Identifying and Crushing Barriers, Women’s History, and Workplace Inclusion: The National Archives’ Women’s Affinity Group

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.

The Invisibility of Women Archivists: Statistics, Diversity and Privilege

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Below is a post from Ariel Schudson touching on issues of gender and privilege in the archival profession. If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email

Authorial Disclaimer: The words and opinions articulated here are my own. They do not express the views of anyone/organization/company that I am involved with, although they may be parallel at certain points.

Now- let’s discuss archivist issues!

Full disclosure: I am a white, cis-woman moving image archivist. I wish I could say that I am aware of my privilege at all times but if I said that, it would be ridiculous. That is the truth. However, being aware and conscious of my privilege is the best opportunity that I have of providing current colleagues, friends and unmet archival professionals of color a safe and comfortable space to flourish in this community that I love so much.

It is, of course, a complex privileged status, as I am a woman and that in and of itself has a variety of not-so-privileged associations such as lower wages, sexual harassment concerns and a smorgasbord of negative gender-related realities. What I do know is that if these situations are bad for me, they are worse for women of color. For example, the most highly discussed topic for women in the workplace is pay-grade. While I may get paid less than any man, a woman of color would be getting paid even less according to available statistics.

What is striking (though not surprising) is that there are no easily accessible statistics for the pay of women archivists, and none at all for women archivists of color! There is very little statistical data on women within the information science, preservation or curatorial fields. Yet, we exist. Enforce and growing. When I recently participated in the Woman Archivist Roundtable’s livetweet about salary negotiations (hashtag #SAAWAR on twitter), this same issue was raised and the American Association of University Women linked their Spring 2016 edition of “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap.” This is probably the most helpful publication I have found in establishing some idea of what women (and more importantly, women of color) are being paid but it still never mentions career choices that come close to our world. And we are a highly specialized group.

As information-based professionals, we crave decent analytics to back up our work, apply for grants or to simply help our archival sensibilities be more at peace. While many of us primarily process and restore physical elements, metadata creation and descriptive cataloging are critical aspects of our workflow. So what does it mean when the metadata about our own field and our own descriptive sets are not being ingested in larger reports? Are we made invisible, having to forever gauge our work by “similar careers and statistical evidence”? While I don’t believe that we are special “better than you” snowflakes, the exclusion of our field leaves us with no analytics to work with and continues the assumption that archivists are less important. The lack of information about women of color…well, see previous sentence.

Ariel Schudson is an independent moving image archivist and preservationist who has been involved in the cinema community for over 15 years. She is a long-time member of AMIA (Association of Moving Image archivists) and the Chair of the AMIA Access Committee.