10 February 2018




Full crowd at MUSSA's Women in Leadership Panel. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Gagnier. 
This Friday, the Museum Studies Student Association (MUSSA) hosted its first ever Women in Leadership panel at the iSchool. The panel was made up of four women with vastly different leadership experience in museums. The panelists were Gäetane Verna (Director of the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery), Shelley Falconer (President and CEO of the Art Gallery of Hamilton), Dara Solomon (Executive Director of the Ontario Jewish Archives), and Gracia Dyer Jalea (Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Toronto Ward Museum). The panelists engaged in an insightful and inspirational dialogue about the challenges, successes, and future of museum work. The iSchool was the perfect location to host this panel, as currently, 87% of Museum Studies and CRO students identify as female. In today’s special Weekend Edition, Kathleen Lew (She’s My Muse) and Amy Intrator (Beyond Tradition) are continuing the dialogue and reflecting on the panel.

KL: Before we dive into the panel content, let’s take a moment and appreciate how cool it is to hear a group of powerful women speak collectively about a field that many of us are pursuing. We can gain so much from hearing leaders build on each other’s ideas, creating a conversational approach to women's’ leadership. 

AI: I loved that the panel really felt like a dialogue. There wasn’t one woman explaining what it meant to be successful in the field, instead we got to hear about so many different perspectives on what it means to be a woman in a leadership position. That being said, despite all the differences between the speakers’ experiences, I was so amazed that all four women seemed to find common ground in a lot of their challenges in the field. 

Shelley Falconer quoting Tina Fey. Photo Courtesy of Charlotte Gagnier. 
KL: Yeah I agree, dialogue is crucial when grappling with critical issues in our field. Women are complex individuals, and change cannot come from just one voice. We need many intersectional insights to better support all women in the museum field. I think it is really important that the panel made space for different perspectives, and I’m glad we can carry the conversation over to Musings.

AI: Absolutely! Every one of the four panelists talked about the importance of dialogue and collaboration with other professionals. Falconer even mentioned that in her experience, women tend to be more collaborative than men in the workplace. The women all attributed their successes, in part, to their support networks, but that being said, they also spoke passionately about the need to make space for yourself when support isn’t readily available.

KL: Another great example is when Jalea spoke eloquently about the values of the Ward Museum, an institution that strives to make space for those who are marginalized from dominant histories. With this work, Jalea realized that advocating and making space for herself as a professional is important as well. Jalea did not see the position that she wanted in the museum field, so she co-founded a museum, making her own opportunities. Verna had similar points when she spoke about negotiating salary. Verna was informed and confident in the facts of what she would bring to the institution, and she was not afraid to ask directly for what she deserved.

AI: The similarities between Jalea and Verna’s experiences are amazing! Although the women were advocating for themselves in such different settings, there is so much overlap in how they dealt with being underestimated and undervalued. There were a lot of sympathetic nods and laughs between panelists throughout the panel! Overall, I got the impression that these women shared the opinion that being a woman in no way undermines their ability to be a strong leader. In fact, a lot of the anecdotes seemed to prove that challenges like motherhood actually strengthened these women as leaders, like Jalea’s statement that she is more attuned to her work because of her children. Talk about empowering!

Gäetane Verna (left) and Gracia Dyer Jalea (right). Photo Courtesy of Charlotte Gagnier. 

KL: Another sympathetic nod (and sassy snap) moment was Verna’s powerful reminder that men do not constantly justify their actions the way that women tend to in professional settings. If men do not apologize for their ideas, than why should we? Verna decided she was only going to apologize when she was at fault, rather than feeling she needed to prove her intelligence to her colleagues. This statement really resonated with my own tendencies, as gendered power often makes me feel the need to apologize for asserting my voice. Great advice was flowing freely on Friday, what else can we gain as emerging professionals from the conversation?

AI: The panelists shared so much valuable advice for young professionals entering the field. The speakers left me thinking about the importance of professionalism, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking in the museum field today.

KL: It all starts with a dialogue, but what’s next? The four panelists had some great insights for the future of the museum sector, and I can't wait to see what they continue to accomplish. I think this panel was a great start to future conversations about women's leadership at the Master of Museum Studies program. I hope MUSSA will have more great panels, because our future careers can be positively shaped by the insights of accomplished professionals.

With that, let’s continue the dialogue beyond the panel (and blog post), and turn words into action at the museum.

Women in Leadership panelists and Serena Ypelaar (left), Musings Editor-in-Chief, as moderator. Photo Courtesy of Charlotte Gagnier.

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