Did you know that several studies in recent years have shown that when women enter a specific field in large numbers, the pay for that field declines overall, even for the same jobs that men were doing? This is one of many implications of gendered professions, which are at the core of this month’s episode of Museopunks. The Punks dig into the implications of the gendered museum, and its impact on pay (also here) and the sector more broadly with Anne W. Ackerson and Joan H. Baldwin, whose new book Women in the Museum explores the professional lives of the sector’s female workforce today and examines the challenges they face working in what was, until recently, a male-dominated field. The Punks are then joined by nikhil trivedi for a conversation about the impact of gender and masculinity on technology work, inside museums and beyond.
Please note: nikhil’s interview includes discussion of specific actions men can take to dismantle gender oppression and create more supportive institutions for people of all genders. He has kindly created a supportive document with more information for those who wish to dig deeper, which we’ve included in the show notes.
Anne W. Ackerson
Little did Anne know when she began her first museum job she would discover a passion that would fuel her work for a lifetime. Anne served as director of several historic house museums and historical societies in central and eastern New York, before becoming the director of the Museum Association of New York. She currently serves the Council of State Archivists as its executive director and is an independent consultant focusing on the organizational development issues of the smaller cultural institution. Anne writes regularly about management and leadership issues for cultural institutions in her blog, Leading by Design. Her article about the status of heritage organizations in New York State, “The History Museum in New York State: A Growing Sector Built on Scarcity Thinking”, was published in the Summer 2011 issue of the journal, Public Historian. A short essay, “Local Historical Societies and Core Purpose”, appears in the Encyclopedia of Local History, published by AltaMira Press and AASLH in 2013. You can find Anne on Twitter @leadingbydesign.
Joan H. Baldwin
A Maryland native, Joan Baldwin served as director for several house museums, a staffer for the Museum Program at the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Director of Education and Interpretation at Hancock Shaker Village. She met Anne Ackerson while working as a consultant, a friendship that led to a decade-long collaboration during Anne’s tenure at the Museum Association of New York [MANY]. While writing for MANY Baldwin authored three monographs (on mission, hiring and developing staff and volunteers, and responsible relationship-building for corporate philanthropy); three white papers (two on next generation leadership and succession planning in New York state’s museums); and a variety of shorter field reports. Her articles, “Who’s Next? Research Predicts Museum Leadership Gap”, was published in the journal Museum Management and Curatorship (MMC) in 2006, and “Who’s Next: Museum Succession Planning in New York” was published in History News in Autumn 2007. Baldwin is currently the Curator of Special Collections at The Hotchkiss School.
nikhil trivedi is an application developer at a museum in Chicago and a social justice activist. His activism work focuses on ending rape culture and patriarchy through his role as a volunteer educator for Rape Victim Advocates. He is also a regular contributor at The Incluseum, co-creator of visitorsofcolor.tumblr.com, and his writing has been featured in Model View Culture and Fwd: Museums. You will also find him playing his guitar and sitar, composing noise, hiking, making herbal medicines, and drinking warm glasses of chai on cold winter nights.
Museopunks is presented by the American Alliance of Museums.
Read the Transcript
Suse Anderson: 9+(meow) Oh my God. (music)
Jeffrey Inscho: Good morning Suse.
Suse: Hey Jeffrey, I don’t think we should start off with [inaudible 00:00:16] words, good morning, we don’t know what time people are going to be listening to it.
Jeffrey: It’s, it’s morning somewhere isn’t it?
Suse: (laughs) Sure.
Jeffrey: The sun, the sun is always shining beautifully on some museum professional somewhere in this world.
Suse: (laughs) That’s, that’s definitely true, well if that is, uh, if that is you, uh, this morning, I hope that is a really great way to uh kick off the day, but uh, if you’re listening to this at some other type of day, good evening, good night, uh, whatever, whatever time of day it works for you.
Jeffrey: Yes definitely.
Suse: How are you doing anyway Jeffrey?
Jeffrey: I’m doing well. I’m doing well, how are you?
Suse: Uh, pretty good, can’t complain.
Jeffrey: Feeling good?
Suse: Feeling pretty good, uh-
Jeffrey: Getting down to the, getting down to the end of it here.
Suse: Yeah, I’ll say the, the final weeks of pregnancy are a little less fun than some of the earlier ones, but that is fine.
Jeffrey: Yes. (laughs) Well, uh, yeah, I uh, you know, my, my wife, Jill, um, uh, we had our daughter, uh at the end of August. So she was in the thick of it, in the head of it, and um while I cannot empathize with you, I understand um, what you’re going through in some little bit.
Suse: Uh yeah, I’m sure, this is the thing that many people go through, and honestly I’ve had a pretty easy pregnancy, so I have no complaints whatsoever. In fact, it’s just really nice to be still at a point where I can say, hop on, hop on a recording, and make a podcast with you.
Jeffrey: Yeah, definitely, so and, and you know, we will put a contingency plan in place.
Jeffrey: Make sure listeners are, uh, kept in the loop with the latest, uh, developments, but um-
Jeffrey: You know, so Suse, uh considering uh, you know, uh, where we are, what, what are we talking about this month?
Suse: So, we’re talking about this idea of the [gendered 00:02:07] Museum, um, when I, when we were early planning this show, when we were talking about coming back with Museopunks. I knew that my timeline was going to be somewhat interrupted around this time of year, and I thought it might be nice to treat it as a feature, not a bug, treating a pregnancy as something, uh, to be celebrated, but also to dig into some of the implications of things like uh having children, and what it does for career, and thinking about gender more broadly and its impact on the museum profession. It’s impact on um, on, on pay for the sector. We talk about um, pink collar jobs, which are jobs that you know, when, when more women become involved in a, in a sector or in a job, often the pay scale decreases for everyone so really thinking about some of the implications of, of gender in the museum.
Jeffrey: Yeah, and we have som really great guests uh, at this episode. We have Anne and Joan, who, um, you may know, uh, write the wonderful site Leadership Matters. Um, who are also doing some interesting thinking and writing on the topic of, of gender equity, uh and its relationship to museum leadership. Um, and then we’re also going to talk to nikhil. Um, and I think it’s really important, um, nikhil, uh does some really great work, um, around social justice, um, he runs, uh, co-publishes uh Visitors of Color. A project, which some of you, our listeners may be familiar with but um you’re probably wondering, you know, why, why are we talking to a man about gen, about gender equality, and um, you know nikhil I think will have some interesting perspective on how men in the workplace, and, and the museum workplace can support um, and, and help effect uh some progress in, in this area.
Suse: Yeah absolutely Jeffrey, I think it’s really important for us, uh, as a sector, but really just as people that we don’t limit who can talk about um, things that are pertinent to the whole sector. And, thinking about gender, thinking about equity, and equality, we really shouldn’t be limiting the conversations of who can participate just to um those who most directly seem affected.
Jeffrey: Yeah, dialog from all angles, uh, only can uh help any situation so um, lets, lets get to the dialog. (music)
Suse: Anne and Joan write and publish Leadership Matters, a website focusing on 21st century museum leadership. Anne served as director of several historic house museums, and historical societies in Central and Eastern New York, before becoming the Director of the Museum Association of New York. She currently serves the Council of State Archivists as its Executive Director, and is an independent consultant, focusing on the organizational development issues the smaller cultural institution. A Maryland native, Joan served as director for several house museums, a staffer for the museum program at the New York State Council on the Arts, and Director of the Education and Interpretation at Hancock Shaker Village. She met Anne whilst working as a consultant, a friendship that led to a decade long collaboration during Anne’s tenure at the Museum Association of New York. In 2013, the pair published leadership matters and this summer, Women in the Museum, Lessons from the Workplace. In addition, this year, they are co-teaching a course on museum leadership for Johns Hopkins University. Joan, Anne, welcome to Museopunks, it is so wonderful to have you here.
Anne Ackerson: Thanks so much, happy to be here.
Joan Baldwin: Thank you.
Suse: It is lovely to talk to you. So, you’ve both done a lot of powerful writing on museum leadership, uh, whether on your blog or in your books, but one of the issues that continues to surface in your work, and I think is really significant for us and what we’re talking about today, is this import, is the importance of gender equity for the sector. Can you talk a little bit about why this has been such a focus for each of you?
Anne: Oh, aside from the fact that we’re both women, working in the field? (laughter)
Anne: Uh, (laughs) I think that uh, well I’ll, I’ll go first. Um, I think in part it has to do with the fact that uh, well we are women working in the field, but um, we have, we have talked with a number of women, a lot of woman over the last ten years or so about their workplace issues. Um, we started this conversation, I think at the Museum Association of New York when we were looking at next generation leadership and talking with men and women. Um, and as time has gone by, I think it has at, at least for me, from my perspective, the issue of gender equity has, has grown in importance. Um, there’s also a, an interesting sort of connection back to the 1970s, uh, when women were, were talking about many of the same issues in the, in the museum field as well as generally. Um, and here we find ourselves again, 40 plus years later, we’re talking about these same issues. Uh, we’re, we’re looking at the social situation across our country and around the world, and the issue of women, in society, and so I think it’s just been kind of a, a reoccurring and expanding story, over, over that time period that I’ve been involved in museums.
Joan: Yeah, and I would, I would echo everything that Anne has said, although I, I mean I would add that when we were working on Leadership Matters, our first book, a number of the women that we spoke with said, “Boy, you know, when you get to the, when you get to writing the book about women, call me back, because I have a lot to say.” And it was, it was one of the things that kind of percolated along in the background, and made us continue to talk and think about this whole topic. And, um, yeah, I, and it helps being a woman as well. Um, but I do think it is the most, the least talked about subject in museums at the moment, and also the hottest topic. If you want to see a group of women’s hair grow, go on fire, start talking about this issue.
Jeffrey: And rightfully so, um, you know, you both write a lot about um the pink collar workplace, and so for listeners who may be hearing this term for the first time, could, could you just explain that concept. Um so we can kind of a, um, um, shared understanding of that?
Joan: You want to go first Anne?
Anne: No, you go ahead Joan.
Joan: (laughs) Okay. Um, pink collar is a term that I believe was coined about 10 years ago, uh, in reference to fields that are traditionally dominated by women. It, it’s not a particularly complimentary term. Those fields are uh, typical, are nursing, social work, libraries, and, and now museums are almost there. Women are at 46.7% of the working population in museums. Um, the reason it’s not a particularly kind appellation is that it refers to the fact that female dominated workforces tend to be lower paid. Uh, and when, when, when fields turn pink collar, the salary goes down, counterintuitively men, that enter nursing, tend to do better and make more, which is, you might imagine somewhat irritating.
Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Anne: And they get less, those fields often get less respect. Uh, because they’re dominated by women, and so, um, and by less respect I mean um, they may not see the same levels of funding. Uh, or capital investment, that other fields might receive. Um, in the political arena, they may be sidelined. Those fields may be sidelined as well, because uh, people generally men, don’t respect those kind of fields as much as they respect the fields of manufacturing, the making of things, the production of, of things to be sold in the marketplace. Where many of the professions where women are clustered, are serving professions. And they’re um, and so I think that’s another reason why, uh, they don’t necessarily get the same kind of respect as other professions do. But we know, certainly we read about it every day in the newspaper um, that um, gender equity issues affect all industries, whether they’re for profit, non-profit, governmental, this is an issue that knows no industry bounds. And so its, it’s um, it’s something I think that women can, they see, they can see the issues very easily, no matter what sector they’re working in.
Suse: So this a, I’ve thought a lot about these issues around sort of the pink collar workplace, and its implications. I think a lot about it, uh, when we think about museums and their embrace of say social media, because that tends to also be a very pink collar part of the institution. There are aspects of the institution where we have, you know, women take on a more dominant role in other parts of the museum world where, where that, that gender balance is, is a little bit different. I, you’re starting to talk about the implications both in terms of pay equity, but also things like respect, and the way an entire sector is thought of.
Anne: That’s right.
Suse: What then, do become sort of those longer term implications for us as a sector? Um, in terms of who we can attract, the stories we tell, all of those sorts of things, if we are in fact becoming increasingly female dominated.
Anne: That’s a good question. Um, you know, I think in the field, traditionally women have clustered in education, around education departments. Uh, they cluster in um, development departments. Um, interestingly they cluster in human resource departments. They very departments that might be able to, to kind of move the needle on some of these issues.
Suse: I think the reason I was interested in asking that question, I’m not sure that there are answers. Just as you, as you speak through this topic, it makes me really think about, um, I suppose some of the, the other tensions that we have within the sector, whether it’s tensions around being visitor focused, versus sort of custodian focused. Like, I wonder how many, many of these issues actually do relate to particular splits that start to happen within the sector, and where there’s sort of concentrations of people and energy.
Joan: Well, one of the things that struck us and I’m not sure if this is exactly what, where you’re going with that, but is the way the museum world, it, it treats, it treats the outer community, the um, the people in front of the stage, the audience very differently than it tends to treat the people backstage in the workplace. And there’s a real disconnect between the sort of embraceable you attitude toward the audience. You know, whatever we can do, we want a diverse audience, we want to serve a diverse audience, to the way we act, in the, in the staff room.
Joan: Um, and, and I think that, that disconnect is very troubling, and, and it speaks also to these issues of diversity that, that there’s a great deal of hand ringing about right now. But, I will tell you that if what, if white women are paid badly and treated badly in the workplace, and many of them are, that women of color and transgender women are treated even worse.
Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think its, I think its interesting that um, the, these conversations especially on, with, with you both, and on your site, are within the context of museum leadership. Um, and I’m wondering what actions museum directors or even boards might take to kind of begin to positively impact, you know, positively, um, uh, erase that, um, external internal barrier that you just spoke about-
Anne: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeffrey: Or positively impact, um equity within the sector. Are there any things that, that could, that could happen right now?
Anne: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right, well I think everything, everything has to do with being more self-aware. And, we’re, we’re firm believers in the fact that, that boards, museum boards set the tone, and the tenor for an institution, whether they do it intentionally or not. The fact is the way boards act and what they say, permeates an institution. And uh boards have to become more self-aware about these issues about gender and diversity, uh, access, the, the whole inclusivity conversation as it were. And we found out in our research, that uh, most museum boards, uh tend to be, especially in the really large institutions, tend to be white, dominated by white males. And that the work of the board, through its committee system, tends to be divided or structured along the lines of gender. So that for example, the finance committee tends to be chaired by a man. The fundraising committee tends to be chaired by a woman. The education committee tends to be chaired by a woman. Strategic planning often chaired by men, and on, and on it goes. So, the, that, that structure by gender is in place at the highest level of the institution. And, boards tend to hire directors, CEOs, that um, I think often um philosophically may align themselves, uh, uh, with the thinking of a board. Boards tend to hire people like themselves, I guess is what I’m trying to say.
And, and so then the per, so then the mindset, the thinking, permeates even further through the institution. I think it’s very difficult for a director who doesn’t agree with the board on some of these issues to try and institute, uh, more equity in the ranks of the institution without, without getting some pushback from, from a board that’s more traditionally structured, and is largely, um, run by men and by white men at that.
Joan: And I, I think the other issue is, that there are many uh, museums particularly those sort of small bigs if you will, the, the small regional museums, and small historical societies, who don’t, who may not even have a personnel policy, but often don’t have an HR department. And so, when there are issues of, um, implicit bias or um, benign bias, um, there’s no place for people to go. Uh, and in fact many of the women we’ve talked to, were told don’t say anything. You know, it’s better for your career, if you just don’t say anything. Get over whatever happened to you, and just go on. So, I think, yes, Anne’s right, it comes from the board first. But there needs to be some acknowledgment that your workforce is important and, and they need a, a place to go and a policy to work under.
Suse: Yeah, it’s interesting, I mean you’re talking a little bit then about um, a, a silencing and the need to speak out, and I think that even the fact that you’ve both been advocating for a lot of this work throughout your career speaks to, the importance of those voices. But it makes me wonder whether there are issues that um, women uniquely face when taking on leadership roles in museums. Whether it is that board relationship or in fact whether it’s just about find, um, compatible boards and, and finding, maybe that it’s not um, issues that are unique to women, but issues unique to people who are trying to make change within the sector. What, what do you think in that context?
Anne: Oh, I think being a women and trying to make change can often be a double whammy. Uh, uh, in some institutions. I mean making change, in and of itself is a difficult thing to do whether you’re a man or a woman. And, um, and, and then add the layer of being a woman on top of that, where often, women are not respected. Their, their opinions are not respected. Um, they’re not um taken seriously. Um, I think it makes their jobs even, even more difficult. And, uh, and I suppose that’s probably one of the reasons why we don’t see more women in leadership positions. Um, because it’s just, we know leadership is tough anyway. And uh, if you want to be a change agent, it’s going to be really difficult. And um [crosstalk 00:21:07]-
Joan: On the-
Anne: Let Joan-
Joan: Well, well I was just going to add that on the other hand, a lot of women achieve their leadership position because they’re given the troubled institution. And the hope is that they’ll bring it around. Now, this is not a, none of these things are easy, and there’s all sorts of reasons why that situation happens, but it happens a lot. Um, and one of the things that Elaine [Gurion 00:21:40] said to me a long time ago was, “If you look across the sector in government, obviously the, the chief person is a, is a political appointee, and that is almost always a man.” The second in command is almost a woman, because that’s the, that’s the position where things get done.
Jeffrey: Hmm. Interesting, so last, last month you, you wrote a post, um, I believe it was uh, was it Joan, um published on, um, Baby Boomers, and Museum Leadership Positions, Retiring Responsibly.
Jeffrey: Do you see this oncoming wave of retirement or shift in generational leadership as potentially and opportunity to leapfrog some of these issues that currently exist within the sector?
Joan: Hmm, I hadn’t, I hadn’t actually thought of it that way, but one could only hope. I know there’s a lot of anxious and cranky um, Gen-Exers just waiting for my generation to step the heck out of the way. (laughter) But yes, I mean, I, I, look, I welcome change whenever it comes. Um, I really think a lot of these issues need to be addressed by AM and ASLH at some sort of fundamental national level, um, to try and, and force people into some behavior. But, um, but yeah. I, I, I don’t want, I don’t want to blame my generation for letting this happen though.
Joan: I don’t want to leave anybody with that thought.
Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joan: I, you know, Anne and, Anne and I and a, and a lot of the people who are our age, and our colleagues have done a lot to make change. Um, so I, I don’t know, Anne do you have any thoughts?
Anne: Well, I just want to add that, uh, I think yeah, that there’s an opportunity. There can be an opportunity as people retire out of the field. Um, for new, for new thinking to come forward and um, and as it should. Uh, what I’m thinking about though as you’re talking though Joan is um, that if the, if boards of institutions aren’t changing at the same rate as, as, as people are retiring, um, we’re still going to come up against some obstacles there. And, and so young, younger generations just need to be aware. It goes back to my, one of my earlier comments about, we’ve got to be self-aware, more self-aware across the board, on all of this. That goes for board members, that goes for staff leaders, and it goes for staff, and volunteers too, lets not forget them. And, we just need to you know, be more conscious about these issues, and how they play out in organizations and we need to talk about that a lot more than … And we are talking about that a lot more. I think across the board.
You know, there’s this younger cohort um in our field, who’s just, who’s just really, has, has taken this notion of diversity, and intersectionality, and they’re running with it, and they’re, they’re talking and their, they’re really making a, an impact. And um, and that’s the first time in a long, long time, that anyone has stepped forward, uh, that I can recall. Other than this band of women, back in the early 1970s who formed a Women’s Caucus at AAM and tried to get movement, uh, along the lines of pay equity and access to promotion, and, and a few other things. So, this is, its, it’s wonderful. It’s happening, I see this wonderful convergence, and I think it’s really uh, the time is ripe.
Jeffrey: Yeah. So, um, it, one of my mantras here, and anyone who works with me will know I have many mantras, but one of them is that uh, real change happens when top down leadership meets bottom up momentum and squeezes in the middle there. [crosstalk 00:26:02]-
Jeffrey: And so, um, I’m wondering what, if anything you have to say to the, to the, to the, the, the younger cohort, or the bottom, who are kind of starting this bottom up momentum and, and any words of advice you might have, um, to uh, to, to keep that and grow that?
Joan: Yeah, women need to help women. I, I don’t think we’ve been all together great about that. And I think that, that we, we need to be better mentors and advisors, and friends, and supporters to help other women enter this field, which has been traditionally male, and hierarchical. And, I think, the other thing is I think women really need to negotiate salary. I think they need to get over the, I am so glad you, you want me feeling, and say, “I’m really glad you want me, but here’s what I need from you.” And I think those two things will help a great deal.
Anne: There’ve been some, uh, studies done of uh, successful family owned businesses, so this is in, in the for profit sector. And, in relation to gender, uh, one of a couple of, a couple of characteristics of successful family owned businesses have included the fact that there are um, there’s a conscious effort uh, to, to put women into um, the, the workforce, the workforce, and move them up. And that those women become role models for other women in their companies. And, um, role models we think are absolutely critical to helping young women coming into the, any field, to see the pathway. And that’s not to say they follow the same path, but they see that there’s a path, and they can choose to take it, they can choose to make their own path, but the point is that um, we are our, we are a cohort, we’re a big cohort in the museum field, and we, we need to watch out for each other. And, and help to make those paths clear and, and help us, and help each other move along the pathways to success.
Suse: Well then, I guess the other question is how do we, not just help each other, at um, not just, not just women helping each other, but how do we help each other as a whole sector? How do men be involved in this change? How do we uh, actually teach each other to be leaders and to work together to, to make these changes? How do we do this as a sector?
Anne: Mm-hmm (affirmative), um, don’t, don’t get us wrong, we uh, we know that there are many men in our sector who really care about these issues. And are very supportive, and they want to, to help in any way that they can. Um, I think sector wide, I guess Joan talked about it a little bit. I think um, as it relates to our professional associations. Uh, it would be helpful I think for, you know, some woman working in a, in a museum, somewhere in America to know that, her professional associations are openly and strongly advocating for her. And, they’re, they’re doing it by way of talking about not only the pay gap, and setting some standards regarding uh pay in this field, but they’re talking to and, and educating boards of trustees. They’re educating staff, current staff leaders, directors of organizations in these issues. And, um, making it a part of the standards and best practices that museums aspire to. Um, I think that, that’s one way.
Joan: Yeah, and I would just add, you know, issues like uh, taking the bias out of hiring, which I think AAM deserves huge points for sort of leading the charge on. Um, being conscious about workplace language and behavior that’s offensive. Um, providing regular gender equity training. I, I think, you know, women are often afraid to speak up when something offensive has happened at work, and I think we all, everyone around the table, regardless of gender, needs to get past that and both stop the offensive behavior, and be supportive of that person.
Anne: Uh, we found, uh, at the uh last AAM meeting, where Joan and I, uh, put together a panel, uh to talk about uh, to talk about gender issues in the museum field. Um, we had a standing room only audience. Uh, what was it Joan, about a hundred and fifty?
Joan: 150 plus.
Anne: People. And there, there were men in that audience, but the majority were women, and the, and, and it ranged, the women ranged across the age range, um there were women of color there, so it was a, it was a diverse audience. Um, we asked, uh, the audience by a show of hands to uh tell us, uh how many of them felt that they had been discriminated uh, against, uh in their careers, uh, because of their gender. And three-quarters of the hands in the audience went up. And then we started to hear stories from, you know, unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, to outright felonies. Uh, our session could’ve lasted the entire morning. Women want an opportunity and men too, I would say, they need an opportunity to come together, to talk, to share their stories, to um, get advice as well as support. And, and we don’t provide that really in any kind of … Well, we don’t. We don’t provide it at any sort of formal way at any of our annual meetings, or major gatherings of our professional associations. That’s one small way we could, we could maybe help. Um, is, is give people an opportunity to share their story.
Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative), well, you know, we clearly have a lot of work to do in the sector, but I think conversations like this, um, open dialog, um, uh, are definitely making, helping make some, some progress along the way. So we really appreciate you both taking the time to, to speak with us today, um, about this. Um, if listeners want to learn more from you, or connect with you both in any way, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Anne: I think probably uh, through our blog, LeadershipMatters1213 and the attendant email there, which is email@example.com. Joan, did you have a-
Joan: Yeah, well and I would also say, just briefly, we’ve started an organization called Gender Equity in Museums, and it has its own um, its own webpage GenderEquityMuseums.com all one word. And that page has a wealth of information about these issues.
Jeffrey: Great, we’ll drop links to both of, uh, to all of that in, in the show notes. Joan and Anne, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, it was really, really great.
Anne: Thank you.
Joan: Thank you, it was a pleasure (music)
Jeffrey: nikhil is an application developer at a museum in Chicago and a social justice activist. His activism work focuses on ending rape culture and patriarchy through his role as a volunteer educator for rape victim advocates. He is also a regular contributor at the Incluseum. Co-creator of VisitorsofColor.tumblr.com, and his writing has been featured in Modelview Culture, and Forward Museums. You will also find him playing his guitar and sitar, composing noise, hiking, making herbal medicines, and drinking warm glasses of Chai on cold winter night. nikhil, thanks so much for being a guest this, this month.
nikhil: Of course, thanks so much for having me.
Jeffrey: We’re so glad that, that you’re a guest, uh, for this episode. But, nikhil, when we first approached you to, to be a guest, um, talking about um the concept of the gendered museum, you were a bit hesitant. Um, and conveying, you know, some, some just hesitation about being a guest. What, why was that?
nikhil trivedi: Well, I mean, I was super honored that you guys asked me to be on your show. I’m a big fan of your work and I was excited about the opportunity to be on your show, particularly about this topic, but it felt weird being a man talking about gender oppression. Because, I know it’s critical for men to be active in dismantling patriarchy, but this is generally a space that I’m careful and thoughtful about the space that I take up. And I usually step back to give room to voices that are typically silenced by sexism and male domination.
Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
nikhil: So, I think, you know, I just kind of wanted to say, right at the top, that as a [inaudible 00:36:19] gender, straightish man, speak, I want to speak to other men, from my own experience through our conversation today, and I feel like I can share my observations about gender oppression, as it’s targeted toward women, fem or gender non-conforming people, but I can’t, and I won’t speak for those people or their experiences. Um, and also, just um, one last thing. I don’t think there’s anything that I’m going to say, that probably hasn’t already been said, by a woman or a fem, or non-conforming person before me. Um, so I just want to recognize that.
Suse: Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean when we, when Jeffrey and I were first talking about this, uh, this show and, and this concept of the gendered museum, um, for me, I really wanted to dig into this subject in, a, a bigger way, so not just talking about gender oppression, although that is obviously part of that, and, and the other guests that we’ve got on this episode. We, we dig into that a little bit. Um, but for me, it, it was actually really important that we talk about the implications of gender on our institutions and, and how we think about the middle. So what it means for, for us say, if we have an imbalanced sector, what that does to our say, to our pay as a sector, what that does to um, even the sorts of stories we tell and how we related to audiences, so for me, it was actually really important that we were not just relegating this as sort of the um, the women’s issue show. Or, or, or something that was sort of limited. I was actually trying to get to some of these bigger discussion.
So, yes to talk to, um oppression as it relates to gender, and that’s definitely not just around women either. And that was important as well, though we have multiple voices, but also that we can get to, I think, um, some of the bigger questions, and, and one of the reasons I was really interested in having you, is you’ve done a lot of work yourself around gender constructs, and around contemporary notions of masculinity. And particularly as they relate to technology. And we, we’ve recently, we uh witnessed, some big conversations around this topic, being around say controversial um, the, the Google Anti-diversity Manifesto, which came about a couple of weeks ago. It was made public in August, which really argued against the organization’s diversity initiatives. And it was ultimately leading the male author of the piece to be fired. And, this is, this is one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is, is you’ve done a lot of thinking about this area yourself, within your own work, and it makes me really wonder how you see gender and masculinity playing into technology work. Uh, yourself as, as a technologist. Um, and then we’ll, we’ll discuss, go a little bit further into how that starts to relate to the museum.
nikhil: Yeah, I mean that Google letter, damn. (laughs)
Jeffrey: That was crazy.
nikhil: Yeah, I mean, there are so many pieces of that letter that we could probably have lengthy conversations about, and I feel like we can’t really talk about the gender piece of it, like you, like you mentioned, um, just now Suse, without talking about the race component of it right?
nikhil: I mean, I feel like the guy who wrote the letter, probably had cousins who didn’t speak up at Thanksgiving last year. You know what I mean? And you know, if this past year, you know, white folks have been thinking like how can they get involved in anti-racist work. Like talk to your cousins before they write a letter like this, you know.
nikhil: Like you try to get through to your cousins. It’ll probably take, you know, a long time. You know, no changes really happen between people and within ourselves without it being a long, lengthy process in close relation to the people that we’re close to, so, so it’ll often feel like we’re not getting through to folks. It’ll feel like, you know hopeless and all that stuff, but like we just have to keep trying to get through to people otherwise, who’s going to?
Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative). nikhil, what, what do you think it is about the technology aspect of this? You know, I mean, Google’s just one example but, you know, you can basically look across the landscape of, of, of technology startups, like Uber right? Like, is there an epidemic you think? Like, in relating to technology work?
nikhil: Well, I mean if we, if we look at some of the things that are happening in the tech sector through the lens of power.
Jeffrey: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Suse: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
nikhil: It’s not something that’s just isolated to technology. Right, a lot of um, economic power is uh located in a lot of large tech companies, and that results in a lot of leaders being white men, and a lot of the consolidation of power, looking a very specific way, while the workforce in a lot of cases also looks a very specific way. That’s not unique to tech, it’s not unique to museums, you know, if you look at fashion, and, um, the sort of distinction between designers and factory workers, or if you look at agriculture and the stereotypical image we have of old MacDonald, versus who we know historically have actually worked the fields.
nikhil: These, these dynamics aren’t unique to these sectors, and uh, I suppose you could call it an epidemic form that perspective, but I, I think there’s certainly a, it’s certainly gets exaggerated when power is increased to the degree that it is today in the tech world.
Suse: Yeah, I wonder how much of it is also a recency bias, as in say to, to go to museums, we also know that there is these sorts of um, these same imbalances playing out. But, in museums that have been established, uh, you know, institutionally for long periods of time, whereas we’re talking with a lot of these tech companies of reasonably new companies. And so we’re maybe able to see um, the effects of this in a far more magnified and dramatic way?
nikhil: I mean, the companies and the technology is recent, but innovation isn’t new. You know, like tech is sort of an extension of um, you know, the innovations that resulted in uh, electricity, and um, mechanical stuff. I mean, I, I obviously don’t know much about that sort of thing. But, it’s an extension of, of a much longer history that I, I think we um, often don’t um, don’t look to, for our roots, past the mid-90s, uh, maybe the mid-80s. Um, and I, and I think going back to the, to the letter, um, the Google anti-diversity letter, you know, it, it looks at gender, in really binary ways. You know, he um, he, he makes distinct and universal categories of men and women that have identical interests and desires and have never changed over time.
nikhil: And of course, that’s not really how people actually are. So when we talk about masculinity, masculinities in particular, like masculinity is also not a distinct universal category. Um, it’s not a universal trait. Masculinity’s varied by race, by class, by gender, by sex orientation, by geographical regions of the world, or even of a city, you know. Um, so I think it’s important to make a distinction, um, between people, between uh, masculinities that are expressed by people as individuals. And masculinity as a construct of learned thoughts and behaviors that enforce patriarchy through the domination of women. And across many expressions of masculinity, across masculinity in many communities, I think here in the United States in particular, because that’s where I’ve spent my whole life, I think I’ve seen commonalities across a lot of those, um, expressions of masculinity. And I think it’s important to talk about that more broader sense of masculinity than it is about the individual level.
nikhil: Particularly in this case.
Jeffrey: So, in, in Google’s response to the memo, um, their Vice President of Diversity, Integrity, and Governance, um, Danielle Brown, said, uh “Changing a culture is hard, and it’s often uncomfortable.” Um, and I think anyone doing progressive museum work knows that, you know, much of the time, change comes down to, to culture, um, culture change. So, I’m wondering, what you think about, um, some specific actions that we can take as museum professionals? Um, within our own institutions to, to make them more supportive of gender equality, um, um, both as places that, that we work in as colleagues, but then also, um, as places that, that people visit. And people, places that people um, uh, find comfortable and, and, and uh welcoming.
nikhil: Yeah, I mean, I think if I could sort of distill it down to one that’s kind of broad framework, to think about this stuff in, I would suggest that, and again speaking to, to other men, listening to your show as a man myself. I think we could … A framework we can use is thinking about um, dismantling rape culture in our lives, and at work. A, a useful definition of rape culture, that Roxane Gay provides in her book Bad Feminist, is a culture where we’re inundated in different ways by the idea that male aggression and violence towards women is acceptable and often in evitable. And violence can look a lot of different ways. There’s a great image, um, by Ashley Fairbanks, that draws out a pyramid of violence, where at the base of it is sexists, and homophobic, and transphobic jokes, problematic languages, and then as problematic language, and as you go up the pyramid, um, you know it goes to [inaudible 00:47:19] stereotypes, um, traditional gender roles, harassment, rape, and murder. And, I think at the root of all violence towards women, is an erasure of women’s lives, and I think there’s a lot of ways in which this plays out, in tech, and in tech in museums in particular.
Um, I think pay inequity is a huge part of that. Right? It is really well documented that men are paid more than women for doing the same work, but I think it also plays out in how work is distributed. We talked about how management is often men, and in museums, workers are mostly women. But I think, it, it also, we also see, uh, distributions between uh designers and developers. There’s, I don’t have data on this, but from my sort of anecdotal um, experience working as a developer for 20 some odd years, um, I’ve seen many more women designers, and front end designers, than I’ve seen backend server side jobs. And those are the jobs that pay more than designers and front end developers. And when, um, women do get development jobs, they’re often not treated as nearly as competent as their male counterparts, because much like the letter, this distinction plays into the trove that men are more analytical, and women are more creative, and when, when people move outside of those really distinct categories, they’re not taken as seriously then. You know, I think, they have to go over many more hurdles just to get the same amount of work done than a man has to go through.
Um, and it really sells us short. Because that erases, it erases our adaptability as creatures who live on this planet. You know, over the course of the history of this globe, humans and creatures have adapted to so many variant situations, as the climate has changed to, in so many different ways. Um, in nature, there’s so many examples of, um animals expressing, um genders that they weren’t born with. Like, female lions can grow manes, if they’re put in a position of leadership within their tribe. Like female lions can, can grow manes, you know what I mean. And so like-
nikhil: A woman can’t be a competent back end developer, like that’s just completely ridiculous and goes against everything we know about, about humans, people, and this entire planet. So pay inequity, I think is a big thing. We see it in a few different ways. And two other things, uh, that I think we can kind of break it down to is entitlement and the ability for men to speak and be heard.
nikhil: And entitlement, it plays out in a few different ways as well. Um, especially in museums, where the vast majority of our internal users, of the applications and the, the awesome tools we build, our women, this plays out in defining what our scope is during project planning or calling a project finished without implementing a full set of features [inaudible 00:50:25] for the sake of expediency, but often at the cost of complicated work arounds, and continued follow up from end users, and things like that. But also plays out in um, what can be seen as much more smaller ways. Like, being slow to respond to emails, or not keeping our spaces tidy, or, or not, not participating and keeping our shared spaces tidy, like kitchens, and bathrooms, because people do have to clean up those spaces. Not taking care of administrative stuff, like submitting our expense reports in a reasonable amount of time, or forwarding invoices where I wouldn’t get them.
There’s a lot of general ways in which um, the sense of entitlement can play out. Um, and I think that’s another way that, we sort of see masculinity in this problematic dynamic of power, play out in our relationships to people in the workplace. Um, and finally the general notion of speaking and being heard, and accredited for things that come out of our mouths. That, that doesn’t quite answer your question of what are specific things that we can do, but I think um, before we get into that, it’s important to kind of give some context of what it is that we’re responding to, by our actions.
Suse: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things, and you were just starting to touch on this when talking about um say the different value around designers, um, versus say back end developers. One of the concerns, I think we often talk about, when we talk about the dominance of masculinity or men working in technologies, thinking about the decisions of which problems to solve, and the solutions that are then found, which then tend to favor the much narrower subset of um, of possible users or of actual users. You know, I, I remember um, in about 2014, there were a number of articles that were talking about how smart phones at the time, were really being designed for male hands. There was a, a woman uh, I’ll try to remember her name and put it in the show notes, but she was writing quite a bit around how she actually couldn’t use the smartphone she was trying to, to document certain things, because her hands were not big enough to take a photograph and hold the phone at the same time. And she was having these really, sort of big concerns about this understandably, because it was the first time, she was sort of, uh, coming to, to have that articulation in a physical sense.
And this is obviously one of the reasons we make an argument for having diverse teams. In order to bring in multiple perspectives and solve problems more equitably. But, it makes me wonder when your sort of talking about say, um, that, that accountability within the museum, about what we choose to work on, and, and how we do that about the roles within the museum. One, one of the concerns then that come out of the fact that certain roles in museums do tend to be gendered, that we do have power accumulating in um, some part of the museum, and not others, that, that impacts pay, say education roles are often female, and lower paid. And, and of course, then you have front of house staff, and so on, which also then brings often in race issues.
nikhil: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, I mean, it, I’m not familiar with that, um, article that you mentioned, that’s really interesting. I’m not particularly surprised by it, because you know, if, you know, a decision trickles up to a leader about you know, a design question, um, I’m not particularly surprised that, that those design decisions would be slanted towards what would be most convenient for men. Right, because like, offices are so cold, because uh, men in three piece suits get really hot, you know, but women are, traditionally not asked to wear the same dress code, they just have to deal with how cold the offices are. Uh, so there’s a lot of different ways, I think that we can name how, um, that uh, how the imbalance of leadership kind of trickles down to um, spaces and the products we build not really working for everybody. And I think part of the challenge is like building software is expensive. And until, until leaders come to see that it’s, it’s actually more valuable to create products that um, work well for a wider range of people, than it is to, to make them quickly, and as cheaply, relatively, right, as possible. Um, we’re going to continue to see these sorts of things. So, it’s a reflection of where our values lie in the process of designing the products that we build, and that we’re asking our visitors to use. And that we use every day.
Suse: The museum sector is in its hiring practices, also skewing, uh, as white women, and so are we creating a self-reinforcing culture of only being able to um, think of and appeal to the same audiences that we have traditionally held through those hiring practices?
nikhil: Hmm, I have never really thought of it that way. Yeah, I mean, because in my experience, you know, with the Visitors of Color project, I’m talking to a bunch of people who for the most part aren’t older, white women.
Jeffrey: Right, right.
Suse: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
nikhil: So, my, my perspective of who visits museums, and who, um, you know, uses our products, who are typical sort of use cases in my mind is a lot different than that. But, um, but certainly I can see this sort of cyclical um, this cycle, that you’re, that you’re supposing might happen, if we, if our staff is so reflective of who our typical visitor is. But, I mean, I guess I would just challenge, you know, like there’s probably a lot of data saying like, “Yes, um the majority of our users fit these specific demographic categories.” But, like what’s the full story? [crosstalk 00:56:58] I feel like the numbers, you know, can only tell you one small piece of what you see when you walk through the galleries, or what, you know, what makes and impact for a particular person when they leave our doors. Um-
Jeffrey: nikhil, how can museums, start to [inaudible 00:57:14] that full story? You know, what are some ways that, you know that, that museums can start to um, become aware of the full story?
nikhil: Well, I mean coming back to the question that I didn’t quite answer before. Um, you know, using the framework of dismantling rape culture in our lives and in our work, I think there’s, you know, I, I put this question out on Twitter, um, a few weeks ago. And I’d love to put in [Storyfi 00:57:49] and share it in your show notes if I [crosstalk 00:57:50]-
Jeffrey: Oh yeah, for sure.
nikhil: If I can use pie cast lingo for a second (laughter)
nikhil: But, um, you know, like if I can borrow the phrase think local, or think global, act local. You know, dismantling rape culture in our own lives is a tangible way of participating in, in the global fight to end rape and all gender based violence. And based on, like the things that I’ve heard from people in my own life over the course of many years, in addition to the things that people um, on Twitter suggested, like there’s four things that I think um, we can put our minds towards. Uh, to try to do this work within museums.
Um, the first thing is to listen to women. Just listen to women. Ask for their input and listen to it. Um, as little Miss Fergus said on Twitter. Um, let them finish speaking as Claire Blechman said. And um, in um at museums in the web in 2014, um, there was a, a session on women in technology and leadership, and one of the things that, three years ago, that they suggested men do is acknowledge when you’re saying something that women before you have already said. And we saw, we saw something in the um, by the women’s staff, in Obama’s administration, um, that they were doing to sort of amplify the perspectives of, of women on his staff, and I think they called it amplification. And it was like, it was a, a thing that they did in group meetings, and staff meetings, where when a woman made a key point, other women in the group would repeat that same point, and give them credit. As a way to amplify, literally um the voiceless women of the room. And I think, as men sort of recognizing when we’re saying something that a woman has already said, even if it’s like five minutes after they said it, in a meeting, um, just naming and giving credit to the person who um, who said that thing.
Because this is one small way of erasing women’s lives, right? And by giving voice and giving credit to the person who, who said it before us, we’re slowly working on, on erasing those lives. Um, part of listening to women, we can take a beat before we speak and make sure that other voices at the table have had a chance to speak. Um, when, when I facilitate workshops, we often put this common agreement out there to step up and step back, where if you’re a person who tends to speak a lot, um try to take a beat and step back, and uh, you know, one rule that sometimes people keep in their mind is to let two other people speak before I speak. And on the opposite side of it, step up, if you’re a person who um, doesn’t often speak in group situations, be brave, try to challenge yourself, and share your thinking, because no one in the universe has the same intersections of identities as you do, and therefore will not have the same perspectives and thoughts as you, and we value them, so please share them.
So, I, I think, you know, if you’re a man who tends to need to step back, take that as an opportunity to step back and listen to women. And I think, um, one last piece about listening to women, Anna [Coster 01:01:23] said um, “Pay attention to the meetings women aren’t in.” And I think that begs for the hashtag, #allmalemeetings, as kind of a riff on all male panels. Um, pay attention, pay attention to meetings where they’re all men, and ask whether we should be having them.
Suse: Yeah, it’s interesting, uh, it goes to that, that final point of you know, who’s in the room, goes back to again that question we were just talking about around who’s designing the products, and who’s deciding which problems to solve. You know, deciding which is the problem that this, that your institution should be addressing, whether it’s which app should we create? Or which exhibition should we, we do? Um, I think they’re the same thing of who’s in the room, and who’s actually making those decisions. Um, nikhil, we are just about to, to wrap up, but there’s a question that I really wanted to ask. Um, as you, as you know, this episode, we uh, we are doing this question around the gendered museum to coincide with the impending birth of my child. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about um, how becoming a mother and a parent is going to impact my career. But I think we talk a lot less about parenthood and how it impacts uh, fathers or other caretakers who’ll be looking after small children. Um, you became a father a few years ago, and I’d really love to just hear how its impacted your museum work and the way you think about your career and the way you think about how you’re addressing these kind of issues?
nikhil: Yeah, I mean, I mean, I’m so excited about … Happy Labor Day by the way. We just, uh, it’s the week after Labor Day right now.
Suse: (laughs) Yeah.
Suse: Yeah, I was wondering if it’s going to be the other sort of Labor Day for a little while there, but uh-
nikhil: (laughs) It’s still labor nonetheless. Um, but yeah, I mean, I think parenting was such an interesting um, way to think about some of this stuff. When my partner and I were pregnant, we were trying to think about how to equally distribute care taking duties, between the two of us. Um, as we were preparing to have a baby, as well as afterwards. And, my partner gave birth, she, she nursed, uh, so there were certainly things that I couldn’t take the equal share of, but um, in the ways that I could, we uh, we both were reduced our work down to part-time for the first period of his life. Uh, as a way for us to both kind of keep continuing working and being home with our kiddo, because we didn’t want one of us to be working full time and the other to be home, because we both valued our jobs. We both valued our careers, and we wanted to do both. So for the first year and a half of my kids life, I worked part-time, and I feel super grateful to my institution for giving me that flexibility, and I also kind of feel … I’m super grateful to my boss, and my boss’s boss, and um, yeah, I’ve worked there for 12 years, or 11 years or something like that. So I built really close relationships to the people who supervise me.
So not to sort of say anything bad about them, but I, I do feel like I probably wouldn’t have been given as much flexibility if I were a woman to ask for the same thing. I, I think men are generally given a lot more flexibility with you know work schedules and with … Particularly on parenting, you know, women have such a hard time taking time off when their kids are sick. Or, you know, doing the sorts of things that um, that we think about, you know, being around for our kid when they’re having a hard time, or when we just want to be with them. Um, women have a lot more pressure to sort of like perform at work and not let parenting get in the way of their careers. And, men I feel like, when we do ask for stuff, it’s sort of seen as like, “Oh, that’s great, you should totally do that.” You know, we’re given a lot more freedom, and flexibility to stuff like that. So, I recognize that, and I sort of felt like, you know maybe if I could figure this out, maybe that would open up a little bit of space for someone else in my institution to work out something similar. You know, if I can try to maybe set a precedence for someone else to lean on.
If they were trying to ask for some flexibility or try to figure something else out. But that was just an amazing period of my life. Just to be home with my kiddo, two days a week. Just me and him. I got to see, I got to see a lot of first things that he did. Um, we got to just build a really close relationship with each other, that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was working full time. And that was something that was important to me, because um, my relationship with my own father, has not been a close one of the course of my life. So, I wanted, um, it was important to me to do what I, to do as much as I felt like I could do to make sure that I was building a close bond with my kiddo and sustain that, um, over the course of my life. And that year and a half certainly built a great foundation for us.
Jeffrey: That sounds so awesome.
Suse: Yeah, that’s really amazing.
Jeffrey: (laughs) Um, nikhil, I think, uh, we’ve taken enough of your time away from that beautiful family, so um, we’re going to wrap up, but before we do, we’ll drop links to everything we talked about in the show notes, but if listeners want to get in touch with you, um, Twitters the best place? Where can they do that?
nikhil: Twitter’s the best place, um, you can also uh, drop me an email on my website nikhiltrivedi.com, um, but I’m on Twitter. Twitter’s probably the best place.
Jeffrey: Sounds good. Uh, nikhil thanks again so much. I think this discussion has been really great. It’s going to um, uh, hopefully shine some interesting light on this, on this topic, so thank you so much for your openness.
nikhil: Yeah, thank you, I feel like there’s probably so much more that all three of us could say, regarding all this stuff, um, but it was great to try to put my mind towards this, um, for this episode and thanks for having me. (music)
Jeffrey: Okay Suse, uh, some great interviews there.
Suse: Yeah, absolutely, there is so much to dig into as always I think on this. On this show, I always find myself going in different directions, and it was so nice to hear from Anne, Joan, and nikhil, and get really different perspectives on these issues.
Jeffrey: Yeah, um, and nikhil actually sent through um, uh, uh, some resources that we’ll post in, in the show notes, um, in case listeners want to dig a little bit deeper. Um, uh, get a little bit more informed about any of this, um, what we’ll post, all his, his links and resources um, at Museopunks.org. Um, Suse, if uh listeners want to connect with us on the Twitters, can they do that?
Suse: Uh, they can definitely do that and in fact, we would welcome that. If you want to connect with us on the Twitters, uh, we are just @Museopunks and uh, of course, you know our website Museopunks.org. We also have to thank our presenting sponsor who always supports us and does so wonderfully. We are presented every month by the American Alliance of Museums and we are very grateful for that support.
Jeffrey: Thank you AAM. Uh, one last thing before we wrap it up.
Suse: Mm-hmm (affirmative) .
Jeffrey: Um, reviews on iTunes, if you like us, if you listen to us, um, reviews on iTunes help immensely with discoverability, so we would really appreciate a, a star, a star rating, or a, or if you have the time and inclination, uh, tell people what you think about the podcast.
Suse: Yeah, absolutely. It, it also helps to tell us what you think about the podcast. We are always welcome to hear your ideas and to think about how we can incorporate them into the show ourselves.
Jeffrey: For sure. Suse, another episode in the can.
Suse: In the can. Fantastic, Jeffrey, uh, by the time we [inaudible 01:09:58] next speak, I may, may have a little kid, so uh, I look forward to the adventures that, that holds.
Jeffrey: (laughs) Well will she be the first guest?
Suse: (laughs) If we can manage to uh corral her into uh making noise at the right time and not the wrong time, sure.
Jeffrey: (laughs) All right, Suse, we’ll be uh, we’ll be following along, good luck, and enjoy your first uh days of motherhood.
Suse: Ah, okay, bye.