Good, bad, ugly: what to check about an organisation before applying

Here at FMJ HQ (aka our respective houses), we’ve been thinking about how you can know whether an org is “good”. How can you know when thinking of applying for a job what kind of environment you’re getting into? Are they going to treat you like your worst ex? Or, are they going to be ethical and make good choices?

Yes, there’s no foolproof measure to this, and it’s going to vary by department especially in larger organisations, but we wanted to present a few questions/activities you can think on when deciding whether to make that application. It’s not quite a check list, but it almost is!

We also expect that we will have missed some things out, so please do let us know what you look for, and we’ll add it here, email us at fairmuseumjobs@gmail.com or, DM us on twitter!

Image shows a hand holding a pen, hovering over a notebook. Page of notebook shows a tick box list but text of list is obscured.

Searching…

  • Word of Mouth – do you know anyone that works there? And when we say know, we include know on the internet only! Ask them about their experiences, and perhaps they have someone else you could contact. We recognise that having a network is a form of privilege, so if you can’t do this, there’s plenty of other options to consider.
  • Google them – check the news results. Is there anything here that concerns you or doesn’t work with your views?
  • Wikipedia – does their page have a controversies section, or similar? What can you learn from it?
  • Glassdoor – the website Glassdoor features reviews on companies from current and past employees, and sometimes information about interviews people have had there. This can give you some insight into what the working environment might be like.
  • Social Media – take a look at the orgs social media accounts, what public statements are they involved in? How engaged are they in their local area, the wider sector, or any campaigns?
  • Is their general website accessibly designed? This can indicate a more general approach to accessibility across the organisation. Worth saying here that many local authority museums don’t get any say in their web page design – so not always a guarantee.

Who’s in charge round here?

You’ll definitely want to get a sense of who makes decisions at the organisation and where the money comes from; most of this information should be publicly accessible for most organisations.

  • Look on their website – there will normally be an “About Us” section which contains information about governance, staffing, annual reports, policies and other related information.
  • Charity Commission website – this has to list the charitable trustees for an organisation, and publish accounts on an annual basis. Many will also publish an annual report here. Note that depending on what type of organisation, the information here might not show the full picture of governance, especially for larger/more complex organisations.
  • Annual report/accounts – make sure to read these, they will help you know who financially supports the organisation, and where their money goes
  • Sponsors – does the organisation have sponsors for programmes, galleries, exhibitions, posts or any other events
  • CEO/Director – it’s really useful to find out who is at the top of the organisation; ultimately they set the tone for what happens there. You should be able to find this from the sources above, but make sure to Google them as well and see what else you can find.

Policies and public statements

Having a policy is good but it’s not the be all and end all. Policies are easy to write but can be useless unless they are applied actively and properly. Here’s some ideas of what policies to look out for, but be aware having a policy doesn’t mean it’s in use!

  • Accessibility
  • Anti-bullying/harassment
  • Environmental policies including green travel, sustainability, catering
  • Equal opportunities 
  • Equal pay
  • Grievance/disciplinary 
  • GDPR
  • Flexible working
  • Leave related policies: sickness, parental leave (including adoption), compassionate leave, time off for study
  • Performance management
  • Whistle-blowing

Thinking about public statements, we know many orgs have made BLM posts on social media, but this is not a statement. If their commitment to a cause doesn’t even reach the website, are they even committed to anything? Same goes here as for policies: saying it is one thing, doing it is another

  • Is there a Black Lives Matter statement on their website?
  • Is this statement backed up with information about concrete actions the org is taking to make changes?
  • Is there information about how this statement will be held to account over time?

Accreditations

There are various accreditations that an organisation might have which indicate a benchmark of their performance in, or at least commitment to improvement in, areas relating to staff:

Arts Council UK Museum Accreditation also has standards relating to workforce, governance and ethical commitments, so its worth checking if the museum is accredited, or working towards accreditation.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

  • Are there published statistics about the workforce? 

The best practice would be publishing statistics about the workforce in terms of gender, ethnicity, disability and LGBTQI+ staff. If there are statistics, are there also targets for improvement in under-represented areas?

  • All organisations (over a certain size) must publish their gender pay gap data. It should be on their website, but also will be published here: https://gender-pay-gap.service.gov.uk/. You can also use this tool to search for previous years data.

Some organisations are also publishing pay gap data for other statistics, but this is not at all widespread yet.

Staff Support mechanisms

  • Does the organisation have any recognised unions? What can you see about their work? Even if there are no recognised unions, are there unions active in the workplace?
  • Are there any staff networks? e.g. Black staff or POC staff networks, LGBTQ+ networks, depending on the type of organisation there may be groups supporting staff in particular roles e.g. administrative activities, technical roles. For local authorities, these networks may be council-wide, so is it evident that there’s mutual engagement with shared goals, or is it one way? Contact the network directly, HR will have their details, or searching online or social media.
  • Mental health support – this could take many forms: Mental Health First Aiders are becoming more common, but also access to mental health services, training for all staff (and specific training for line managers) may be in place. Some workplaces may have signed the Time to Change pledge or similar.
  • Employee Assistance programmes – many mid-large employers will have a contract with a workplace support programme, these vary widely but can involve ability to access free counselling, legal support, advice, online webinars, and many other activities.
  • Access to training and development – what does training and development look like in the workplace? Is training run internally or will you need to seek out your own opportunities? Will there be a budget for you to undertake training in the role?

Application Process

  • Is the job description clearly written and reasonable?
  • Can you see evidence of inclusive hiring practices e.g. taster days, accessible applications, alternative methods of providing information, non-interview styles of assessment, flexibility built in?
  • If there’s a set application form, is it easy to use?

Salaries

  • Check the salary of a job you’re applying for against the Museum Association Salary Guidelines. They are a few years old now, but provide a useful start point.
  • One of our followers (Cat Gray) suggested completing the following calculations to get a sense of average pay at an org (calculators and a pen at the ready!):
    1. Go the the Annual Report/Accounts for the org
    2. Take the number of people listed in the over £60k breakdown, and deduct them from the average staff FTE number
    3. Take the total salary bill (excluding pension costs, etc)
    4. Deduct the midpoint of each salary over £60k
    5. Divide the result from point 4 by the result from point 2. This gives you a rough estimate of the average salary when you exclude the senior management team
    6. You can also take the mid point of the top earners salary band and compare it to the estimate of average salary.

What next?

You might be thinking, “wow this is a lot to consider – how can I possibly work for any organisation now?”, and yes, you’re right – most organisations don’t have every single thing we’ve listed here, so here a few suggestions about your next steps:

  • Your values: look at your personal values and decide what the most important things are for you in deciding what organisations to work for. Know what you might compromise for the right job, or the right timing.
  • When making applications: if there’s information you can’t find, contact the person listed in the job ad and ask about it! 
  • Interviews: don’t be afraid to ask questions about this in the interview – remember you are interviewing them too and need to find out if it’s an environment you want to work in.
  • Current workplace – see something on this list that you don’t have in your current workplace, start the conversation! It’s only by all of us raising the bar and having conversations about being better that we can BE better as individuals and as a sector.

If there’s anything you think is missing from this list, please do email us at fairmuseumjobs@gmail.com so we can add it!

This blog would not exist without the thoughts of Katherine McAlpine and Ashleigh Hibbins, and is in part prompted by this tweet from Museum Detox. Thanks also to Cat Gray for the fascinating salary calculation!

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