The post below was first published on the Women Archivists Roundtable’s blog on June 16, 2016. In it, Elizabeth Dinschel, founder of the Women’s Affinity Group (WAG) at the National Archives and Records Administration, discusses some of the challenges women face in the workplace.
The country, or mostly women, are buzzing about the wage gap, but does the gap exist in fields dominated by women such as Museums, Archives, or Libraries? Maybe not in the way you think, but the gap exists. I founded the Women’s Affinity Group (WAG) at the National Archives and Records Administration to address some of the obvious barriers, highlight the important contributions women have made to history through our collections, and provide inclusive activities to help women who may be struggling in the workplace. It is worthy of note that the executives and senior level staff have been abundantly supportive of the Women’s Affinity Group and all affinity groups across NARA. In fact, the first people I discussed the affinity group with were Debra Wall, Deputy Archivist of the United States, and Maria Stanwich, Chief of Staff, who encouraged me to start the affinity group. I had that conversation with Maria and Deb in 2013, but WAG was not officially chartered until December 2015.
The National Archives uses a database called Performance Measurement and Reporting System (PMRS) to collect and track all kinds of NARA data. Shortly after I started working for NARA, I was introduced to the wonders of PMRS. I am kind of a statistics geek, so I dug into the numbers and what I found was alarming. Number one – even though women made up more than half of the workforce (51% to be exact), we did not even make up half of the executive positions (27% to be exact). In fact, women stacked up at one pay level (the glass ceiling) and rapidly decline in pay grades after that. Why? I wish I knew. The pay grade where women stack up feeds into management, so there is not a pipeline issue. I know this is complicated by several factors, but no one could seem to place their finger on why this was happening, so NARA is working on a barrier analysis to identify the root causes.
Number two – women were leaving NARA and retention of female employees is 2-3% below male employees. On the issue of retention, most people assume, falsely, that women leave their jobs to start or tend to families. They are wrong. But for the group of women who do have children and return to the workforce, they may be faced with challenges where they are discriminated against and not protected by FMLA. The American Association of State and Local History just posted a blog about the experience of motherhood in small museums. Fortunately, federal employees do enjoy FMLA leave, but retention is a concern, of course. For the women we fear are leaving for lack of opportunity, WAG started working with Learning and Development to advertise career advancement trainings such as- resume writing, applying for jobs, building Individual Development Plans (IDP), etc. We are also committed to advertising leadership training opportunities and providing spaces for women to discuss the unique difficulties or challenges they face.
One of the issues women are faced with is the lack of historical recognition of the accomplishments of women. Since most of us are, in some way, public historians, this is a big blow to our professions. In an effort to remedy that, the Women’s Affinity Group will be revamping the women’s sections of the NARA webpages, hosting social media events like Wikipedia edit-a-thons (our social media team told me that 90% of Wikipedia contributors are male and they recognize there is a gender gap in contributions. Wikipedia knows it). WAG will be reaching out across the country to bring NARA’s records of the Suffrage Movement and the centennial of the 19th Amendment to as many people as possible as well. Fortunately we can help bring the story of women to the country through NARA’s rich collections.
Lastly, WAG is launching some activities across NARA to promote inclusion. Recently, we launched a quarterly book club where members of WAG, all genders, select a book and then we hold a discussion with Debra Wall, the Deputy Archivist of the United States. WAG members are encouraged to start clubs at their respective sites and discuss the book on our employee pages. Our first book selection was, Wendy McClure, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of the Little House on the Prairie. We have discussed clothing swaps and mentorships, but everything is in its infancy.
We know the mountain is steep and things will not change overnight, but we will encourage our colleagues to keep applying for management positions, take advantage of professional development opportunities, and to lean on each other because it is not just about “leaning in.” After all, Madeleine Albright said, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” so we will make sure we help each other take credit for our work and ideas and we will always take our seat at the table.
Elizabeth Dinschel is a historian and the founder and Chair of the Women’s Affinity Group for the National Archives and Records Administration. She is currently the Education Specialist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Formerly, she was the Oral History and Education Coordinator for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum. All views expressed in this blog post are that of Elizabeth Dinschel and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Archives and Records Administration or the United States Government.