In advance of the Aqua Art Miami & Association of Women Art Dealers’ collaboration during Miami Art Week 2016, two blog posts by Susan Mumford, our Founder and CEO, address key facets of gender disparity in the sector. This first part brings to light a silent enabler of gender disparity: unconscious bias.
According to the UK-based lecturer Sandy Sparks*, unconscious bias “refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.”
Does this sound familiar to your own experiences or those you’ve seen of others?
This bias can affect the decisions of men and women alike, decisions that are at the detriment of women’s careers – albeit without their knowledge. And it sometimes reveals itself in the open. Take for instance a question I was asked as an emerging gallerist in my mid-twenties: “So when do you plan on having a family?” Combined with the tone of voice used, the 50-year old male artist might as well have asked, “When will you decide to focus on your personal life and stop representing me?” The question ostensibly sprang from raging doubts in the back of his mind. This type of experience results in many women working out how to answer such seemingly left-field questions in advance, so that when presented, they’re swiftly dealt with before moving onto the subject at hand, the unconscious bias moved out of the way.
Hollywood actor, producer and writer Geena Davis** has become an advocate for the cause and says, “We have to keep in mind the tremendous amount of unconscious bias against women. Because if women and men were truly equally talented and equally hired based on their talent and ability, we would have half of both.” While her focus is the film industry, the sentiment equally applies to the art world. She adds, “Even if people say, ‘I’m just hiring the best person for the job,’ and they keep hiring male directors, it’s not something they are necessarily completely aware of,” adding that if people cannot defeat their biases on their own, then “we need to take measures to defeat it.” What might such a measure look like in the art world? Galleries could readily represent as many women as men. Critics could make a concerted effort to review galleries run by women, in addition to solo shows by women artists. While I appreciate that such a regimented approach isn’t welcome by many, I urge mindfulness of gender balance in your professional life. Should you identify an imbalance, work out a solution to improve it.
Needless to say, you can only find a solution once you’re aware of the root of a problem, and when it comes to unconscious bias, the first step is awareness. By shifting unconscious thoughts and judgements into your conscious mind, day in, day out, you’re positioned to make objectively minded decisions that work towards a gender balanced art world.
Want more insight on gender dynamics in the art world? Keen to take advantage of networking opportunites?
Lady art dealers, join the next online meeting of the AWAD Virtual Chapter on Monday 10th October 2016! 9am PST / 12pm EST / 5pm UK. — Free for qualifying visitors to attend–
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*What is Unconscious Bias; considerations and top tips (2nd June 2014. Sandy Sparks University of Warwick, LDC, Research Active Staff & Vitae Hub co-ordinator.