Gender Equity in the Museum Workplace


December 2016:  The platform paper encourages readers to be in touch and to post examples of equity in practice at our Padlet.  The links in the paper aren’t live, but they are here.

To reach GEMM by email:

Like the paper’s designer?  Reach Luke at

November 2016:  A Call for Gender Equity in the Museum Workplace is the newest publication from Leadership Matters and colleagues. In addition to highlighting some of the most egregious equity issues, the paper outlines action steps for addressing them.


Our manuscript for Women in theMuseum: Lessons from the Workplace was sent off in August 2016 to Routledge with an anticipated publication date of spring 2017.  Meanwhile the gender equity conversation continues apace — hardly a day goes by without a news article, blog post or research paper on the issue.  And now on the eve of a US presidential election that could see the country’s first woman commander-in-chief, gender equity at all levels and in all industries is as relevant and as urgent as ever.


Big news, dear readers. In November we signed a contract with Left Coast Press for a book tentatively titled Women & Museums: Lessons from the Field. Our editors will be Mitch Allen from Left Coast and John Strand, formerly head of AAM’s publishing program. There are many things the museum field doesn’t talk about. Gender is one of them. We hope Women & Museums will address some of those questions. Here are a few thoughts from the proposal we shared with Left Coast Press:

Museums are complicated places. Non-profits caring for America’s patrimony, they are alternately cast as elite or powerful, fun or boring, important or irrelevant. With collections and exhibitions both lauded and vilified, museums are sometimes significant economic drivers and sometimes astoundingly vulnerable. Collectively they employ 400,000 people, more than half of them women. Women & Museums: Lessons from the Field will delve into the professional lives of a female workforce who works across the spectrum from support staff to curators, CEOs, and more.

A lively, thoughtful examination of women working at all levels in today’s museums, Women & Museums is first and foremost a book about the triumphs and challenges women in the museum field face. Is work in the museum field different for women than for men? Is it different than the business world? How does leadership, internal decision-making and external perception change in the female dominated museum world? Are workplace challenges more acute for women if a field is under-resourced, under-appreciated, or in some instances, under-utilized? Supported by a series of interviews with women in museums big and small, at every stage of their careers, this book explores the 21st century workplace through their eyes and the museum lens.

While issues of diversity and sexual orientation provide important historical and clarifying context to the narrative, this book focuses on the challenges and survival tactics shared by women in the museum workplace, an environment almost exclusively nonprofit, under-resourced, and little understood by the public.


This is a big topic. We’ve already had great support from the museum sisterhood, and have assembled a stellar group of women to act as an advisory group. They include:

  • Paula Birnbaum, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Academic Director of the Museum Studies Master Program at University of San Francisco
  • LaNesha DeBardelaben, VP of Assessment & Community Engagement, Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit (pursuing a PhD in U.S. History with a specialization in Women’s and Gender Studies)
  • Kimberli Gant, Doctoral Candidate, University of Texas at Austin and author of “The ‘Face’ of New York State Museums: An Introductory Analysis on Staff Demographics”; former Director of Exhibitions, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (NYC)
  • Martha Morris, Assistant Director of Museum Studies, George Washington University
  • Marjorie Schwarzer, Author and Administrative Director, Museum Studies, University of San Francisco
  • Marsha Semmel, Senior Advisor, Noyce Leadership Institute
  • Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D, Founder, Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation and Professor of Women’s Studies at Syracuse University

We’ve also begun meeting with small groups of women–at AAM in May, at AASLH in September–for informal discussions. Our next women’s roundtable takes place at the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society (CT), January 21 at 5 pm. For more information, contact Liz Shapiro at the Connecticut League of History Organizations. In the coming months we’ll ask those of you who are interested to take part in a survey. Please let us know if you would like to participate. In the meantime, think about your own story as it relates to gender and leadership. Have something to say? Let us know.


4 Comments on “Gender Equity in the Museum Workplace”

  1. GD says:

    Very good initiative, thank you! Gabrielle Desgagné, Museology Assistant, Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec, Canada

  2. Lee Humiston says:

    This is all so much bull… The only, and I mean only, qualification is competence…

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