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Survey Reveals Extent of Gender Inequity in Museum Workplace

Leadership Matters released highlights recently from its new survey examining the extent of gender discrimination in the museum workforce. The infographic statistics are drawn from a survey conducted by Leadership Matters on Facebook from March through May 2018 to which more than 700 people responded.

Devised by Anne W. Ackerson, co-author of Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace, the survey is an attempt to get a sense of where the museum workplace is in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

“The survey confirms what we suspected, but hoped wasn’t true,” Ackerson said. “Despite its reputation, the museum workplace mirrors the working world at large.” Sixty-two percent (62%) of the survey’s respondents reported that they had been the victim of or witnessed gender discrimination at work. “This is a wake-up call for museums, professional associations and graduate programs that there’s critical work to be done to promote equitable and safe workplaces,” she continued, adding, “It seems clear that for museums working toward long-term sustainability, gender equity and inclusion must be part of the equation.”

Forty-nine-percent (49%) of the respondents reported being a victim of verbal or sexual harassment, and more than half of the respondents say their paychecks reflect the gender pay gap. In addition to answering questions, survey respondents also wrote hundreds of comments, providing a rich commentary on everything from “mansplaining” to the difficulty of being heard to whether they feel more or less optimistic regarding gender equity in 2018. One wrote, “Made to do stereotypical "women's tasks" like getting the coffee or food, "secretarial work" like taking minutes or notes, arranging meetings, etc. when men with the same job title or lower in rank would not be asked to do such things,” while another added that she was barred from promotion because “young men with families must come first.”

“Gender equity isn’t the sole province of cis-gender women,” said Joan Baldwin, who is the primary author the Leadership Matters blog, and is a co-author with Ackerson of Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace. LGBTQ employees also face workplace discrimination as witnessed by this quote, “Because I'm gay, I have had employees not talk to me or make eye contact with me, treat me differently and have used hate speech about gay people four-feet from me.”

Research tells us that museums are among the most trusted organizations in the country, yet many museum workers find themselves the victims of a workplace rife with gender inequities. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the respondents’ comments underscore the emotional toll gender inequity takes on museum employees. “One of the survey’s most heart-rending comments was the single sentence that said ‘I feel like a second class citizen,” Ackerson said. “No one in this field should feel like that.”

Museums employ more than 350,000 people with a workforce that is fairly evenly divided between women and men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Survey respondents represent all museum disciplines with 30% representing art museums/art centers/sculpture gardens. More than half of the respondents are in the 20–39 age range.

About Leadership Matters: Joan Baldwin and Anne W. Ackerson are veteran museum professionals whose interest in museum leadership and gender equity have resulted in two books, Leadership Matters (AltaMira Press, 2013) and Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace (Routledge, 2017), along with white papers on GenX leadership and leadership succession for the Museum Association of New York. Their blog, Leadership Matters, explores a wide range of leadership and equity issues. They are frequent presenters on these topics and co-teach a course on museum leadership for the Johns Hopkins University Museum Studies graduate program.

About Women in the Museum: Baldwin’s and Ackerson’s work studying gender equity in the museum workplace resulted in the book Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace, which is based on surveys, focus groups and interviews with women and men to trace the extent of gender inequity in the museum field. As research progressed, the authors heard stories of discrimination that would make you think we were back in the 1950s and 60s. But they also heard stories of resilience and creativity as their sources spoke of getting work done. They also discovered the true depth and breadth of women’s contributions to museums, and early attempts by women to organize for greater equity.

To download the infographic:

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