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.


  1. This is an issue near and dear to me. Twice during my 35 career in museums I discovered that I was getting paid less than my male counterparts. In the first case I went to a lawyer who knew the county executive and I was immediately reimbursed and given equal pay. At the next museum the budget person let it slip that two other women and I were getting paid less than our males counterparts. We went to our boss and were immediately reimbursed and given equal pay. That last incident was only 12 years ago. It is deplorable that this is still the case. We need to take action now and demand equal pay. We also need to help our fellow females in learning how to 1) find out how their pay compares to their male colleagues 2)How to get equal pay.

  2. How do you explain women getting paid less than men in museums? Especially since many of these pay issues are decided by women. I think there is more to this issue than meets the eye. In fact I believe the whole issue of unequal pay based on gender is not truthfully discussed. I think the equal pay proponents have grabbed the public’s attention but have not truthfully explained the “wage-gap.” The message that women get paid less than men resonates and gets people, primarily women, up in arms over what appears to be discrimination in the work place. This article helps to explain some of the disparity in pay. There is of course discrimination in the workplace but it is less discussed, especially hiring practices. Look at the staff listing at most museums and you will typically see the majority of employees are females. The same can be seen in in history departments (my field) across the nation. It is interesting that women can make hiring decisions to put more women in these fields, but then don’t pay them according to the what their few male counterparts make? Absurd. Look for the truth.

    1. The facts are right here in front of us. Women make less than men. This is a simple, straighforward salary survey.

      Misogyny is systemic discrimination that affects everyone, and this data proves that even women-dominated fields are not immune. Men are not the only perpetrators of misogyny. Women can be just as sexist as men. This is system of discrimination that we all exist in and it's everyone's responsibility to work toward equality.

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