According to a 2014 AAMD (Association of Art Museum Directors) study, women led 42.6% of museums surveyed, and those women earned 79 cents to the dollar of men’s salaries. While the pay gap is alarming, the near-parity of women and men leading museums is somewhat reassuring… until we look at budgets. For museums with budgets over $15 million, the gender gap widens significantly, with only 24% of women leading museums and making 71 cents for every dollar their counterparts make.
While comparable studies are rare for other arts institutions, a 1998 article entitled The Effect of Gender on the Career Advancement of Arts Managers by Herron et al. reported that only 33% of upper-level positions in medium-sized arts/cultural institutions (art museums, theatres, dance companies, operas, and symphonies) were held by women. Compared to 2014, the tides are indeed changing, but a 50/50 balance has yet to be seen.
It’s not all bad news, though. There is actually quite a great phenomenon happening right here in our backyard (the DC/Maryland/Virginia area): A significant amount of arts institutions in the area are led by women, as we learned from a Washington Post article last year (The Directors) and a Georgetowner article (Women Cultural Leaders). Reading about all of these incredible women sparked my curiosity about the gender gap, so I decided to make it my capstone topic.
What can we learn from these inspiring women who have “made it” at the top? I wanted to find out…and then share with my peers and other young women who may feel there are barriers to our success in the field. Therefore, for my capstone, I have created a website that will serve as a resource for emerging women leaders in the arts: http://www.equalarty.com. The website will feature interviews with established leaders, will house articles and links about the topic, and will be a launching point for further discussion about gender [in]quality. To kick it off, I am distributing a survey to women studying/working in arts and cultural institutions to gather information about educational background, career aspirations, and perceptions of the gender gap in the field. Feel free to take the survey, here: http://www.equalarty.com/#!survey/c3qc
So, why am I writing about this here? Take a look at the EALS Committee: it’s made up of an incredible team of women leading an important event that helps emerging leaders grow and learn from each other. In 10 years, I bet they’ll be on the cover of the Georgetowner leading those cultural institutions. Therefore, I decided to kick off the interviews section of my website with insights from these leading ladies!
Here’s what they have to say:
J: Erin, What are (if any) the challenges of leading a team of only women?
E: Leading this team of women is no different than if there were male committee members in the mix. We have a wonderful team atmosphere and work ethic, which I attribute to each member’s constant positivity and drive. Each committee member has a unique personality and perspective, making our team well-rounded and exciting to lead. I will admit that the only difference may be dancing with a hint more abandon during mid-meeting dance breaks. If there were men around, we might not show our most expressive movement.
J: Laura, to what do you attribute your current successes?
L: I attribute much of my success to my genuine nature. I am truly lucky to be pursuing a career path that I love so much. Whether raising money or planning an event, I feel that people respond positively to my innate excitement and enthusiasm. I also feel that I wouldn’t have the motivation to work as hard or feel as proud of my accomplishments if I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in what I am doing.
J: Tori, how would you describe your leadership style?
T: I like to describe my leadership style as more of a facilitator and guider. I believe a key component of being an effective leader is listening and keen observation, so I try to bring those qualities into my leadership positions.
J: Colleen, who are your role models?
C: I had some pretty amazing female role models growing up. All leaders in their field, they showed me through actions that I could do whatever I wanted to do. As a child, it never even crossed my mind that women couldn’t do or be certain things. (Though I certainly recognized that there was a shocking lack of women in certain professions — as a 7 year old, I decided it was high time we had a female president, and I was going to be her.)
Another person I attribute some of my success to is my sister. I have an older sister with a developmental disability. Watching her succeed in her own way is inspiring. If she – at 4’10” and with limited vision – can sink a basketball in a 9’6″ hoop, over my outstretched hands (and I’m 5’10”), what’s stopping me from achieving success in my own way?
J: Helene, we recently heard from Monica Jeffries Hazangles (President of Strathmore and AU Arts Management alum) about fantastic failures. What are yours?
H: My first job was a fantastical failure. I was working for a new university in the Middle East in their US office. It was all a blur. After 6 weeks on campus, I was told there was a job for me if I wanted it. I came home, started to pack my life, say my goodbyes and everything. Four days before my departure and on the day I was to sign my contract with them, I get an email saying they appreciate my application and decided to hire someone in country. I was crushed, depressed for weeks. I learned that I should always have everything in writing and to never believe it until paperwork is signed. My first job would have taken me to a far away country with only a handful of people I just met. In the end, I stayed in DC for another 5 years spending 4 of those years working the hardest I ever have for the United States Institute of Peace. I grew up so much from my fantastical failure and I’m thankful that they did this to me. I would not be here if they had hired me.
J: Amy Jo, to what do you attribute your current successes?
I attribute my success to my parents, but since this is about Women in Leadership, I want to share a note for my mom:
Mom, thank you for proving that beauty is a brilliant mind and the ability to laugh at yourself. Thank you for never letting me skip a synchronized swimming practice because I learned the true meaning of teamwork. Thank you for loving me unconditionally and letting me choose my own path. Alongside Dad, you’ve proven that, with determination, the stars are at our fingertips.
J: Jenni, as you prepare to move beyond a graduate career, what are your aspirations? What are your fears? Do you think being a woman will impede your ability to climb the ladder?
I aspire to become a dynamic leader. I want to inspire people. I dream of owning my own theatre venue with strong aims at enriching the community of which it is a part. It is important to me to see art, in all its forms, taken seriously as a cultural necessity. I do often worry that I won’t find a position I love and that I won’t be paid what I deserve, but I won’t let that stop me from trying to achieve my dreams and if I can’t climb the ladder, maybe I can find a trestle or a tree to climb instead.
I want to thank the EALS ladies for taking the time to speak with me. The Symposium is in great hands and I hope you will all join me in attending what is sure to be a most excellent day of learning and inspiration (March 22nd, 2015). Bonus: Jane Chu, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts – and an incredible #womaninleadership – will be a keynote speaker!
Jessica Ferey is a second year graduate student in the Arts Management program at AU. She is currently Project Manager for the Global Cultural Districts Network, an initiative established to foster collaborations among those planning and leading cultural districts around the world. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys pursuing her hobby as a culture vulture, discovering all of the great art and cultural offerings here in D.C.
 Association of Art Museum Directors. 2014. The Gender Gap In Art Museum Directorships. https://aamd.org/our-members/from-the-field/gender-gap-report.
 Herron, Donna G., et al. “The Effect of Gender on the Career Advancement of Arts Managers.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 28 (1998): 27-40.