Session 202: Lean In: Archival Management and the Gender Dynamics of Leadership

Session 202: Lean In: Archival Management and the Gender Dynamics of Leadership
Guest author Natalie Morath


Panelists: Cheryl L. Stadel-Bevans (Chair), Lisa Haralampus, Lisa Mangiafico, Elizabeth Myers, Katherine Stefko, Anke Voss

The focus of the panel was the book Lean In, which is, in the words of one panelist, an individual and communal call to action for women to pursue leadership roles in the workplace. This session was conducted by Panel Chair Cheryl Stadel-Bevans (CSB) in a lightning-round style whereby the chair posed a question inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Each question was directed at a specific panelist, each of whom had read the book, and who offered a semi-prepared answer in around three minutes. This allowed the very robust panel to cover a lot of ground in the allotted time. The panelists specifically tried to frame the lessons of the book in the context of the archive.

Panelist Katherine Stefko (KS) began with a look at the leadership gap in the archival field. She presented the most recent SAA census data from 2004, and also put out a call to the SAA leadership to update the information.  SAA president Dana Bell was in the audience and interjected that SAA has sought a grant to allow this, but was not awarded the funds, and are pursuing other funding sources. Thus, in 2003, the profession was 2/3 female, and at the time there existed a conjecture that the leadership gap in the field would resolve itself. According to the ARL’s most up to date statistics, however, the field is 62% female and 38% male, but leadership (particularly specialized) roles are split into 49% female and 51% male, and men move into these roles with less experience than their female counterparts, and have higher salaries.

Beth Myers (BM) then gave some introductory remarks on the book itself, which, by show of hands, 1/3 to ½ of the audience members had read. Her focus was largely on the criticism the book has received, and she emphasized the importance of not trying to make it into something it is not—the book has many shortcomings when it comes to issues of race, class, and geography, but it is still important. She posed the important question of considering how it will fit into the feminist literary pantheon, especially since it has been a bestseller. Two of the most salient points for archivists was the assertion that equality in the home effects equality in the workplace (a point the panelists repeated), and that the national wage gap between men and women is very present in the profession.

Panelist Anka Voss repeated an important message that had been raised in several other panels, including in the SNAP Roundtable meeting, namely, that no one, male or female, can lean in to their careers with affordable education, professional experience, and a living wage.

KS, Lisa Mangiafico and Lisa Haralampus each spoke of translating the ladder model of the book to the archives profession – for archivists to “move up” it often means moving out. Archivists instead are often following a “jungle gym” model, with career rungs spread horizontally; this model provides more opportunities for self-reflection, but also provides less certainty in planning for the future, and puts many archivists in hybrid roles. Sandberg argues that there exists an ambition gap among women, but the panelists largely disagreed with this, at least in regard to archives, where there seems to be a leadership gap more than an ambition gap. They also discussed the nature of ambition and success, and seemed to conclude that “leaning in” did not necessarily equate to reaching the highest tiers in archival management, but leaning in instead by fulfilling personal ambitions, being good at and enjoying the job you have, and simply having a seat at the table.

BM spoke to the question of “likability” of women in the workplace, and important issue that was discussed in the book and has been part of a larger national discussion about gender and femininity. She emphasized civility over politeness and made the point that any individual woman in the workplace should be her own best advocate.

The final segment of the panel was focused largely on the idea of “work-life balance,” a term all of the panelists disliked, in that it suggests there is some kind of perfect equilibrium. LH preferred the metaphor of spinning plates, because for her, “work is life and life is work.” Several panelists spoke of personal experiences they had had with understanding employers that allowed them to manage their personal and home lives (pregnancy, caring for aging parents, relocating) while working, but panel chair CSB interjected that women should not have to consider themselves “lucky” for having understanding employers.

Lastly, the panelists each offered a few words of advice for new professionals and those hoping to lean in to the archival profession. BM said that all of the career risks she had taken were aimed at improving her quality of life, long-term, and were never made without incredible stress, but opportunities are challenges and challenges are opportunities. LS discussed the importance of planning, “make a plan, or get planned,” and suggested constructing an 18 month plan and a 5 year plan, and discuss both with your employer.  She emphasized the importance of always seeing the next level in your career. LM urged the audience members not to be afraid to move out of the archives and into management, which will require you to grow in ways you can’t anticipate, and she agreed with BM’s remarks about taking every opportunity.

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