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SMU Study Finds Gender Inequality in Art Museum Director’s Salaries

by Jerome Weeks 7 Mar 2014 5:27 PM

Another month, another revealing arts data study from SMU’s National Center for Arts Research. But this one, about gender inequality in the salaries of art museum directors, isn’t as simple as it might sound.


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 Hey, another month, another revealing arts-data study from SMU’s National Center for Arts Research.

Fewer than 43 percent of art museum directors are women. And the female directors, on average, are paid less than their male counterparts. These are the results of a joint study done by SMU’s NCAR and the Association of Art Museum Directors. It found that female directors at museums with budgets of more than $15 million earn 71 cents for every $1 male directors earn. At the same time, women who run art museums with smaller budgets do earn more than their male counterparts – annually, they earn 2 cents more.

Averaging both groups, though, still leaves a gender gap for female directors of 79 cents for every dollar male directors earn.

For North Texas art museums, the Kimbell is the only one that would be a “top” museum by reason of its budget. The study notes that across all non-profits with budgets of more than $50 million, women hold only 16 percent of the CEO positions.

In all this, the study takes into account other factors besides gender that may have led to the salary disparity. It concludes that the only other relevant influence involves whether a director was promoted from within a museum or hired from without. ‘External hires’ generally get bigger salaries; women are more often promoted from within.

In his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama cited the familiar statistic that, on average, American women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, calling it an “embarrassment.” He was taken to task for using a dubious, sweeping average that doesn’t account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours per week. Christina Hoff Sommers, a frequent critic of feminism, has argued, “Much of the wage gap can be explained away by simply taking account of college majors.” In other words, women tend to enter professions (human services, social work, the arts) that typically pay less than the engineering and science professions (pharmacy, metallurgy, petroleum) that are mostly male and are often the highest-paid. The same may be said of finance and business administration: less than 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are female.

But the NCAR / AAMD study finds gender inequality within a single profession. This bias has been changing, the study says, over the past five to ten years and it suggests “that advances will continue to be made toward equality.” The study doesn’t state this explicitly but the implication raised by the female directors in smaller art museums being paid slightly more is that this is a generational change. In short, these female directors haven’t been in the field long enough — yet — to be promoted to the ‘top’ museums. It also suggests that the reason often given for not hiring a female director from outside a museum — that there’s isn’t a good enough pool of qualified candidates — will increasingly not reflect reality.

The full release and report:



Based on 2013 Data From AAMD Member Institutions, Study Shows Women Hold Fewer Than 50% of Directorships and Average Salaries Lag Behind Those of Male Counterparts


DALLAS (SMU) – The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, today released findings from a research study (which can be found online on the NCAR website) designed to understand the gender gap in art museum directorships and to explore potential factors to help AAMD member institutions advance towards greater gender equality.  Through a combination of quantitative analysis and interviews, NCAR and AAMD researchers – led by Zannie Giraud Voss, Director, SMU NCAR, and Christine Anagnos, Executive Director, AAMD – examined the current and historical factors of the gender gap in art museum directorships. They found that women hold fewer than 50% of directorships and that the average female director’s salary lags behind that of the average male director – with overall disparities driven by mostly the largest museums.

In 2013, AAMD conducted a survey of its members, and  the data collected from 211 of its members (a 97% response rate) included each institution’s operating budget, endowment, the director’s (or top official’s) salary and the director’s gender.  Additional research was collected on each director’s tenure in his or her current position and on the position held prior to his or her current directorship (with previous position data found for 193 of the 211 directors).  The study sought to answer two main questions: What is the current state of women in art museum directorships? What are some factors that may drive the gender gap? The NCAR and AAMD study had several key findings:

  • Out of the 211 directors included in the AAMD survey, 90 directors were female; women held 42.6% of art museum directorships.
  • On average, female directors earned $.79 cents for $1 that male directors earned.  (In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median pay of women nationwide is 82% of that of men.)
  • Segmented by operating budget, these gender disparities are concentrated in museums with a budget of over $15 million – roughly the top quarter of museums.  In this segment of museums, there are fewer female directors than male directors, and female directors earn less on average than their male counterparts – $.71 cents for $1 a male earns.
  • At museums with budgets under $15 million, the number of female directors is nearly equal to the number of male directors, and, on average, the women earn slightly more ($1.02 for every $1 a male director earns).

Other factors besides gender that may have influenced the salary and representation differentials noted above were examined through qualitative analysis and interviews with executive search consultants who work with art museums.  The study found that a position a director held before entering his or her current position had an effect on average salary: if the person attained the position through internal promotion, he or she was at a salary disadvantage compared to peers hired from other institutions.  Directors who previously held a non-director job were also at a salary disadvantage when compared to their peers who had previously held the top position at another institution.  These observations are true for both men and women, but the number of women who have become directors through internal promotion is greater, and these factors may have contributed in part to salary disparities.


A visual summary of the study can be found online at the National Center for Arts Research.  In addition to Voss and Anagnos, co-authors of the study are Anne Marie Gan, SMU MA/MBA Class of 2015, and Alison D. Wade, Chief Administrator, Association of Art Museum Directors.  The authors gratefully acknowledge Lisa Phillips, AAMD Trustee and Chair of the Association’s Professional Issues Committee, for spearheading this project.

About AAMD

The Association of Art Museum Directors – representing 236 art museum directors in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico – promotes the vital role of art museums throughout North America and advances the profession by cultivating leadership and communicating standards of excellence in museum practice. Further information about AAMD’s professional practice guidelines and position papers is available at


About NCAR

In 2012, the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University launched the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR). The Center, the first of its kind in the nation, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public. The vision of NCAR is to act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community.


With data from the Cultural Data Project  (CDP) and other national and government sources such as the Theatre Communications Group, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the National Center for Arts Research is creating the most complete picture of the health of the arts sector in the U.S. The goal of the Center is to become the nation’s leading source of expertise on: 1) arts attendance and patronage, 2) understanding how managerial decisions, arts attendance and patronage affect one another, 3) the impact of the arts on communities across the U.S., and 4) the fiscal trends and fiscal stability of the arts in the U.S., and create an in-depth assessment of the industry that allows arts and cultural leaders to make more informed decisions and improve the health of their organizations.


The project’s indices and dashboard were created in partnership with IBM, TRG Arts and Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). The Center also partnered with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to develop its mission, vision and long-term strategies.


NCAR is led by Dr. Zannie Voss, chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in the Meadows School of the Arts and SMU Cox School of Business, and Dr. Glenn Voss, Endowed Professor of Marketing at Cox School of Business. Through this leadership, NCAR sources its cross-disciplinary academic expertise in the fields of arts management, marketing, statistics and econometrics from Meadows and Cox faculty.


More than a dozen visionary foundations and individual arts patrons have supported NCAR with financial investments, including the Communities Foundation of Texas, M. R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation, Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation, Jennifer and Peter Altabef, Marilyn Augur, Molly Byrne, Bess and Ted Enloe, Melissa and Trevor Fetter, Carol and Don Glendenning, Jeanne R. Johnson, Nancy Nasher, Nancy Perot, Bonnie Pitman, Caren Prothro and Donna Wilhelm.

The Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships