Women’s careers in museums

Women’s careers in Scottish museums – reflections and a call for interview participants from Steven Glasgow SG264@hw.ac.uk 2nd year PhD student, Intercultural Research Centre, Heriot Watt University

Although there is a small body of research exploring women’s careers in museums, the sector has largely escaped analysis of its gender (in)equality. In this blog post I discuss the background to my PhD research, which is funded by the Moffatt Charitable Trust. I begin by setting out the limited existing information on gender and careers in museums, moving to a call for interview participants.

Museum employment does not spring to mind when people talk of gendered workplaces but research shows that whilst women are well represented in the lower levels of museum employment, some struggle to progress to higher positions (Schwarzer, 2007). When confronted with this, it is puzzling that the sector has largely escaped a gendered lens. That is not to say that there is not research on the employment of women in museums. Levin (2010) provides a collection of articles, case study and essays in Gender, Sexuality and Museums, but there is much scope for further research. The focus of my research is Scotland, there were 27.65 million visits to around the 460 museums in 2014, generating an economic impact of £890.88 million (MGS, 2015). The sector also contributes 3,552 paid roles and 4,667 voluntary positions (MGS, 2015). Women comprise a majority of employees in UK museums whilst making up 84% of museum studies students and having a dominant presence in early-career roles which has led to employer ‘concern’ that few men are in these positions (Davies, 2007).

The lack of gender focus may come from the problem not being sufficiently recognised by governing bodies, equality measures in the sector in recent years have been mainly focused on class and ethnicity. Commissioned reports by the Museums Association on workplace diversity in museums such as Culture Change, Dynamism and Diversity (Davies & Wilkinson, 2011) and Diversify: Reflections and Recommendations (Shaw, 2013) make little reference to gender as a diversity issue. However, research has indicated women face their own difficulties, for example, they can struggle for acceptance in directorships (Adams, 2010) and that there can be pervasive organisational structures that hinder women (Turner, 2002).

My research focuses on the experiences of women in the early-career museum professions, for example, junior curators, educators and exhibitioners. These occupations are competitive spaces for employment despite guideline salaries from the Museums Association (2009) ranging from £16,000 – £23,750, which are comparatively low next to other sectors. The Museums Association (2015) note the strong demand for these positions has meant that a postgraduate education and relevant volunteering experience are needed for most types of entry level position. With much unpaid volunteer work and the cost of a postgraduate degree, access to employment is weighted in favour of affluent individuals or those who can depend financially on others.

Accessing early-career positions is difficult, but progressing in them presents its own challenges. Souhami (2013) in interviews with four women in early career positions note vague career structures, guidance, training or job stability. The struggle to progress for two of the women has led them to enrol on PhD courses as they believe it will place them better to progress. These clear issues affecting early-career museum professionals need to be further unpicked and understood, and according to Souhami, have rarely been heard. Further to this, there is little research that connects these early-career experiences to gender. Through researching the lived experiences of women in early-career museum professions it is aimed for a greater understanding of these gender issues and ultimately for the study to inform future gender policy. As such, I invite anyone in a paid early-career position in Scotland who would like to take part in an interview for my study to contact me (SG264@hw.ac.uk) for a discussion on your experiences. My research has received ethical approval from Heriot Watt University. I anticipate interviews lasting approximately one hour, and will be an opportunity to inform policy and academic debates in the sector.

Reference List

Adams, R. (2010). The New Girl in the Old Boy Network: Elizabeth Esteve-Coll at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In A. K. Levin (Ed.), Gender, Sexuality and Museums: A Routledge Reader (pp. 28-42). Oxon: Routledge.

Davies, M. (2007). The Tomorrow People: Entry to the museum workforce: University of East Anglia.

Davies, M., & Wilkinson, H. (2011). Culture Change, Dynamism and Diversity. London: Museums Association.

Levin, A. K. (2010). Gender, sexuality and museums: a Routledge reader: Routledge.

MGS. (2015a). 2014 Visit Estimates for Scotland’s Museums and Galleries Sector. Edinburgh: Museums Galleries Scotland.

MuseumsAssociation. (2009). Salary Guidelines 2009. UK: Museums Association.

MuseumsAssociation. (2015). Getting a First Job.   Retrieved 01/11/2015, from http://www.museumsassociation.org/careers/getting-a-first-job

Schwarzer, M. (2007). Women in the temple-Gender and leadership in museums. Museum News, 86(3), 56-64.

Shaw, L. (2013). Diversify: Reflections and Recommendations. London: Museums Association.

Souhami, R. (2013). The Low Down on the Life of Early Career Museum Professionals. from http://www.londonmuseumsgroup.org/2013/10/11/low-life-early-career-museum-professionals/

Turner, V. (2002). The Factors Affecting Women’s Success in Museum Careers: A Discussion of the Reasons More Women Do Not Reach the Top, and of Strategies to Promote their Future Success. Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies8.

 

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