8 March 2014




Today is International Women’s Day! So to celebrate at Musings we thought it was appropriate to give a shout out to the ladies of the museum world. Starting today, all next week we are going to have posts related to women in our field. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. I don’t have a regular column on the blog, but I wanted to write the introductory post for International Women’s Day because it is a cause dear to my heart. I am a human after all.

Before I sat down to write this post, I took a gander at the International Woman’s Day website. According to their “About” page, IWD started as early as 1908, and was mostly used to support women’s right to vote and work. Since the turn of the century, women have seen a great increase in opportunities and a significant change in attitudes towards their political, economic, and social success. However despite all the successes, IWD reminds us that “the unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education… is worse than that of men.”


There are so many things we could talk about in regards to women’s rights, but for the sake of this post (so it doesn’t go on TOO long) I’m going to try to stick to women in the workforce, particularly the museum workforce.

Now, as our program is OVERWHELMINGLY female, it can be easy to get caught up in our MMSt bubble and feel like we are overrepresented. What about in the real world? Are ladies getting the chances they deserve museums? Or does this female-heavy population trend continue? I did a very quick (read: informal) search to see who held the highest positions in some well-known museums. Here’s the breakdown:

Royal Ontario Museum
       CEO/Director: Janet Carding (Lady)

National Gallery of Canada
       Director: Marc Mayer (Gentleman)

Metropolitan Museum of Art
       Director/CEO: Thomas P. Campbell (Gentleman)

The Louvre
       Director/President: Jean-Luc Martinez (Gentleman)

Canadian War Museum
        Director General: James Whitham (Gentleman)

Royal British Columbia Museum
        Director/CEO: Jack Lohman (Gentleman)

Ontario Science Centre
        CEO: Lesley Lewis (Lady)

So, as you can see, of these (very) random museums, only two has a female Director or CEO. Not the best. But, if you keep digging you’ll see that some Executive Offices did have females, they just didn’t occupy the top spot. The National Gallery of Canada is pretty evenly split with half of the top executive jobs occupied by women, and at the Ontario Science Centre women represented 5 out of 7 executive positions. It was the ROM which disappointed me, while yes, Janet Carding is the Director/CEO, she was the sole female representative in their executive. 

Janet Carding, CEO

These are kind of scary numbers for me, so I’m going to caveat them. First, I did this little Google search in about 20 minutes, and it is in NO WAY comprehensive. It is an interesting jumping off point though, maybe for a deeper study. Secondly, I read this blog post by the always wonderful Nina Simon. She takes the opposite view, citing the disparity we’ve noticed in our own classrooms: about 60-80% of employees in history and art museums are female, with the statistic dropping down to about 50% in science museums. According to Nina, only 5% of applicants for museum jobs are men. She brings up some interesting points about having a very heavily white/female bias in museums nowadays, and how problematic that can be. So then, balance this information with the fact that my brief poll only netted 2 female directors, and where does that leave us? On a ship manned by women but captained by a male.

Essentially, I believe what we’re looking at is the trend expressed on the IWD website: women are becoming more and more equal in the workforce (in the case of museums we are the majority), but are still underrepresented in places and positions of power. Unfortunately, this directly correlates to compensation. As we see men in higher positions, we also see them getting paid more. I don’t really have the time (well, space, mostly space) to unpack the inequality where wages are concerned, but it is an issue. Maybe we will tackle this later in the week.

A professor of mine last semester made a reference to “Bearded Curators” disappearing. What she meant was that the days of old, white men running the show were over, and that women were representing more and more. I think to a certain extent that is what we’re witnessing now, but it will be slow to action. I also think the largest institutions (like the ones I listed above) will be the last to follow suit. I know from my own experiences, some smaller museums have 90% female staff, and it is the women who occupy those leadership positions. But are we swinging too far?  Is having a female majority leaving us with the same problems as a male majority?

The good news is we are witnessing change, and as incoming female professionals it is likely we ARE the change. I don’t know about you, but "Meaghan Dalby, Director/CEO" would look great on a business card.



Some closing thoughts (sorry there are a lot of them):
What does this female workforce/male executive pattern mean for us as incoming female museum professionals? Will we strive to occupy the coveted CEO/Director’s office? Is having a female-majority staff problematic? Gents out there, what are YOUR opinions? What solutions (if there are any) do you propose?


  1. Nice kick off to Women's Week Meaghan (or should I say, future CEO/Director Meaghan Dalby)? I can certainly relate to your experiences with smaller museums and their predominately female staff. Throughout various jobs I’ve held in the past few years in cultural/heritage centers like museums and provincial parks, the majority of the staff (at times, all of the staff) has been women. I must say, since I have always enjoyed the ladies I’ve worked with in these positions I never found it too problematic, personally, however I have always wondered where all the guys are.

    I know that in one of my jobs working at a zoo/provincial park, whenever my boss (female) was interviewing new potential staff and a few guys were among the candidates she made a point to make clear that the gentleman-candidate would likely be the only guy (at least for a while until more interest was shown in the position) to make sure said gentleman was comfortable with that. Now really, what’s this poor high school guy looking for a summer job going to say, “no”? So I found it quite interesting my boss let the guys know about the workplace dynamic ahead of time (I should make it clear, by boss was completely cool with hiring gents, there just were never many that applied).

    In a perfect society, of course it shouldn’t really matter how many girls or guys you’re working with, and everyone should be seen as just “people,” to be evaluated based on their skills for the job. At the same time, being the only guy, for example, coming into a workplace run solely by ladies can often be a tough crowd to get into. The same can be said for a woman going into a predominately male (or all-male) workplace. Ladies interact with each other differently than guys do with each other and guys and girls interact differently with each other as well. In the case of my position at the zoo, we were all friends who either went to school together or who had been working together for a few years, so we did have a really tight bond as female friends. That can be a tough egg to crack as a newcomer, especially a guy. In our case however, it always worked out great and I personally think each guy that got hired at the zoo definitely enjoyed working with the ladies!

    But alas, my story leaves the question you posed in your post – why? Why do fewer guys apply for jobs like my zoo position or cultural/museum jobs? One of my theories is, especially for younger, say, just-graduated high school guys, is that they are able to get positions in the trades perhaps a little easier than ladies. Now, I’m certainly not saying women can’t hold trade jobs and be fabulous at them, don’t get me wrong. That just tends to be a male dominated industry (no matter what trade really), and they can make a ton of money doing it. So really, why wouldn’t they? Us ladies, for some reason, seem to dominate the customer service and cultural industries, which DEFINITELY pays less than trades. So there is certainly an imbalance there, which also speaks to your thoughts in the post. This is something for us “museum ladies” to keep in mind as we move forward in our careers, and be aware of these imbalances in order to do our part to change the status quo and balance out gender dynamics (along with all the other socio-cultural, racial dynamics that are at play as well) in the work place, whenever we see an opportunity to do so.

  2. Good topic to cover, but I think it is important to be careful to not perpetuate socially constructed and essentialized gender norms when discussing the relations between women and men. Furthermore, recognizing and engaging with the discussion on how the way we are socialized intrinsically trains us to take on certain roles and job within society, aside from wage. Wage for the same jobs are disparate between genders, period - not just lack of high level positions taken on by women. Arguably, I would look at smaller museums versus just the large institutional/well-funded ones.

    These are just several initial thoughts.

    1. I didn't notice the reply function on comments! Please read this as a reply to the post and to the previous comment.

  3. Thanks for your comments Nicole! You're right, this article only scratches the surface on what is a very complex issue. Looking back, I think I was too ambitious with my limited space to try to tackle it all; clearly I haven't articulated or unpacked some very important things concerning gender roles (as you mentioned). Also, it was definitely not my intention to perpetuate essentialized gender norms, and it is something I will be much more cognizant of as I move forward. My apologies. However, I am glad that it is generating some important discussion, and thanks again for bringing your concerns to the forefront.

  4. I am so glad to see this topic discussed on our blog - I listened to many of the CBC radio shows over the weekend, some celebrating women, some asking if we truly need an International Women's Day, others bringing in some really difficult topics. Of course talking about gender is not an easy task, from an academic, practical and popular perspective. But as long as we have the conversation going, it is all that matters. I am glad that Musings is advocating for such topics to be discussed.