How to Lead a Professional Development Program: Reflections of My Experience Presenting One on Gender Equity

Added to Medium, March 8, 2018

On Monday, March 5, 2018, I have had my first professional development program that I have presented for the field. The program was the Long Island Museum Association Roundtable, hosted by Preservation Long Island, called “Lessons from the Workplace: Women in the Museum”. I presented at this program with Anne Ackerson, who co-founded Gender Equity in Museums Movement in 2016. It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot from the process of arranging it to presenting the program.

This process began last year when I met with a then board member of the Long Island Museum Association (LIMA) at a previous Roundtable program to propose an idea for a future Roundtable program. Since I then recently joined Gender Equity in Museums Movement, I thought it would be a good idea to bring awareness of gender equity to my colleagues on Long Island. For the next few months, I discussed the idea with various LIMA board members and presidents and figure out when the roundtable should be scheduled.

After proposing this idea, I kept in contact with the then LIMA board member until he retired from the museum field. I continued the conversation with the remaining board members. A date was finally set for March 5th, 2018.

While having discussions with the LIMA board members, I informed the rest of the GEMM coalition that LIMA is interested in having a program about gender equity. Since I have not been involved with GEMM for very long and that it was the first presentation I have had since graduate school, I asked during one of the GEMM meetings if anyone is interested in coming down to Long Island to help with the presentation. Anne Ackerson volunteered to help with the presentation by collaborating together on the presentation and driving down to Long Island to co-present with me.

She and I determined that it would be best to edit an existing PowerPoint presentation so we would not necessarily need to re-invented the wheel. GEMM committee members have volunteered in the past to present at similar programs to promote the coalition and discuss gender equity issues.

Anne and I continued planning the roundtable meeting by talking with LIMA board members about logistics. For promotional materials, we were asked to send information about ourselves, the program, and about GEMM. Both of us emailed our biographies and the summary of the program we will present the day of the presentation.

Because I am also a LIMA member, I received the email newsletter that promoted our program. The LIMA board decided that the program will be presented at the organization Preservation Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor; located in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Preservation Long Island is a not-for-profit organization committed to working with Long Islanders to protect, preserve, and celebrate our cultural heritage through advocacy, education, and the stewardship of historic sites and collections. According to the email newsletter, our program would begin with check in and coffee at nine in the morning. Then our program would begin at nine-thirty, and would last until twelve thirty.

Since we had a PowerPoint presentation that typically are for shorter programs, Anne and I decided we would figure out how to fill the rest of the time. We decided it would be a good idea to see if there are museum professionals on Long Island who are willing to participate in a panel to answer questions from us and the audience. If we were not able to have panelists, we would fill the time with time dedicated to questions and answers from the audience and small group discussions.

Small group discussions would allow audience members to divide into small groups to answer questions we provided on handouts so after they discussed the answers to the questions they will write the answers down. A few of the questions that were on the sheet include:

“What does your board do to advance gender equity within your museum? What can or should it do?”
“How does your museum eliminate gender bias in board or volunteer recruitment, and in hiring staff?”
“How would a statement of organizational values be useful in addressing equity in your museum?”

After the small group discussions were finished, we would collect at least one handout from each group so that the responses will be used for future publications from the coalition on gender equity issues.

We were able to have museum professionals participate in the panel, and because of this we also decided to break down time dedicated to the presentation, panel, and small group discussions so we would be able to keep track of the time for the program.

Anne arranged to have panelists from organizations on Long Island to join the roundtable and participate in the discussion on gender equity. On the day of the program, we were able to have four female museum and former museum professionals to participate in the panel.

The first participant was Sarah Abruzzi who is an accomplished executive and fundraising professional with 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector. She served as Director of two museums and worked in all aspects of museum operations including education, collections management, volunteer coordination, fundraising, communications, and government relations. Now Abruzzi serves as Director of Major Gifts and Special Projects at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook.

Then the next participant was Barbara Applegate who is the director of the Steinberg Museum of Art at Long Island University where she developed and presented exhibitions, many of them were made in collaboration with other institutions, and oversaw the development of special websites based on the Museum’s collection. Recently, she oversaw construction for the museum at a new campus location.

Marianne Howard, the Grant Writer for Mercy Haven in Islip Terrace, is another panel participant. Howard was previously the executive director for the Smithtown Historical Society, and she has held leadership positions among both museums and social services agencies in both New York City and on Long Island. She now works for Mercy Haven in Islip Terrace which is a non-profit organization which provides temporary and permanent housing and supportive services to those in need across Long Island.

Last but not least, Tracy Pfaff participated in the program as one of the four panelists. She became the Director of the Northport Historical Society in 2016, and before that she worked in a for-profit fine arts gallery, and she has interned at museums in Peru and Wyoming. Pfaff is the incoming co-president of LIMA with Theresa Skvarla. Once we were able to determine who would be able to participate in the panel, Anne and I discussed the schedule for the day as well as what should be divided among the two of us.

We decided to have the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of the program which would last about fifteen to twenty minutes. Our presentation in the beginning was our welcome to the program as well as an overview of gender equity issues. The presentation has fourteen slides, and we made the decision to split the slides between the both of us.

Then the panel discussion would last for about forty minutes. Each of the panelists had opportunities to select questions they would like to address, and therefore not every panelist has to respond to every question. Nine questions were developed but we kept in mind that we may not be able to get to all of the questions. A couple of examples of questions that were addressed to the panelists are:

“Share an example of gender bias or inequity that affected your career and what you did about it.”
“What would you like to see our professional associations do to address gender bias? Is there a role for funders to advance the conversation?”
“In looking across the museum sector, where do you see the greatest positive movement to address gender inequity (i.e., collections, workforce and hiring, exhibits, etc.)”

Anne and I also decided to divide the questions between us so each of us would be able to ask questions to the panelists. We also allocated time for audience members to ask the panelists questions related to gender equity and the museum field.

Then we allocated time for a break so audience members can spend their time doing such as checking email, and get more coffee and pastries. During our conversations, we also decided to include a role playing activity after break and before the small group discussions.

Role playing activities would allow volunteers from the audience to play roles we give each pair and they will act out a scenario related to gender equity. We would allow up to five minutes of role playing then open it up to the audience to see how the situation could be handled differently or what their impressions were about the scenario. Also, we decided to have four different scenarios prepared for the program but we will start with two scenarios then see how much time is available.

Once the role playing and small group discussions are completed, we would wrap up the program by asking the audience to share a little bit of what their groups discussed and thanked them for coming out to hear our presentation and participate in our discussion.

A few days before the program, Anne and I spoke on the phone to finalize details for the day. We both agreed that it is important that we should be flexible and play by ear how we should proceed with the program to make sure the program is on schedule and to make sure our panelists and audience members are comfortable.

On the day of, I arrived early to take a look at the space we would be presenting in. Anne and I decided to take a few chairs from the first row to allow the panelists to sit there during the panel discussion and allow them to move to the back during the PowerPoint presentation. Also, we set up the PowerPoint presentation and mingled with museum professionals who have arrived for the program.

There were about between twenty and thirty museum professionals who arrived for the program which is more than Anne and I were expecting. We were very happy with the turn out, and we were also happy that many of them engaged with us, the panelists, and with each other about gender equity. Many questions, comments, and concerns were brought to us and we were able to answer to as many of them as possible. The discussion among the small groups was especially lively and we were able to collect many worksheets so we are able to use these answers for future publications.

There were some technical difficulties such as the microphone feed occasionally turned on and the lighting of the presentation made it a little hard to see the PowerPoint. I knew that we cannot always plan for everything, but we were flexible enough to continue on with the program. For instance, instead of using the last slide to share the small groups discussion we turned off the computer since we already had the questions on the handouts we gave audience members.

Overall, we had a very positive response from the program participants. We received many thanks from individuals we spoke with throughout the program. Also, I received congratulations from my colleagues and former colleagues I knew who attended the program. We also had many of them sign up to receive more information about GEMM, and we sent them the March newsletter we just sent out to other GEMM followers.

I learned a lot from this experience, and I am very proud to have arranged the program, been in the process, and in the program.

A special shout out to Anne Ackerson who has been so helpful during the process, and I thank you again Anne for everything leading up to and during the program.

What has your experiences been like presenting in professional development programs? Is there any advice you would give other professionals who start planning their own professional development programs?

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