A GEMM Circle Reflection

By Anne Mahoney, and Elise Couture-Stone


As many museum professionals can tell you, as soon as they enter the field, gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment experiences are common. That was our reaction to the Report on Data Analysis of the Survey on Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in the Public History Field (“Report”). Given the ubiquity of this knowledge among employees, why is this report so important, and what can we glean from the contents that will lead to measurable change in the field?

To answer these questions, the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), and the National Council on Public History (NCPH) teamed up with the Gender Equity in Museums community for the latest GEMM Circle discussion.

In this conversation, we talked about the purpose of the report, the findings of the report, and we raised some new questions about how we can better support our community going forward. While this limited dataset cannot be extrapolated to define the entire field of public history, the information and stories that came about as a result of this research, has a very important story to tell us.


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The purpose of the Report is to identify, inform, and ultimately, address the ways in which sexual harassment and gender discrimination often play out in the public history field.

The Report itself provides a percentage breakdown reflecting on the frequency with which harassment and discrimination instances are occurring. The structure of the Report outlines the methodology used and catalogs the participants' demographics, descriptions of the occurrences, and decisions on whether or not to formally report these occurrences. And finally, the Report concludes with participant responses regarding the resolution, restitution, and restorative justice for those victimized.

Here's a quick breakdown of the findings:

The Report states that in the instances surveyed, having policies alone did not prevent harassment and discrimination from occurring in the workplace (pg.4) This is to say that policies need to be supported by more robust infrastructures of support for employees being victimized, and more clearly state what repercussions will take place for those perpetuating the offensive behaviors (pg.4). Further, the survey analytics also show that in most instances, the respondent chose to go to another colleague or friend for support rather than formally disclosing the instance to their leadership team, where the potential for official support could have been extended (pg.70). Of the participants surveyed, young folks, ages 18-34, were most commonly harassed or discriminated against by older perpetuators, ages 45-64, and on more than one occasion (see figures labeled 1 and 2 below).


Overall, 76% of the respondents reported that they, themselves, had experienced gender discrimination, sexual harassment, or both, and 61% reported that they knew someone who had. 43% of the respondents reported they had experienced or knew of someone else who had experienced sexual harassment and gender discrimination five times or more throughout their career in the public history field.


Figure 1



Figure 2




Reports like these are important for employees and employers alike to educate themselves on the impact discrimination and harassment have on individuals and their careers. The most common refrain that came up during our GEMM Circle was that there is still “more to be done” to “move the needle;” a refrain about which some of us expressed a type of exhaustion, or fatigue, "because nothing seems to change." One participant in this conversation even mentioned a lack of allies in "other, [woman-identified] colleagues". The fear of not being believed, being labeled as a troublemaker, or even being blamed for the instances that occurred all seemed to compound the fatigue victims were feeling.

What the Report shows us, is that understanding power imbalances in the workplace, including training on this topic; policy changes giving widespread agency among staff to call-out perpetuators when concerning behavior is exhibited, and any access to a more robust Human Resources department, along with the immediate separation of the perpetuator and victim, would all go a long way in restoring feelings of safety, collegial respect, and support for the victims. Immediately addressing workplace culture when these situations arise also weighed heavily on respondents' minds.


The takeaway here is two-fold:

  1. For those currently struggling, you are not alone. There are resources and communities of support to help get you through these circumstances.

  2. However, the other main takeaway here is that the work to eradicate sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace cannot solely fall on the shoulders of the victims. It is our community as a whole, that needs to come together and address this issue; support victims, and remove those who cannot abide by these policies.

For further reading on this topic, GEMM provides a list of “things you need to know” for those looking fortested strategies and solutions on how to deal with harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

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