Valuing Diversity - Museums Association

Valuing Diversity

The case for inclusive museums

Our report, Valuing Diversity, found that institutional discrimination in the UK museum sector is negatively affecting workforce diversity, leading to people leaving the sector at mid-career level.

The report drew on a year of research including interviews with more than 80 individuals across the sector. It found that unconscious bias not only impacts decisions related to recruitment and salary of individuals, but also impacts investment in their ongoing development once inside an organisation. Unconscious bias also influences decisions around programming, interpretation and representation in museum spaces.

The report also found a small number of cases where museum staff from diverse backgrounds had to deal with prejudice from fellow colleagues. For people who self-identify, or who are identified as, being of a diverse background, the day-to-day experience of working in museums can be exhausting and can present regular emotional and psychological challenges.

People reported needing to constantly articulate and demonstrate how they have achieved their position on merit, explain issues of identity and cultural heritage to colleagues and deal with micro-inequities on a daily basis. Micro-inequities occur as an effect of unconscious bias and can be defined as micro-messages that communicate who is ‘within’ and who is ‘without’.

The report suggested a number of actions to improve workforce diversity: inclusion training at all levels from governance and management to staff; better and more comprehensive data, going further than Arts Council England’s yearly capture of data for Major Partner Museums, with clear and measurable key performance indicators; and the promotion of a broader understanding of diversity in all its complexities by funders and policy-makers.

“This hard-hitting report outlines the lack of diversity in the sector at all levels. We need decisive, meaningful action now from funders and sector bodies if we are to make a real difference on these issues for future generations. The time for talking is over.”

Sharon Heal, director, Museums Association

Out of the report’s findings, we committed to developing a programme to support a cohort of mid-career professionals from diverse backgrounds to help them negotiate and influence within their organisations, supporting the next generation of diverse leadership.

We also developed our work with media partners and educational bodies to raise awareness with young people from diverse backgrounds around the potential of a career in museums.

The research was funded by Arts Council England as part of our Transformers: Radical Change in Museums programme and was informed by action research within that programme, along with anonymous interviews and a national event.  

“This research shows it’s surely time to take big bold steps forward on the diversity agenda. Here more than ever we need our leaders to lead – to step up, step forward and translate the oft-heard endorsements into concrete actions. Who’s first?”

Hilary Carty, museum consultant