Wrap Up – Women in Archives

We are so thankful for everyone who has read and shared our posts. Thanks to all who commented publicly on the blog, social media platforms, and personal messages. Thanks to those discussing these topics off line with your colleagues, friends, and family.

What have we learned over the past two weeks writing about women in archives?

  • We weren’t the only ones asking trusted colleagues “Has this happened to you?”, “Do I really come across as mean?”, “Did you notice there are no female finalists for this high level or technical position?”
  • There are still enormous differences in how men and women are treated in the workplace at large and in the archives and library professions. We only skimmed the surface of recent studies in a variety of fields highlighting a few of these differences.
  • The personal is political. Our deeply personal experiences intimately connect to a larger social and political structure. Everything we’ve discussed has an impact on how we do our jobs. (We didn’t even get to discussing women and technology, being viewed as experts, etc…)
  • Social networks and sharing are important. As Maureen said in our kick off post, one reason for this blog in the first place was to share our work to help each other. We need to help each other in other ways too. Whether that’s providing advice on how to handle an inappropriate situation in the workplace or encouraging someone to apply to that next step up job we know they would rock (even if they worry they aren’t ready/qualified yet).
  • These issues are hard to write about. (Hence a wrap up post five days later than planned.) We probably should have kept track of the hours it took.
  • There is so much more to talk about. We brainstormed many more potential posts. We bet you have ideas too.

So, what’s next? What do you think? What ways will you be advocating for women in the profession or your institution? How can we continue the conversation?


Real Talk. Negotiating Salary in Archives

I’ve written and spoken about this issue before. The long and short of it is that women don’t tend to negotiate their salaries, and not doing so goes a long way toward accounting for the wage gap between men and women. So, now that I’m in my fifth professional job, I’m going to give you some real talk about my approach to negotiating.

You do not work for the joy of the collections. You do not work for the joy of research. You work for money. And even if you don’t, I do, and I don’t want you sending bad messages to employers that we’re compensated by the joy of our experiences.

Do everything you can to make sure you’re not negotiating with your future boss. If possible, it’s best to negotiate with someone from HR whom you’ll never see again in your life. If your future boss calls to make you the offer, say “I’m very happy to consider this offer. Could you please arrange for me to negotiate details with a human resources representative?”

On the flip side, if you’re a manager, you should also insist within your organization that negotiation must happen between the candidate and someone from HR (or the business office, if you’re a teeny-tiny organization and you don’t have an HR department). It is in your best interest that your new employee has the opportunity to negotiate an employment situation that works for everyone. Do you really want them to get a bad deal because they’re worried about how they’ll come off to you?

For my first job, my future boss emailed me and said that he would like to interview me, but I should know that the salary was set and that he would require me to stay for three years. I said that we could talk about that after he made an offer. Guess what? I was able to get a little more money and I didn’t agree to stay for three years. Don’t assume that a bogus first offer is final.

Educate yourself about market salaries for your job type and in your area. This is obviously really tricky when job ads don’t post salary information. But, salary information for public employees is freely available. You can even call the reference desk at a university or public library to ask them to help you look up salary information.

I’m a huge advocate for talking about salaries with friends (or anyone who asks — I’ve worked for five university libraries and I’m happy to answer questions about what I earned to anyone who contacts me). It’s hard to know if you’re making less money than you should be, or less money than male colleagues.

When I negotiated for my current job, I called the person who filled my seat before (it was a slightly different job, but the skill set is comparable and he came in with about the same experience and education). At one point in my negotiation, I point-blank said “I know that this person was making $X when he started four years ago and $Z when he left. $Y would be an equitable salary.” This did a lot to re-balance power in that negotiation. If you can say “I know that someone with the same job title at X peer institution makes $Y,” you can help demonstrate that they need to be competitive with the rest of the market.

They’re going to say a lot of stuff about equity within the institution, their budget, blah blah. And I don’t buy it. Let me tell you why. Librarians/archivists are the second-lowest paid profession that requires a master’s degree (we’re ahead of social workers… woo). We’re ALL already underpaid. If you’re an accomplished candidate, play hardball. And if you’re just starting out, start getting them used to the idea that archivists are worth money and that we’re going to ask for it. Professionals in other specialized fields wouldn’t put up with this, and neither should we. It may be absolutely true that this institution is broke and suffering. But this is not your responsibility. You have no obligation to let them balance their budget on your back.

For me, this has hit really close to home. I don’t work at a poor organization — in fact, I work at an extremely wealthy organization. My husband has pretty much the same job I do, but he’s in a museum at my university and I’m at an archives. He had been in his position for a year before I started, so I obviously knew his salary and the resources available to him. He also doesn’t have a master’s degree, and I have a very good one. I’ve been working as a professional for slightly longer than he has. Anyway, I was pretty gobsmacked when the starting salary I was offered was $13K less than what he earns.

I was ready for a serious negotiation. I’m not here to help protect this university’s decisions about which professionals in which departments deserve better salaries. The HR rep’s concerns about parity within the department rolled right off of me — they’re very welcome to give everyone else a raise to help achieve parity. I knew that I was a very desirable candidate, and I knew how much money they needed to offer me for me to take the job.

Negotiations can be full of bullshit. Stay cool with your list of what you want. HR reps like to talk about the intangible benefits of working at a wondrous institution like theirs — listen politely and let them say their piece, but don’t fall for it. I’ve worked at three Ivy League universities and two very wealthy private research universities, and really, the benefits (especially the “intangibles”) are all pretty much the same. The “merit increase” process is all pretty much the same, so don’t assume they’ll come to realize that you’re a spectacular employee and will give you a big raise. They won’t. You need to be in the ballpark of where you want to be at the time of negotiation, or it’s never gonna happen.

Obviously, you need to be polite and you need to listen. It’s best to start the conversation by asking “are you able to negotiate salary?” As we know, “tone” is important for women. You may end up with a crappy salary, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if the negotiation doesn’t go the way you want it to. You may even have to walk away from a truly crappy offer. The very most important thing is for you to develop a sense of responsibility and solidarity so that when you’re in the position to affect a new employee’s salary/hire package, you won’t participate in the bogus hivemind of scarcity and sacrifice that seems so prevalent in archival institutions.

Bossy, abrasive, and emotional

Here are some real life situations my fellow bloggers and other women we know in the profession discussed recently at SAA:

  • I bought up an ethical objection to a proposed new policy in a public meeting and was told “[name] you’re just being too emotional about this.”
  • When I bring up an issue with a current practice at a staff meeting and offer alternatives I’m told “[name] you’re being too critical.” When a male colleague brings up a similar issue and offers alternatives no one responds to him in this manner. He’s thanked for bringing up the issue/being willing to work on the issue.
  • Two female candidates interviewed for a position; one was better qualified but was very blunt. When the interviews concluded, she was critiqued by the (male) chair of the search committee for being “too aggressive.” The rest of the staff thought she was a breath of fresh air.
  • Being told by a co-worker “You need to ‘play nice’ if you want to change things.” (aka wait until people like you more before doing anything.)
  • In a small group meeting, I was conversing with my male colleague and told him to let me know when his part of the project was ready. I was promptly scolded in front of everyone for not saying “please” by an older female colleague.

While the examples above are verbal (and a small snapshot of experiences), Kieran Snyder released a study last week on how women and men are described in written performance reviews. The results aren’t pretty.

Results showing that women receive more critical and negative feedback then men.

Results showing that women receive more critical and negative feedback then men.

  • 58.9% of reviews of men’s work included critical feedback compared to 87.9% of reviews of women’s work.
  • Negative personality criticism shows up two times out of the 83 (2.4%) critical reviews for men. For women, it’s in 71 of 94 (95.9%) critical reviews. Essentially, “Men are given constructive suggestions. Women are given constructive suggestions — and told to pipe down.”
  • Bossy, abrasive, strident, and aggressive describe women’s behavior when they lead. Emotional and irrational when women object. Each word showed up multiple times in women’s reviews, but only the word aggressive showed up three times in men’s reviews. In two of those instances, it was to encourage men to be more aggressive.

Snyder’s study found that the gender of the manager didn’t seem to make a difference in the reviews (besides that reviews by female managers were about 50% longer.) Yesterday Carrie posted about being an advocate for those you supervise. Let’s add to that list with the charge to think carefully about the words you use to describe your employees. Maybe give yourself more time in your schedule to write performance reviews. Write drafts and let them sit for awhile so you can come back with a fresh eye and ask yourself:

  • Am I describing the person’s work or their perceived personality?
  • If I am critiquing personality traits, how does that affect their performance?
  • Am I providing negative comments when describing work well done?
  • Am I providing constructive feedback so they know what areas need improvement?
  • Is my feedback (positive or negative) providing concrete examples?
  • Would I describe this person differently if they were a different gender? Could someone guess this person’s gender just by reading the review?

Beyond performance reviews, we all need to carefully think about the language we use to describe or react to (written or verbal) all of our employees and colleagues. The words we use matter and can make a huge difference in how someone feels about their work and value, not to mention the future of their professional lives.

Caution: Pregnant Lady

Academia tends to have a reputation of being a fairly warm and fuzzy place of enlightened minds and progressive politics. Universities like mine pride themselves on liberal benefits packages that emphasize work-life balance and family friendly policies. This past year I got to compare perception to reality as I worked full-time, attended graduate school part-time (at a different institution), and gave birth to my first child. I found it really interesting, at times frustrating, to experience pregnancy from both sides of the ivory tower: as an archivist in a special collections library, trying to remain active and engaged with my job and the profession, versus as a master’s student in a history department, trying to graduate before my baby was born.

My workplace is pro-baby; many of my colleagues are parents, and the library administration is supportive of staff taking time off to have children. In regards to leave policy, the library is generous, particularly for its professional staff. I had no problems taking leave for doctor’s appointments or other medical issues during my pregnancy. My university offers three weeks of paid parental leave, which must be used following three weeks of the employee’s own leave. This policy seemed stingy at first, until I looked into other university policies and found that many institutions give no paid parental leave — the employee must use vacation or unpaid leave. The typical “family leave” policy bragged about by institutions basically just promises that you won’t lose your job or benefits if you need to take time off for family. Legally, according to FMLA, institutions of a certain size must offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for family members — so, most of these places are just following the law, and nothing more. In my case, I worked until the week I delivered my baby, and then took 13 weeks of leave, using a combination of my sick leave, the paid maternity leave, and my vacation time. I feel extremely lucky to have not had to take any unpaid leave. I also feel extremely lucky to work at a place that respected my time away from the office: My supervisor did not expect me to check email, call in to meetings, or answer for anything during my leave.

My experience as a graduate student was quite different than my experience as a university staff member. As someone working full-time, and not teaching or otherwise employed by the history department, I was already a nontraditional student for my program. But my pregnancy set me apart even more. My thesis adviser originally encouraged me to take a leave of absence for spring, believing that I would be too tired and distracted by my pregnancy to work on and defend my thesis. Another professor regularly made comments in class about my status as the “pregnant lady,” and at one point wrote a note on an assignment asking me if a mistake was due to “pregnancy brain.” Many of my problems stemmed from my professors’ inexperience in dealing with pregnant students. I was also inexperienced at dealing with being pregnant, and addressing these comments head-on. I gave birth exactly one month after my thesis defense. I cannot imagine returning to school and trying to write my master’s thesis now, as my adviser originally suggested a year ago.

On the one hand, I had a generally positive experience with my employer, especially in comparison to my concurrent experience as a graduate student. But, in the grand scheme of things, everything was still harder than it needed to be. I faced the same ignorant questions and unintentionally insulting comments that every pregnant woman faces, including plenty of remarks from colleagues and classmates. (I also received those same comments from friends, family, and strangers — many people outside of academia. People can become ridiculously invested in strangers’ lives and life choices, and pregnant women seem to attract the worst sorts of judgey, nosey comments at precisely the time when those women are feeling exposed, uncomfortable, and vulnerable.) I also found that my status as a pregnant woman put me at a disadvantage whenever it came to asserting myself. As our other bloggers have found, being labeled “too emotional” is already a common problem faced by women in the workplace. It can be very difficult to be taken seriously when sometimes you actually *are* emotional.

How does any of this relate to our theme of women and the archival profession? For one thing, the statistics suggest that pregnant ladies are all around. Survey respondents to the A*CENSUS were about 65% women, and nearly four out of five respondents under thirty years old were women. The census documents that three times more women than men began their archival careers between 2000 and 2004, the year of the survey. A 2010 survey about professional satisfaction among archivists under 35 ended up with a pool with women as 79% of respondents. With so many younger women entering the profession, it is time to improve the conditions faced by the pregnant women among us. Isn’t it a bit sad that three weeks of paid maternity leave was such a lucky break for me? Maternity leave for American workers is pathetic when compared to the rest of the world. But I was surprised that universities are not more generous in terms of parental leave for their staff — Duke is willing to pay for college tuition for my child to attend any school in the country, but is not willing to give me even a full month of paid maternity leave? Also, institutions that restrict parental leave to either vacation or unpaid time off are being needlessly punitive to their employees. My sick leave should be mine to use as I choose. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for many new parents, even when they work in the family-friendly world of academia. In addition, I should clarify that my institution’s paid parental leave is only available to the primary caregiver — so, if my spouse had also worked for Duke, he would not have been eligible to take that leave. Only one parent gets it. Considering that I spent my first six weeks of maternity leave recovering from major surgery, I find the designation of “primary caregiver” laughable and relatively insulting to fathers. This policy hurts everyone. Why are institutions encouraging the establishment of a “primary caregiver,” anyway?

The problems facing pregnant women go far beyond the archival profession or even academia as a whole, but, having experienced it firsthand, it has made me reconsider what it means to be a truly welcoming and accommodating workplace. I am so grateful that my colleagues were supportive and kind to me during this past year. Now it is time to push for broader changes at an institutional level. Ideally, I would like to see:

  • Paid family leave for women and men. Three weeks is not enough.
  • More creative approaches to keeping a work-life balance. One of my colleagues took 6 months of parental leave; another negotiated a 3/4-time schedule that gave her summers off to spend with her kids. I also know of several situations outside my institution where staff (all women, coincidentally) needed to take extended leave to care for elderly parents. All were able to keep their full benefits. These sorts of ideas should not be considered radical at the institutional level.
  • Protection and resources for pregnant women, especially graduate students, who find themselves treated differently by their departments or supervisors. Fortunately I wasn’t relying on my program for my livelihood. Other women are not that lucky and may feel unable to speak up, even when they have every right to complain about inappropriate comments or attitudes.

My transition to parenthood has changed my understanding of what it means for an institution to be accessible. I look forward to sharing more thoughts on what the archives profession can do for parents, particularly new mothers, in my next post.

Surveys referenced:
—“A*CENSUS: Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States,” American Archivist, 69 (Fall 2006), 329-330.
—Cushing, Amber. “Career Satisfaction of Young Archivists: A Survey of Professional Working Archivists, Age 35 and Younger,” American Archivist, 73 (Fall/Winter 2010).

Self Promotion

Self promotion is hard. It’s something I struggle with. Maybe you’ve found yourself in similar situations:

Do you ever get one of those library-wide emails celebrating someone’s work that make you wonder why some of the great, valuable things you’ve done aren’t acknowledged in this public way? Or read an article about a project getting lots of praise highlighting work comparable to a project you did three years ago that no one praised?

For me, the answer is likely because I didn’t tell them. Let me repeat; I didn’t tell them. I might have communicated a project was over or a goal met, but I didn’t provide context of it’s importance or significance. Or, I did, but didn’t suggest that this is worth other people knowing about too.

Do you find yourself saying things like “We implemented this new tool/service/policy”, “We shifted our strategy and focused on x”, or “We decreased our backlog by 22 percent last year!” Who is the “we” in this situation? While there will certainly be team based projects that deserve the “we”, often these should be “I” statements. My tendency is to use “we” so it sounds like I’m not bragging or taking all the credit. I even do this in job interviews.

You’ve probably heard this before. Men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. Or, men apply to jobs when they feel they meet 60% of the requirements and women apply when they meet 100%. Many assume that if you do good work and have talent,  it will be recognized and somehow people will just know. It turns out this usually isn’t the case and the thing that can make the greatest impact for women in career advancement or pay increases is self promotion.

Studies show that self promotion can be uncomfortable for women. When women do self promote, they tend to do it in ways that minimizes their contributions. For a while, I didn’t realize that even when I did discuss accomplishments, I did so in a minimizing way. Women are not usually taught to promote ourselves. We live in a social context where modesty norms have discouraged women from promoting themselves. Women who do self promote can encounter a backlash and be cast in a negative light.

So, what can we do?

  • Keep concrete examples of your accomplishments. Bring these to the attention of your supervisors and others in your workplace.
  • Connect your successes with the interests of those in decision-making positions. Show the impact of the work. Discuss your potential for doing more.
  • Communicate with your supervisor that you need their help in highlighting your accomplishments if they don’t already do this for you.
  • Ask for time to write about your work or present at a conference (and block/guard said time on your calendar and then follow through on completing said product)
  • Encourage others to promote their work. This can be a simple “Have you considered sending an email to so and so about this?”
  • Actively promote the work of our colleagues. This can go a long way. It’s been shown that women are more effective at highlighting the accomplishments of others or negotiating for others than themselves.
    • Fun fact: I didn’t tell people at my institution about this blog. Instead, two months after starting a co-worker brought it up at a department staff meeting and encouraged others to read it.
  • Actively promote the work of those you supervise.
  • Nominate people for awards. SAA has them, regional associations have them, your institution likely has them. Most award committees are hurting for more and stronger nominations.

What are some of your experiences in this area? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?

Lean where, now?

At and around the most recent Society of American Archivists annual meeting I heard and participated in a lot of great (and not so great), official and unofficial conversations about being a women in the archival field and being a female professional in general. Between the discussions about the availability of childcare and lactation rooms that happened in advance of the meeting, the Women Archivists Roundtable meeting that focused explicitly on helping women self-promote even in uncomfortable situations, and the Lean In Panel that prompted so much discussion, feminism became a sort of subtheme of the conference for me.

As it turns out, it is a pretty good moment to be talking about the intersection of women’s workforce issues, technology, and professional advancement. Whether it’s Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer’s two weeks of maternity leave or Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to young women to “lean in,” strong, professional women talking about workplace issues have been in the national news headlines with some frequency as of late.  These women and their colleagues, commentators, and critics have sparked a healthy national debate and plenty of heated water cooler conversations.

I am thrilled that these conversations are happening. We all need to be willing to share our experiences, encourage our colleagues, and call out bad practice when we see it. I am also particularly gratified that these conversations are highlighting highly successful women with serious skills in realms often thought of as guys’ domains such as the tech world. What I am less excited about is how quickly we have accepted Sandberg’s “Lean In” model as the logical and appropriate framework for that debate.  I cannot believe that encouraging young professionals to make some serious sacrifices in the areas of family, relationships, friendships, personal time, and leisure of all sorts and instead to go into professional overdrive all the time is the path to more equitable workplaces or happier, healthier professionals . Not all women have the ability to follow that path, and I seriously doubt that most of us want to.

I seriously question a model that asks us (all of us, women, men, black, white, religious, queer, ALL OF US) to figure out how to succeed in a system that doesn’t take our needs as workers and as people into consideration. Perhaps even more importantly, I find it very dangerous to posit a critique of structural, systemic inequities and then suggest solutions that are about individual action not systemic change. Sure, learning how to lean in will help many of us to assert ourselves more often, to negotiate a bit harder, and to promote our work more stridently, but honing those skills is not going to alter the wage gap, change parental leave policies, or eliminate all of the invidious, subtle forms of discrimination that we face in the workplace.

We don’t need to lean in as much as we need to change what it is we are leaning in to.

Women and Archives — Living with Legacies

And now for something not so very different

The subtitle of this blog talks about four archivists’ battles with legacy description. And it’s true that what we have in common is that we’re all in technical services roles at big institutions, dealing with big problems at a big scale. This means that we’re constantly on the look-out for automated fixes and methodical approaches. This blog is a way for us to help each other think through challenges, and to publish our results as we find them, with the hope of helping others.

It’s also true that we’re all women who take our involvement in the profession very seriously. Some of the legacies we face aren’t just the clean-up work we have to do — it’s also a legacy of gender, race, and class inequity within the profession. Obviously, none of us are overtly suffering. But there are weird things that we notice in our workplaces, in search committees, and in the wider dynamics of who has power in the profession that make our lives harder than they need to be. Most challenging is that even though there’s pretty good information out there to show that inequities persist, it’s very rare that this is treated as a problem at the institutional or professional level.

Perhaps you’ve asked yourself some of the following questions:

  • Why do I feel like it’s so hard to break through as a domain expert?
  • Why did that guy get promoted/hired when he has less experience and gets less done than the rest of us?
  • Is it just me, or am I getting an especially surprised/negative reaction to this salary negotiation?
  • Why are my colleagues treating my paid family leave like a special favor?
  • Why do I feel reluctant to promote my work? Why wasn’t my work publicized? Why do others take credit for my work?
  • Why doesn’t anyone expect me to be interested in technology? Why is it so hard to find opportunities to learn?
  • I really wish that folks would stop characterizing my reasonable ideas/comments/critiques as “emotional.”
  • With a full-time job and family care responsibilities, I don’t know how I’m going to volunteer time to my professional organization.
  • Why doesn’t my organization have paid family leave?
  • I have a master’s degree and a very specialized skill set. Why do I make so little money?

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to be writing blog posts that address these and other concerns in the context of institutional/professional/social legacies. We are speaking from our own experiences and from the perspective of having lived our lives as white women. However, it’s not a secret that men and women of color in our profession face an intersection similar issues, as well as a whole different set. I’m not in a position to speak authentically to these experiences, but we would welcome any writers that might have something to say.

We hope that you’ll comment, and perhaps even join in. That having been said, this is our space. Comments will be moderated. I’m too old to reply to anti-feminist mythologies regurgitated by strangers on the internet.