Women’s Health and Working Conditions

Woman sits at desk with a coffee using a large calculator

In the summer of 2021 Space Invaders North started looking at the health and working conditions of women in the museum and heritage sector.

In the wake of reports around violence against women, the ongoing fallout of the #metoo movement and the impact of coronavirus on women in the workplace we felt enraged and suspected many sector colleagues felt similarly incandescent.

We started with twitter polls

We drew up some quick straw polls on twitter on some of the issues we were aware of affecting women’s health and working conditions. Our aim was to be provocative. We posed questions some working in museums and heritage might not have thought about before. We also wanted to foster a sense of solidarity and community for people who may have faced these issues in isolation.

The results of these polls are predictable. But, taken together as a snapshot of women’s health and working conditions, they are also eye-opening. 

Does your organisation have a menopause policy or offer menopause at work training?

Most respondents voted ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’.

Research from Bupa and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development undertaken in 2019 has shown that almost a million women have left their job because of menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats and increased anxiety. While others are forced to take long-term absence from work to manage symptoms.

We know our museum and heritage workforce has a problem with retaining women of perimenopausal and postmenopausal age. Research from Museum Freelance Network indicates that freelancers are overwhelmingly female (83%) and aged 35 and above (85%). 

Is your workplace breastfeeding friendly for visitors and staff?

Most responded ‘a bit but could do more’.

Creating a breastfeeding friendly environment is sometimes seen as something for the visitor offer to attract ‘Facebook families’ rather than something to invest in for the workforce. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding children till at least two years old.

But how many women in our sector are expressing on the return to work and for how long? There is a lot of misconceptions around breastfeeding that can affect the confidence of new mothers, as well as social stigma around extended breastfeeding. According to Unicef only 34% of babies born in the UK are still breastfed at 6 months old.

Have you experienced homophobia or transphobia in your workplace?

Half of respondents answered yes.

According to Stonewall, half of trans and non-binary people (51% and 50%t respectively) have hidden or disguised the fact that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination. In the 2019-2020 Arts Council England Equality and Diversity Data Report 38% of respondents declined to disclose their sexuality.

Have you ever experienced or witnessed sexism in your museum / heritage workplace?

Most answered yes. 

Though sexism in the workplace is bleakly ubiquitous at times, recent movements and news stories have highlighted the pressing need to shine a light on the museum and heritage sector and how the workforce is treated. Through the work of Space Invaders Steering Group we know women make up less than a third of National Museum Director’s Council but 50% of the ACE funded cultural workforce.

Mandatory reporting on the gender pay gap shows women in Museums and other heritage sites are still paid less on average than men.

Have you ever had to take time off work because of your period?

Majority of respondents answered ‘Yes but I didn’t say why’.

Research conducted by Bloody Good Period highlights that stigma and non-disclosure around menstrual health is rife. 89% of respondents experienced anxiety or stress in the workplace due to their period and identified normalising conversations about periods in the workplace and providing more information to all employees around menstrual health as key actions that employers can take to improve support in the workplace.

Have you ever taken time off to care for dependents?

Majority of respondents answered yes.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, by May 2020, mothers were 1.5 times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since March, and were more likely to have been furloughed.

The Fawcett Society also found 35% of working mothers have lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare support during the pandemic, and half of employed women from minority ethnic groups and 43% of employed women from White ethnic groups are worried about job or promotion prospects due to the pandemic. This compared with 35% of employed White men.

There’s so much to unpick here and more we haven’t considered so we decided to form a working group to look at some of the issues touched on in the twitter polls.

What is a working group and what will we be doing?

A working group is a group of people working on a project, subject or problem. We will focus on women’s health and working conditions in terms of the museum workforce and the representation and interpretation of these issues within museum, gallery, and heritage settings. We will carry out scoping and research and create an informational document to help support individuals and organisations. 

We will operate a co-production model and the group will choose its own direction and focus.

Get involved

If you want to join our group email us spaceinvadersnorth@gmail.com or direct message us on Twitter @MSpaceInvadersN


Published by Space Invaders

Intersectional #Feminists claiming equal space for women (incl trans) + non binary folk in heritage. We want: Equal power and influence, fair conditions, our stories told

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