From the authors:
Museums are complex workplaces. Guardians of America’s patrimony, they are simultaneously thought of as traditional, boring and irrelevant, but also progressive, fun and important. With collections and exhibitions lauded and vilified, museums are both significant economic drivers and astoundingly vulnerable organizations. Collectively United States museums employ nearly 353,000 people, almost half of them women. There is no denying that most museums are stimulating and wondrous, one-of-a-kind, work environments, but two years ago we could not have imagined the gender inequity lying beneath their placid exteriors.
Women in the Museum explores the professional lives of the field’s female workforce, a cohort that grew exponentially from the late 19th-century to the present. It chronicles the challenges working women in the museum field face today, as well as their responses to widespread entrenched and unconscious gender bias. In doing so, we hope it clarifies how women’s work in museums is different from men’s, and why we think museums must create, foster and protect a level playing field.
Along the way, we asked ourselves these questions: Are workplace challenges more acute for women if a field is under-resourced, under-appreciated, or in some instances, under-utilized? How is leadership and internal decision-making different in female dominated museums? Do public perceptions change toward fields where females make up half or more of the workforce?
It is difficult to write about women in the workplace and not write about diversity, and we have been taken to task for that. It’s especially difficult in a field that since its founding has been a bastion of white, middle and upper-class men and subsequently women. While issues of racial and ethnic diversity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability and class are often aligned with gender equity, we’ve chosen to take a bite out of the broadest and most basic of topics in one of the narrowest of fields — an environment almost exclusively nonprofit, under-resourced, and little understood by the public. Our intent is to pull back the curtain on a long-standing and unresolved gender issue: equity. What we’ve written is an opening salvo deserving wider and deeper scrutiny.
We believe museums create communities. Those communities include women as subjects of collections, exhibits and programming, women as audience members and supporters, and as employees. That said, we would like to suggest that for us diversity is the presumption that everyone has a place at the table. If you think those ideas are remnants of the 1970’s, read on. We believe there is still much work to do. And for us, inclusion as well as equity are what is important, and making sure women are represented is the place to start.