Gender Equity in Museums: An Important Issue that Should Be Addressed

Originally posted on Medium, March 30, 2017.

During the past month, I have discussed what I have learned about equity and inclusion in the museum field. Equity and Inclusion are both issues that must be discussed in each industry of the United States not just in museums. The experiences I have has this month during professional development programs showed me more evidence of how we all need to find out what to do to have a more diverse museum community. During my experiences as a museum educator, I have met so many incredible people of various backgrounds in the field and I am thankful for the opportunity to work with and connect with them. Museums create opportunities for people to learn and identify with the human issues their exhibits and programs present. Last week I started a discussion on gender represented in the museum; I specifically talked about women in the historical narrative of museums and how each museum has their own narratives of how the women were represented in their communities. Women are not only represented as historical figures in museum exhibits but there are women including myself who are museum professionals. This week I attended one of the New England Museum Association’s webinars Lunch with NEMA.

The Lunch with NEMA program is called The Gender Equity in Museums Movement which is named for the GEMM movement founded by Anne Ackerson and Joan Baldwin. This program was led by Ackerson and Baldwin as well as GEMM committee members Scarlett Hoey (NEMA YEP PAG co-chair and Program Manager at ArtsWorcester) and Matthew Dickey (Director of Development at Gore Place). Each of the presenters addressed six myths about gender equity and debunked these myths.

The first myth, for instance, was feminism is all about women being in power; feminism is really all about equity and equality or equal opportunity for all. The second myth was the contributions of women in museums are recognized. Not many people realize that there were so many early generations of women pioneers in museums such as Florence Higginbotham who was the founder of the Museum of African American History in Boston and the first Director of Gore place was a woman named Mrs. Patterson.

The third myth is the salary disparity between male and female museum workers is a thing of the past; unfortunately, women make 10,000 less than their male counterparts annually. The fourth myth was there are so many in museum field that gender equity can happen on its own; while it is true that there are a lot of women in the field but there is still enough evidence that gender equity needs to be addressed by staff. The fifth myth is that it’s not about gender anymore. The sixth myth is that change only happens from the top down; the presenters argued that employees at all levels can inspire change and persist with other managers, and it is important to know that your voice matters.

Then the presenters shared statistics to show why the numbers matter when discussing equity. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that in 2016 there are 364,000 workers in the museum field and of that number, forty-one percent were women. Also, for every dollar a man makes, women now make 79.6 cents; women art museum directors earned 75 cents in 2016 in institutions with budgets greater than $15 million and earnings almost equal in institutions less than $15 million.

According to the presenters and the survey webinar participants took, more museums are responding to equity across the board and the presenters discuss how museums are working towards equity. To work towards equity, museums should incorporate equity in the organization’s culture. A museum should have self-awareness of the issues as well as institutional commitment at the CEO and board levels. Even though implementing equity can be challenging, it is important to have equity as part of the institutional values of museums. Another way museums can work towards equity is to raise visibility of women in museums.

They also pointed out that staff can lead toward change but the board must recognize and practice equity by putting it in the policies. The presenters provided resources on policies and practices; there are equity and diversity policies resources provided by the American Historical Association and the American Library Association. In addition, there is also an AAM LGBTQ guide museums could use on equity. It is stressed that museums should have an HR policy and staff should know what their HR policy is for their museum. Another resource they provide is ASTC Diversity tool kit: (http://www.astc.org/resource/equity/ASTC_DiversityEquityToolkit_Leadership.pdf )

Not only did they discuss resources but they also stress that the gender equity agenda should be enforced early. For instance, professional associations need to form programs that educate individuals about equity. Also, museum studies programs should also incorporate lessons in equity and educate students about salary negotiations before they enter the workforce. The lessons need to share what the Gender Equity Museums Movement is which raises awareness in gender equity and explains what they want to accomplish. To learn more about the organization, you can find information here: http://www.genderequitymuseums.com.

The most important lesson I learned, and what we all should take away from this program, is that gender equity is not a woman’s issue it is a human issue. We need to recognize that equity is for all of us, and we need to find out how we can bring more awareness to equity.

What is your organization doing to enforce equity in your workspace? There have been a lot of programs lately that discuss equity in museums, what do you think inspired these programs to discussed now?

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