The majority of museum, heritage and arts industry networking events I see leave a very definite chasm for a certain type of museum worker to try and cross over. An event may be welcoming, have good word of mouth, even be free to attend, but if it's held during the hours of the standard working week, there's your problem. It's not too complex to add greater access to networking events though.
Let's start with the issue, where events held during the standard working day assume that people either:
(Bear in mind that for many museum and gallery staff, their normal working week also includes weekends, and for some it includes regular evenings up to 10.00pm, but I'm talking broad strokes here)
The tendancy for networking events to be held in working hours makes it difficult for the majority of museum workers to meet face to face the people who may be able to help their career (and who they too may be able to help too) and lessens their awareness of and access to opportunities, training, workshops etc. How many times do casual chats at a professional event lead to "Oh, I had no idea about X!" and then someone offering to send a link, clarify a process, or make an introduction?
Some networks do meet outside usual working hours, like Emerging Museum Professionals groups who arrange pub socials, yet it feels like a leap happens from the few "Your role means you need to meet after work" groups to suddenly every opportunity being "You can join us 11am to 2pm Thursday, right? There'll be sandwiches!". Many 'emerged' museum professionals are still in situations where staff levels and duties make three to five hours out of a working day complex to manage.
What could possible solutions to this leap look like?
Lockdown has made meeting virtually something more people are confident with (not all, for some people the anxiety of online meetings is far above that of being in person and able to read all the social cues), allowing talks, presentations and discussions to happen without the expense and time of travel. Having adapted to the needs of social distancing, most online professional events I see are still held in the standard working day, not thinking through the further possibilities of access.
Positively, there's a greater trend for online meetings and conferences making videos available afterwards, which allows an increase in access to information, but still limits the ability to connect and network. Could your online meeting hold later scheduled sessions too? Allow people to view in real time and have their Q&A and discussion during the day, then also follow later with an arranged group to watch the recording and join a second live Q&A and discussion group with the speakers.
...follow later with an arranged group to watch the recording and join a second live Q&A and discussion group with the speakers.
If you are involved in a network or similar industry group, what could it mean to swap one meeting per month, or quarter, or even one per year, to an evening or later in the day, to allow access to even just the latter half of the event? If held in person it may make travel more complex for some attendees ("ooh, a later night, before work the next day") and may make venue hire more complex ("Ah, the museum who usually loan us their event space is closed at that time") meaning some reguar attendees need to skip that session. But it may also open up your network to new people with valuable contributions to make, and demonstrate that your group is forward thinking. It gives museum workers a chance to try an event, confirming that yes, it is worth the time off work or haggling over work cover to attend your more frequently run work-time events.
My strong suspicion is that this kind of event happening during the working day is a kind of vetting process, conscious or not, ensuring the 'right' kind of attendees. Those museum workers who can self-determine their working day, or who are eager enough to book time off to attend, are the kind of people who can offer opportunities and are able to capitalise on them. Fair enough, people holding events get to make decisions about their events. Just stop a second though, and consider if the events you attend mean you're helping to pull up the ladder behind you, and make it harder for others to leap up. Can you make a suggestion to the organisers to at least drop a single rope down that chasm?
If you have any events to reccommend, which are suitable for a range of museum and heritage workers to attend, allowing people to mix, learn, network and feel welcome in the space (virtual or real) please please shout them out in the comments.
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