Organizational culture is key to every museum’s success. The workers powering these institutions are vital to carrying out their missions, and as such assessing organizational culture to better understand and improve workplace conditions should be prioritized. As the US museum sector grapples with the need for more diversity and equitable representation in its workforce and leadership, the focus must be not only on hiring and improving the museum career pipeline but also on retention. We need to know if people are staying and getting promoted. We need to know who is departing and their reasons why. Put another way, in assessing a home’s water pressure, it isn’t enough to measure the rate of flow in the shower. We need to know about the leaky pipes along the way.
As an organization founded by art museum workers with the specific goal of improving our workplaces and making them more equitable, Museums Moving Forward (MMF) is uniquely positioned to tackle this information gap. This report, based on data collected in 2022, is the first study to focus specifically on organizational culture in US art museums and to do so with an equity lens. Thanks to the 1,933 staff members from more than fifty-four museums nationwide who participated in this pilot program, we can see for the first time how museum worker demographics (age, gender, disability, race, and ethnicity) and job characteristics (part-time/full-time, seniority, union status, department) correlate with pay and promotion rates, lengths of tenure, turnover, and more. MMF has developed new metrics, called parity scores, to measure change over time, as we plan to conduct this study every two years.
What we learned from the 2022 data is that while the overwhelming majority of art museum workers find a sense of meaning and purpose in their work, they are more dissatisfied with their jobs and workplaces when compared with US workers overall. We learned that two-thirds of art museum workers are thinking about leaving their jobs, if not the field altogether, and that low pay and burnout are the top reasons. Not surprisingly but no less sadly, the desire to leave is significantly higher for those who have faced discrimination and harassment in their workplaces. Needless to say, this is not a sustainable situation. Some might say the nonprofit sector has always suffered from low pay and burnout. But don’t art museums have a responsibility to apply creativity and experimentation to help free us from structural impediments?
MMF fundamentally believes that people who work in art museums deserve to thrive because of their commitment to art and culture, not in spite of it. Writing in 2023, we understand that museums face a range of operational and financial concerns. While equity in the workplace and organizational culture are not the only important issues at hand, both need to be taken far more seriously than they have been in the rooms where budgets and strategic plans are being drafted and approved and decisions are being made. We all need to work together—staff, leadership, boards, donors—across institutions to look bravely into the future of our field, embrace the sea change upon us, and take care of one another. In the aftermath of the Great Resignation and the middle of a unionization wave, there has never been a better time to assess where we are in terms of equity within museum workplaces and to identify improvements.
In the pages that follow, you will find what we heard from the field through an aggregate analysis of the 2022 data. At the end of the report are MMF’s recommendations for how museums can move forward. We share this report publicly as a meaningful addition to ongoing conversations about equity and diversity in the field.
This document is meant as a tool for discussion, not the final word. We invite you to submit comments using the comment button on the right.
— Museums Moving Forward