Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Gender & Leadership

Katrina Sedgwick (Director & CEO ACMI), Louise Herron (CEO, Sydney Opera House), Rose Hiscock (Director, Powerhouse Museum) and Kim McKay (Director & CEO Australian Museum) at the Communicating the Museum conference in 2014.  Source: CTM 2014.

Gina Fairley, Smashing the glass ceiling, or not?  ArtsHub, 4 March 2015

The top chairs are not reserved exclusively by men – though the numbers remain out of kilter – exposure helps a shift in attitude.

Sunday 8 March is International Women’s Day. While that is a moment to celebrate the advancement of women’s place within contemporary society, it is also a time to call to measure the reality of those claims of equality in the work sector.

ArtsHub spoke with some of Australia’s leading arts professionals in our museum sector  – who happen to be women – to survey the state of the “glass ceiling”.

While there was a consensus that the balance remains out of kilter in the top seats, evidence suggests that it is shifting at lower ranks. But in that there lies a problem. Is it a lack of confidence from women themselves to advance their careers or are the same old arguments – such as the impact of motherhood – creating stumbling blocks that will never change?

ArtsHub spoke with Kim McKay, the first woman to take the top job at the Australian Museum, and who is powerfully driving a $7.2 million redevelopment. She has the right idea. ‘When mail comes addressed to Mr. Kim McKay it lands in that ‘special round filing tray’ – the bin!’ she said, implying that first we need to move beyond the presumption.

The dynamic Rose Hiscock, Director Powerhouse: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS), who is also shepherding her organisation through tremendous change, suggested: ‘We should turn to the performing arts sector for inspiration. Performing arts companies are probably more nimble and agile than museums and galleries and maybe women have thrived in this environment.’

Women head up directorships of two of the five primary cultural institutions under the NSW government, with the appointment of Janet Carding as the new Director of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) – the first of our State art museums to appoint a woman since Betty Churcher held positions at AGWA and NGA in the 1980s and 90s, respectively – announced this week.

‘Evidence would suggest we have a problem’, said Hiscock. ‘Of more than 20 directors in the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD), only five are women.’

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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