New leaders should represent us all

Maggie Appleton, Issue 113/06, p19, 01.06.2013
The news highlighting the low percentage of women in senior leadership positions in museums came as a genuine shock to many.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been told that we cannot possibly need to campaign on this issue, simply because so many people working in the sector are women.

In fact, that makes it even more unacceptable that just 28% of our major museums and galleries are led by women, and that a similar percentage of trustees and board members are female. So what is to be done? As a starting point, we need to look closely at some of the basics.

How openly are these roles advertised? What is the make-up of interview panels? How well do we support flexible working? Getting these fundamentals right will benefit everyone in the profession, not just women.

There are wider issues at stake here, too. To ensure a better leadership profile for the future we must strengthen our recruitment and development practices at every level.

Alongside the dearth of women in senior positions, we must continue to tackle other inequalities, too. Austerity-driven job cuts mean that graduates who have invested time and money in their education are often struggling just to get a foot on the ladder.

This must not impede the progress made in recent years to open up entry routes into the profession. Young people from families with no experience of higher education are reluctant to take on significant debt to achieve even a first degree.

But where is the incentive for museums to put resources into the development of school leavers when there is already a surplus of talented, skilled graduates prepared to work for all too little, just to get some experience under their belts?

If the sector is to develop a new generation of outstanding leaders who are truly representative of the society we seek to document and interpret, these challenges must be tackled.

So the Museums Association’s workforce plan, Working Wonders, couldn’t come at a better time, addressing workforce issues at all levels and offering key recommendations for stakeholders and funders.

And it is backed with Arts Council England-funded support, via the Creative and Cultural Skills’ Cultural Heritage Blueprint, to support interns and apprenticeships into the profession.

Culture secretary Maria Miller’s commitment to diversity and representation of women is welcome and we need that leadership from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. But we all have responsibility for the leaders of tomorrow, and that means not becoming inward looking just because the landscape is challenging.

This is precisely when we should protect our organisations’ training and development resources. Only that way will we ensure that we face the future with more creativity and greater business acumen than ever before.

Maggie Appleton is the chief executive of Luton Culture and a Museums Association board member


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13.06.2013, 00:21
This constant carry on about male and female job percentages is both tedious and pointless. It is not a 21st Century matter. Our markets jn this area sort themselves out and too much time is being spent on this nonsense. The equality argument is well and truly over. Even the statistics are absurd. Recall: "Lies.Damned Lies and Statistics"? Get over it and as they say "Move on!"
Malcolm J Watkins
MA Member
Director, Heritage Matters
12.06.2013, 16:48
I have no doubts that women and men are both capable of doing essentially similar jobs, especially in management, but there is a fundamental lack of thought in the presumption of 50:50 by gender. In my experience most women (admittedly not all) have interests outside the working environment that make them less likely to push themselves to the maximum possible. It is nothing wrong, or bad, just a difference between men and women in much the same way as more men than women are likely to be interested in sport, or more women than men interested in baby things. There are always exceptions, but we would be foolish to assume that women always fail to climb to the top of their profession because of some glass ceiling created by men (or even women).
The simple statistics do not always tell the full story. Given the wholesale culling of the profession currently, it would be better to fight for jobs for all rather than complaining about some questionable statistic.
As for the dearth of openings for graduates, I graduated in 1972, and found that I couldn't get a job without experience (and the diploma) which I couldn't really get without a job..... I finally undertook a second (museums studies) course and obtained my first post in 1974. I was not unique. Entry into the profession always has been hard, and has required considerable dedication.
It is ironic that in a profession based around history of one sort or another, some seem not to have no sense of the past.
Mind, I am probably a dinosaur.
But that doesn't make me wrong.....
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications & Events, Museums Association
19.06.2013, 11:48
Much as I'd like to respond to the above comment I'm far too busy rearranging the contents of my handbag and wiping baby sick off my frock. No doubt being distracted by such matters accounts for the fact that I am still likely to be paid less than a man and am much less likely to be on a board, even in the cultural sector.
51% of women and men from middle management to director level identify stereotyping as the major hurdle women face at work; so let’s leave the typecasting back in the period dramas, where it belongs.

MA Member
12.06.2013, 13:58
Much as I agree with this, I would note that as a man, I am in a minority in my field of specialism (which is not really related to my current post) The majority of jobs in that field are held by women, which is absolutely valid, but it should be pointed out that to be truly representative, all jobs and fields should equally represent all. We should look at the nature of the jobs too, and see if there is a gender bias in relation to certain roles/posts/speciality areas - as you say, "most people working in the sector are women" - but maybe we need to look more closely at how "the sector" is broken down.