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Janet Vitmayer, 'What Happened Since'

Between 2005 and 2007, the Cultural Leadership Progamme supported 30 Networks, enabling leadership development across the cultural and creative industries through mentoring, coaching, shadowing, exchange, action learning sets and events as well as peer-to-peer support.

Janet Vitmayer, Chair, Women Leaders in Museum Network (WLMN) and Chief Executive of the Horniman Museum & Gardens explains how the WLMN came about, its impact on those involved and what has happened to the Network since the initial leadership development funding support from the Cultural Leadership Programme.

How did the Women Leaders in Museum Network (WLMN) come about?
A small group of women leaders drawn together by Diane Lees, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum and Virginia Tandy, Director of Culture Manchester City Council and Manchester Art Gallery had been meeting since 2004.  The group grasped the opportunity to utilise the leadership development funding provided by the Cultural Leadership Programme to open up and develop the scope of the group’s activities.  In 2007, with the funds to bring in proper facilitation and support they drew together 24 women leaders from the cultural heritage sector in an intense programme, which converted the curious, like me into committed network members. 

What is the Women Leaders in Museum Network (WLMN)?
Agreed by the group members the WLMN is designed to be: ‘An influential leadership Network, which works within and beyond the cultural sector to develop and inspire organisations and women.’  The Network has 3 broad aims:

§         Advocacy – to gain wider national recognition and support for WLMN as a mechanism for developing and inspiring organisations and women

§         Development – to support women to develop their careers

§         Sustainability – to achieve long term sustainability for the Network

Membership of the WLMN is open to Heads of Service and Directors in Hubs and large regional museums, and the most senior women in the national museums, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) and National Trust.

Membership is by invitation to ensure that the network has a good geographical spread, age range (members span from their 30s to their 60s), level of leadership experience from emerging to established leaders and representation from a wide range of museums and museum-related organisations. 

Experience during the 2008 development programme has shown that the optimum membership is between 30 and 40 people, which usually results in about 25 people attending each event.  This is large enough to engender good debate but small enough to ensure that members have a good opportunity to get to know each other and build trusting relationships.

What has been the impact of the WLMN?
The feedback we have from individual members it that the network is liberating, supportive and energising.  By avoiding jargon and bureaucracy it allows group members to be passionate about their work and beliefs in a really refreshing way. Inspiring the leaders and providing support networks makes for better organisations and the network provides good practical contacts and space for debating key issues facing museums and galleries, as well as providing support for each other. 

Inviting interesting women speakers from outside of the sector has cast new perspectives on our discussions and we have built links to existing networks outside of the cultural sector.

The wider impact of the network, beyond the group members and their organisations, has seen many members acting as mentors and if we can find the resources we would like to offer more to aspiring women leaders.  We are trying to spread the word that we are here, interested in working with others on diversity issues and that we can be of practical help, for example in circulating Board  level positions and sharing information on job opportunities.

What has happened to the WLMN since the initial Cultural Leadership Programme funding?
The initial group of 24 women who responded to the invitation to create a network has recently been extended by a further 12 senior and influential women, capable of advocating successfully for change in their organisations and regions.

A key concern post the Cultural Leadership Programme funding is to find a way to make the network sustainable at a basic level without external funding.  It looks like we have found a way of doing this, however, it relies heavily on members making the network a key part of their Continued Professional Development (CPD), an active steering group willing to create and host stimulating events, inspirational women willing to speak to us for no charge, and a   Chair able to take the administration of the group into their organisation.  We have also identified the ongoing need for a skilled facilitator to help design and deliver the two key events we hold annually alongside our smaller informal gatherings.

Where next?
In the longer term, we would like to work more closely with those interested in the wider debates about diversity in the cultural sector, to increase our mentoring and support for aspiring and new women leaders in museums, galleries and related organizations, to work with our European colleagues and to create links further afield with like-minded networks through the International Council of Museums (ICOM).