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Closing the gap: identifying leadership strategies used by women in the museum field

Thesis by Hannah Pfaltzgraff (2019)

The purpose of this study was to identify strategies used by women to reach leadership positions in museums. The research focused on five guiding research questions: where did the path towards leadership positions begin; what were the barriers to achieving leadership positions; what was beneficial along the way; how did career paths inform leadership methods; in what ways could leadership be improved for the next generation of leaders. Literature reviewed indicated a lack of data to understand fully the progress of museums as an equitable field for women. This study was significant to the museological field because it added to literature devoted to the impact of women within the museum field. Data were collected via phone interviews with women in executive leadership positions from sixteen museums with budgets ranging from $5 to $187 million from across the United States. Interviews revealed the various background participants came from before entering into the museum field. The study results suggested that while barriers still exist for women entering into museum leadership, it has become more accessible over time. Participants expressed the importance of mentorship and having a strong support network. Several strategies emerged through an emphasis on the importance of fostering teamwork, professional development, and taking on new opportunities. Additionally, this study observed the imperative nature of executive leaders in museums, especially as museums experience a shift towards audience engagement and diversity and inclusion efforts. Limitations of this study were the small sample size for participants within the study, and the study’s subjectivity in its semi-structured nature. These findings suggest that further research should be done to investigate other areas of diversity, in addition to gender.

Keywords: Class of 2019, leadership, museum, women, women’s studies, museology, museum studies


Pfaltzgraff, H., & O’Donnell, W. (2019). Closing the gap : Identifying leadership strategies used by women in the museum field. [University of Washington Libraries].