to achieve it. Everyone may agree that your mission is to serve public, but there are likely as many variants of that ideal as you have staff members. Your role as a leader is to define how you want that goal accomplished. Otherwise the work you assign is simply a variation of that old story of the leader sending a worker out to bring home a rock. When he sees the rock, he says, “No, not that one.” Do not make your team guess what you want. Conversely, if you’re a team member and feel as though you’re being sent to look for a rock, ask your director to define what she’s looking for. Repeat it back. Make sure you understand. (And she does too.)

Next, you need to insure that your team has the right composition. Perhaps some of you are sighing right now, the thought bubble over your heads reading, “Who is she kidding, there is no money to hire the perfect team or will to fire chronically weak members.” True enough. But all business research points to more success and innovation when teams are diverse, meaning not just racially, but age, gender, and professional focus too. So what do you do? If you work in a medium to large institution, consider pulling in team members from other departments. Don’t make them tokens. They will hate it and so will you. Bring them on because they have skill sets and points of view you need, and be transparent about it. If you need a 25-year old who Tweets on the way to work, then let your team know that’s why she’s in the room. And if you work in a tiny or small institution, consider team building as a way to grow your organization. Ask the folks whose skill sets you need to join for the duration of a particular project. Tell your team to take an afternoon off once a week so that the new director of the Boys and Girls Club can join you in the evening because that’s when he’s free to volunteer.

Last, and most importantly, make sure your organization can support the team in whatever project you’ve assigned from the most mundane–is there adequate meeting space and IT support for them to work–to money and board or leadership consent. There’s nothing worse for team members than working on a project only to be told that leadership isn’t supportive, and all their work is for naught.

Hopefully, if you provide your team with a clear goal, have the right people around the table, and adequate support for them to do their work, they will develop a shared mindset around the project whether it’s a large exhibit, a benefit, or a new way of working with your community. If you are a director, build in periodic check-ins to look at how well the team understood the project mission, absorbed new members, and is moving toward a successful conclusion. And remember to say thank you. In the museum world there’s no such thing as end-of-year bonuses, so make your thanks genuine, not perfunctory. And if a team member steps out of her defined task to take on a new role, be sure to ask if there are ways you as leader (along with the organization) can support that new skill.

Tell us how you work with teams.

Joan Baldwin




Happy Anniversary!


Dear Readers,

Believe it or not, this is our 100th post so we want to begin by thanking each and every one of you. From 2013, when we had only 823 views, we have grown. A lot. In just four months of 2016, we reached 25, 712 views. So whoever you are and wherever you are, many thanks. You are part of a community of museum and nonprofit folks from 95 different countries who all share an interest in leadership.

As a way of saying thank you, we will send a copy of Leadership Matters (Alta Mira, 2013) to the four readers who send us the most compelling leadership challenges for future posts by May 15th. We need more than a one-word suggestion so take your time, and describe the questions and issues you would like to read about. You can reply by commenting on this post or to Please include your name and address as well.

Next, we would like to offer the opportunity for a guest post. If you work in the museum or non-profit world and have something to say about leadership, let us know. Please email us at with some background on who you are, what you do, a brief writing sample, and an topic or theme.

We’ll close by saying how important courage is, in leadership, and daily life. It is so easy not to act, not to speak up, not to respond. To be self-protective. But change comes from a multitude of individuals acting differently as easily as it does from one dynamic leader. We work in a wonderful field, and we owe it to our institutions and to each other, to advocate for all our colleagues, to be kind, to mentor, and to, frankly, enjoy work.

Joan Baldwin & Anne Ackerson









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


Intercom 2015: What We Heard; What We Talked About

Elaine Gurian

Anne and I returned Friday from a quick trip to Intercom 2015 in Washington, D.C. The three-day conference of global museum leaders, which began Wednesday evening, was Intercom’s first meeting in the United States. Unlike many conferences this one was small enough (140+ attendees from about 20 countries) to meet in museums around the city. Centered around three themes: The Essential MuseumThe Enduring Organization, and The Sustainable Leader, the conference drew a number of thoughtful folk and unleashed some deep conversations. Our panel, which included our colleague Marsha Semmel, was titled The Sustainable 21st-Century Leader. Marsha talked about VUCA leadership (here’s a good link for what VUCA is all about) and we gave a broad overview of some of the findings from our book. At some point in the future, we believe Intercom will post the conference PowerPoints if you are interested.

Below is a collection of random thoughts, comments, quotes and websites from our 36-hour trip.

  • Elaine Gurian opened the meeting (that’s her picture up at the top).  She cautioned her audience that while a portion of the museum-going public wants the same iconic museum it has always known, many institutions are expanding programs and collections access to include traditionally disenfranchised audiences–moving, as she put it, from formal temples to less formal gathering places.
  • Gurian reminded us that museums’ primary function is idealogical, and that by their very nature they often reinforce belonging or exclusion. For her, the essential museum of the future looks more like a drop-in service space and less like an occasional day-out museum. She said, “”All public institutions have a role in creating peaceful environments for strangers and thus bringing diverse audiences together.” And also asked, “Have you wondered about the diversity of the library and why libraries are more democratic than museums?”
  •  Gurian believes we need to change our basic mindset, understand each visitor’s questions, and create spaces that are in service to the visitor rather than the gallery. Her mantra: Institutions that are welcoming, porous, accepting.
  • From Laura Schiavo’s panel on Next, Not Best: Workshop on Sustainable Practices we heard from Tony Butler, executive director of the Derby Museums. What an alluring concept to engage community with museum-making and, in doing so, making meaning of the world.  We recommend you visit their website, which is equally alluring and fun.
  • Also part of that panel was Gretchen Jennings, creator of the blog The Empathetic Museum, who said that museums must undergo an inner transformation; and that museums must have a civic vision.
  • And from the Dirty Money session, Bob Janes’ quote via video, “that museums are sleepwalking into the future.”
  • Last, for everyone who thinks New York City is the apex of all things museum, think again. There is a lot going on in the nation’s capital.

Who Are You Leading For? You or Your Museum?

Everyone Leads

Recently I’ve found myself listening to NPR’s Here & Now, a show I’m ashamed to say I somehow managed to miss. Not only is it good listening, but in the last two weeks I’ve heard two interesting broadcasts that you may also want to hear or read. Friday, Here & Now ran a long piece on women in leadership in American ballet. Don’t be skeptical until you’ve listened. You are free to turn it off if you don’t hear some parallels between the ballet world and the museum world especially those of you who are women.

I also heard an interview with Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, the author of Leadership B.S.: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time.  Professor Pfeffer is NOT a fan of blogs like this one. He’s not much on the burgeoning leadership book industry either. He believes there are too many gurus out there, babbling uselessly and working hard to create metaphors out of their personal narratives. I think his exact quote was that “the leadership business is filled with fables.” While he acknowledges the power of stories, he believes all of us need “accurate and comprehensive data, either qualitative or quantitative.” That is probably true particularly for museum land where we wander about with way too little data in the human resource/leadership arena. He also suggested there’s a difference between the values we espouse for our leaders: courage, vision, empathy, for example, and the ones leaders actually possess, and which, for good or for ill, we’re left to follow.

Last, Pfeffer made a distinction between leaders who lead for themselves and leaders who lead for the institution. At its most basic, this is the difference between the classic ego driven my-way-or-the-highway leader and the servant leader. And that made me think. How many of you have worked for someone whose real goal was personal advancement? Was it automatically bad? Over the years I’ve known some very successful leaders in the museum world. They preside over building projects, vast renovations and top-to-bottom programming change, and in some cases, it’s less about the organization as a whole than it is about the leader. Call it resume building. Call it self-centered, but the work gets done and it’s not necessarily shoddy. It’s just more about them than their museum. The flip side of the coin is the proverbial servant leader. Ask her what she does and she’ll say she “serves” as the director for the blah dee blah history museum. Servant leaders are humbled by their work and their sense of purpose overshadows ego and personal gain.

While these are two diametrically opposed styles, I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong here. As long as the leader’s goals are aligned with an organization’s mission, her motivations are somehow less important. That’s from the leader’s point of view though. Working for the servant leader might be vastly different from working for a leader who’s a closet empire builder. Is it naive to assume that what motivates a museum director might also influence how she treats her staff, how she invests in her staff, and the degree to which creativity and risk are tolerated? On the other hand, how could seeing yourself as the museum’s servant not change how you do everything?

Which side of the leadership coin do you find yourself on? Or does it change? And what do you think of the world of leadership self-help? Do you stand with Professor Pfeffer and say just give me the data or are you inspired by others’ leadership stories? We love hearing from you and despite the Professor’s opinions, we don’t have any plans to stop writing.

Joan Baldwin