To my astonishment, Baby Boom: Motherhood and Museums has consistently been one of the most popular AASLH blog posts since it was published a year ago. And, honestly, I have very mixed feelings about that news.
On the one hand, my competitive side is thrilled. And the writer in me is also pretty astonished that so many people read (or at least looked at!) my words. But I’m also deeply disturbed that it was so popular—clearly, this blog post hit a nerve. My friends’ stories about negative experiences with maternity leave at museums are not anomalies, and we have some serious work to do as a field.
There are a few updates to share, and one important lesson that applies to all of us—not just parents. Friend #1 has left her museum to start a new job in the development office of her alma mater. Though she hated leaving the field, it was the best decision for her and her family. Her schedule is more predictable now, and she was even able to do some flex scheduling this summer to get three day weekends. She’s staying connected to the museum world, but for where she is in her life right now, she can’t make a museum career and motherhood work together.
Friend #2’s boss left by “mutual decision” shortly after the original blog post was published. That director only lasted eight months at the institution; so clearly, my friend wasn’t the only one she treated poorly. There was a gap between directors, and my friend was able to take a little more control over her schedule. Her older child started preschool this fall, and she’s arranging things so that most days she can pick him up from school and not deal with after-school care.
So, perhaps there is a lesson here: Flexible schedules are critical for working parents. Or to be completely honest: ANY EMPLOYEE. At my institution, there’s always been an understanding that if you need to take off to deal with life, take off. Though there are certain times that are all hands on deck, those times are rare and can be planned around. I have one employee that volunteers twice a week at Vogel Alcove, a neighboring non-profit. So, two days a week, she comes in early and leaves at 3 p.m. I have another employee that’s in grad school. I don’t really see him on Thursdays. And that’s okay. Is your institution helping or hindering the work/life balance?
In September, my board voted on a new personnel manual. We broadened the language for a Family Leave Policy. Unfortunately, it is unpaid for now. In my staff’s favor is a new Paid Time Off policy, rather than our old mix of sick days (which few people used), vacation days, and comp time (basically illegal for most employees with the new Department of Labor Overtime Rule). When we discussed this with staff, we said quite simply, “We don’t care why you’re taking off. Just tell us when you’re going to use it.” We will all miss the flexibility that our generous comp time policy allowed us to have, but this is a pretty good compromise.
The new DOL overtime law is causing a lot of museums to rethink staff time and work/life balance issues. Even though the DOL rule is now delayed, we are acting as if it is the law. Though I miss offering my staff a level of flexibility with comp time, I also know that many museums don’t have similar policies. Maybe we all need that structure to be fairer to all of our employees.
And finally, another museum friend became a father almost a year ago. He hilariously posted on social media one day: “That was a disaster. A lot of crying, shrieking and hollering, a poop, a half a nap, and some super red cheeks. She did not like the natural history museum.” So, other than the fact that his daughter clearly is not a museum fan yet, he has also realized how different his “new dad” story is from the stories above. He took off one week, planned to take a second week later and things came up at work. His organization was very supportive, but he didn’t feel like he could leave staff during a critical time at his institution. He’s struggling to figure out the work/life balance, and work has been winning lately. In his note to me, he wonders: “…is that because I didn’t fight for who I wanted to be as a dad?”
So, clearly, we have much work to do—gender issues, work/life balance, and more. But at least we’re talking about it. Let’s make sure we continue that conversation. Maybe we’ll start to find a few answers.
A note from AASLH’s Chief of Operations, Bethany Hawkins: AASLH has also been thinking about work/life balance for our staff. In the fall of 2016, the association changed its leave policy to a Paid Time Off policy that allows employees more flexible leave time. AASLH also offers a sick leave bank where employees can save unused PTO at the end of the year for extended sick leave which can also be donated to other employees if a serious illness or family situation occurs.
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