Gender in Museums

According to The World Bank, women account for 49.5% of the global population, yet, representation of female artists in museums rarely approaches that number. However, while small museum directorship has inched closer with around 47% of small museum directors being women, this has not solved the problem of sexism in the museum industry, both hostile and benevolent.

These resources predominately feature art institutions and museums at the center of their arguments, but museums of every kind should consider their own difference in representation and think critically about the gender makeup of their museums.

The graph below highlights the difference between the ratio of women in the population and women who are represented in art museums.


(All numbers courtesy of National Museum of Women in Art, additional graphs regarding the disparity between genders in exhibition space can be found here.)

In addition to the numbers, “Gender in Museums,” by Mary Kosaut provides an in-depth look at how women are excluded from the narrative of “great artists and Katy Kelleher’s “The 51%”.

Gender Equity in the Art World suggests some potential reasons behind this disparity including the desire to equate worth with the cost of the art pieces themselves.

Some museums have organized programming to push back against these numbers. For example, the American Women’s Artist organization dedicated themselves to 25 years of museum showcases for female artists, with four coast-to-coast shows scheduled for 2019. 

For examples on how to integrate female art and artists into your own museum, Culture Action Europe (CAE)’s “Gender Inequality in the Cultural Sector” provides a list of “Good Practices: What Can Be Done? (beginning on page 29 of the bulletin)

As one example, CAE suggests that museums consider applying quotas or affirmative actions to their exhibit space, requiring themselves to include a certain amount of female artists/art pieces. This can be done either as a baseline (I.E. always having a minimum of 10 artists/art pieces) or as a ratio (I.E. 1 female artist/piece for every 2 male).

Similarly, Gender Equity in Museums recommends Five Things to Lift Women in the Workplace:

  1. Ask yourself, who​ ​are​ ​your​ ​institution’s​ ​hidden​ ​figures?​ Look around you—there are women in your institution who are making important, thoughtful contributions to your work everyday. These are colleagues who deserve recognition and support. Raise them up!
  2.  Learn more about wage gap and wage disparity and be aware of how those practices might exist in your museum.
  3. Move to a blind hiring practice where you are unaware of a potentially employee’s gender when reviewing applications.
  4. Develop a system where women can succeed in your museum.
  5. Review your exhibits to see how many female artists you feature.