Thursday, January 24, 2013

Women in museums: over-represented and underpaid

...our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.
President Barack Obama

As soon as the 2012 AAM National Comparative Museum Salary Study came out, I was on their website downloading my free copy. It's the first publication of its kind for the museum field and I'm thrilled to have access to a resource like this. You can download it for free too if you're an AAM member.  The biggest downfall of the study, which is admitted outright in Chapter 1, is its omission of the Mid-Atlantic and the West Coast. Without their representation this study leaves out New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, three of the top five "Most [Economically] Important Cities" ranked by Business Insider. As disappointing as that is, I'm confident the next Salary Study AAM publishes will include all 50 states. My real disappointment (note: not surprise) came later when I started to read the data.

Two thirds of the survey respondents were women and they outnumbered men in all but 8 of the 48 positions highlighted in the survey. And yet, a quick scan down each page reveals that, "Although women usually fill the majority of jobs in each position, it is clear from these tables that they typically receive less pay than their male peers." (26) Even though 60% of CFOs in museums are women and even though 57% of executive directors are women, men are making higher salaries. Not only are women not compensated equally, it's often women who are involved in making those decisions.

There are a lot of reasons why women make less than men. Not one of them is a good excuse. Change won't happen overnight, but there are a few things we can start doing right away. I recommend reading, Women Don't Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Regardless of how victim-blamey the title sounds, it's a useful book for anyone who avoids negotiation or could use some advice on self-advocacy.

Here's my call to arms, fellow Emerging Museum Professionals: let's take on those director-level positions, mentor the women in our lives in self-advocacy, then ensure that the women we hire receive the same salaries as men in the same positions. While we're at it we need to hire people of color (according to AAM's "data snapshot", the museum workforce is 79.4% white) and recognize the artistic and scientific achievement of women and people of color in our museums, but that's another blog post (or rather a whole lot of other blog posts).

It's unacceptable for any field, let alone a female-dominated one, to pay women less than men and it is completely within our power as museum professionals to change this. In fact, we're the only ones who can.