Art Market
Gender Gap Wider at Wealthier Museums, New Study Finds
By Isaac Kaplan
Mar 23, 2017 6:33 pm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by John St John, via Flickr.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by John St John, via Flickr.

A new study released Wednesday by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has found that women directors are both underrepresented and underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts in the United States. The disparity remains particularly acute at wealthy institutions, despite incremental progress in narrowing the gap.

The AAMD found that 48% of the 210 museum directors who responded to the 2016 study were women, up 5% since data was last gathered in 2013. Across all institutions, women directors earned an average of 73 cents for every dollar paid to men in the same position.

Wealthier museums—defined as those with operating budgets over $15 million—revealed more dramatic gender inequity. Roughly 30% of such institutions are directed by women; by comparison, women helm 54% of museums with budgets under $15 million.

And the gender gap at wealthy institutions actually widens as their coffers deepen. Of the 13 highest-budget institutions in the United States, 12 have male museum directors. As such, the study bolsters calls for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to appoint a woman as director, following the resignation of Thomas Campbell.

The study, prepared in collaboration with the National Center for Arts Research, also examined salaries among museum directors. A pay gap exists at all museums, though once again the disparity is markedly larger at wealthy institutions. Museums above the $15 million threshold paid women directors 75 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. This figure is up five cents from three years ago, representing a 13.1% increase in salary (male directors saw a 5.8% increase, by comparison). However, at the current rate it will take 75 years—until 2091—to close the wage gap.

Smaller institutions saw more parity—women earned 98 cents for every dollar earned by men at such museums. But the figure represents a decrease since 2013, when women at such institutions earned one cent more per dollar than men.

When salaries are evaluated as a percentage of an institution’s budget, women were found to be “largely on par” with men, with the difference varying only by about one percentage point. Still, since women predominantly helm smaller-budget institutions, they continue to be at a disadvantage in overall dollars compared compared to male directors.

Along with size, the study also broke down the institutions by type. They found culturally specific institutions (57% helmed by women, earning 91 cents per dollar compared to men) and university institutions (60% helmed by women, 85 cents per dollar compared to men) to be the most equitable. Encyclopedic museums comprised the plurality of respondents to the survey, but were the worst in terms of equity. Some 59% were helmed by men, with women earning just 69 cents on the dollar.

“The first step in addressing inequality is acknowledging it,” Lisa Phillips, director of New York’s New Museum, told the New York Times in response to the report. “Hard data makes it plain and clear.”

Despite the hiring of women directors at prominent institutions such as Maria Balshaw at the Tate this year, and Anne Pasternak at the Brooklyn Museum in 2015, the study suggests that the gender gap endures due to the demographics of museum boards and the inflexible working conditions afforded by director positions. As men depart their jobs and a growing number of women train for leadership positions, there is the potential for larger and more enduring progress.

More broadly, a study published in the December issue of Social Currents found that women working across arts professions make almost $20,000 less per year than men, before controlling for other factors. The figure is similar to the gender pay gap endemic to the wider U.S. working world, where women make 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Though the AAMD study released Wednesday doesn’t address issues like racial inequality, a 2015 report by the Mellon Foundation found that such positions are overwhelmingly held by white (non-Hispanic) identifying individuals, with minorities holding fewer than 20% of museum leadership roles.


Isaac Kaplan is an Associate Editor at Artsy.