When I read Melissa Prycer’s AASLH posts, “Baby Boom: Motherhood and Museums” and “Baby Boom II: Motherhood and Museums One Year Later,” I was inspired to write about my experience, since this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Her articles show the challenges that can arise within an organization when the staff and board are not working in concert with each other. I would like to share a positive story on parental leave.
I work as an executive director of a small museum. We have four staff members and only two of us are full time. I started as the part-time program coordinator in 2009 while raising two school-age children. I was able to take time off for my children’s activities and they even were able to come to work with me every day after school until they were old enough to be home alone. Our previous directors also negotiated family time, and one even had a dedicated play space/nursery for his young children in the museum. I recently accepted the position as director, so I do understand the challenges of a full-time versus part-time commitment as well as having young children in this profession.
Our board of management has remained much the same for the past 15 years. Many have shifted positions, some have moved on and younger members have joined, but as a whole the board make–up is the same. Our board is not perfect, but they do work cohesively. We are fortunate that our board consists of an attorney, HR manager, accountant, retired fire chief, marketing director, and many more professionals. In their personal lives, they have worked for women’s rights for over 30 years through their activism within organizations such as American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and PEO, a philanthropic organization that celebrates the advancement of women.
In November 2016, we began the process of updating our employee manual to include benefits for the part-time professional staff. A colleague who had just returned from her maternity leave suggested I write a maternity policy at the same time, as her leave experience was very positive. She sent me the “Baby Boom” blog post. At our last personnel committee meeting we discussed the AASLH articles as well as a Chicago Tribune article that was published on January 21, 2017, entitled “Key elements of a good parental leave policy” by Romy Newman.
No one in our organization was currently planning on needing parental leave, so we were able to focus on crafting a good policy rather than being pressed by needing to address an imminent decision. With input from the board, our final parental policy includes six weeks paid for maternity leave for both full- and part-time staff, and four weeks paid for paternity and adoption leave.
The two lessons we learned from this process are: a) even though we are a small organization, we can take on significant policy challenges; and b) when a director and the board work together, change can happen. I constantly communicate with the board providing them with information before they need it. There is a trust that has been formed and because of that trust, large policies can be made that can change the dynamics of the industry.