Managing a hate situation - Museums Association

Managing a hate situation

Background and introduction

In 2018 the Museums Association, along with other organisations, published the Museum Manifesto for Tolerance and Inclusion which outlined a position in relation to intolerance from others.

Over the course of the last five years, we have seen an increase in the expression of hostile views. While diversity of thought and opinion are welcome, if those thoughts or beliefs create a hostile, unwelcome and unsafe environment for others, we need to be clear about how we respond as a sector, as organisations and as individuals.

From our research into workforce wellbeing and specifically bullying in museums, we know that there is evidence of negative behaviours towards those with protected characteristics. We all have a role to play in our commitment to supporting the wellbeing of the workforce and creating diverse museums.

In addition, our research into the experience of those working directly with visitors and communities highlighted the need for organisations to train staff and volunteers to professionally manage challenging situations. We also need to ensure that those in management positions listen to concerns and support staff in how they have managed incidents. The Front-of-House Charter for Change includes 40 recommendations that contribute to a more positive experience of work for front-of-house roles.

Code of Ethics

From an ethics perspective, the MA’s Code of Ethics for Museums is clear about the responsibilities of museums:

  • Actively engage and work in partnership with existing audiences and reach out to new and diverse audiences.
  • Treat everyone equally, with honesty and respect.

Specifically, point 1.3 of the code states that museums should “Support free speech and freedom of expression. Respect the right of all to express different views within the museum unless illegal to do so or inconsistent with the purpose of the museum as an inclusive public space.”

With this comes a responsibility for the museum’s workforce to ensure their wellbeing is prioritised. This can be supported specifically by point 3.7 of the code, which states: “Abide by a fair, consistent, and transparent workforce policy for all those working in the museum, including those in unpaid positions.”

This means that diverse views are welcome but not at the expense of the safety of others. For example, an individual could have an opinion about decolonising and they are welcome to share it, but if it incites racial hatred then it is not acceptable.

Finding the balance and boundaries for different views is a dynamic and sensitive process. Having discussions at all levels in an organisation, and across all teams, is essential. It is especially critical when there are pieces of content, exhibitions or events that may provoke a hostile response from others.


Legislation is here to protect us and we all have a right to be safe and secure in our role at work, as per the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

  • Organisations should look to ensure that all interactions, digital or in person, do not cause harm to their workforce.
  • Hate legislation is different in different nations and this influences advice and protection. Spend some time looking at what is in place in your home nation.
  • The Equality Act 2010 includes a provision relating to harassment and discrimination, which can be a function of your own status and lived experience as well as by association.

Good practice

One of the easiest things organisations can do to support and protect their staff, volunteers and freelancers is to create a code of conduct. The code clearly communicates in advance the organisation’s approach to hate speech and behaviour.

At the MA we have had a Code of Conduct for in-person and digital events since 2016. We review it annually to ensure that it is up to date and robust enough to deal with the context in which we work. You are welcome to look at our approach and use it to start conversations within your own organisation.

Existing policies and procedures

You may think that your organisation does not have anything in place at the moment, but the reality is that there may be a range of policies that relate to this area of work and risk. Policy areas that may apply are as follows:

  • Equal opportunities
  • Respect and dignity
  • Diversity
  • Customer code of conduct
  • Code of conduct
  • Grievance
  • Complaints
  • Health and safety
  • Safeguarding

All these policies are likely to have some content that can be used to create safer ways of working and a safer place of work.

Look at the policy framework in the organisations that you work in or with to see what is in place to protect you. You can identify relevant points and include these, where applicable, in responses to any situations that might occur.

Getting ahead of the game

Where a project, exhibition or event may create extra attention and lead to the risk of a hate incident, it’s important to complete a risk assessment at the beginning of the work to identify the risks, their likelihood and potential impact.

By undertaking this objective risk assessment in advance, you can implement mitigation strategies – for example clear responses, policy, admission requirements or staff training. Taking these actions ensures that the workforce is sighted, prepared and confident to respond to possible scenarios.

As part of our Supporting Decolonisation in Museums guidance, we have developed Communicating decolonisation guidance, which empowers organisations to build a strong strategy when approaching contested work and preparing for risks. The information is focused on decolonisation projects, but much of it can be applied to other projects which could lead to a polarisation of opinion or hostile responses.

Individual risk assessments can help if you have a duty of care for others. You may want to explore with an individual if there are any potential tensions around content within the museum’s programme, so you can offer appropriate support on a personalised basis. Not all content or visitor responses will have the same impact on everyone, so creating space for individuals to explore potential outcomes is important.

Boundaries and scripts

When we find ourselves in a hate situation, we may not know how to respond immediately – this is when allyship can help. Consider the following:

  • Depending on your role and your lived experience, it may make sense to be proactive in identifying how you are going to respond, what your personal and professional boundaries and tolerances are, and how you are going to communicate them assertively and professionally.
  • Remember your role is not to persuade someone to change their beliefs, but to ensure you and your colleagues feel safe, secure and supported.

You can prepare some basic scripted responses that close the conversation and clearly communicate your next actions. For example:

‘I do not want to have a conversation about your [name of bias or prejudice] beliefs and opinions. We are an inclusive museum that welcomes everyone. You can find information about this commitment on our website. Please enjoy your visit today.’

We have focused on situations arising during interactions with visitors, communities or audiences, but it is important to note that they may also take place when engaging with other colleagues or stakeholders. In these cases it may be necessary to refer to internal policies and undertake grievance and disciplinary procedures.


Depending on your organisational policy you may be required to report any significant incidents as part of a risk management or health and safety procedure. Things to remember:

  • The Equality Act 2010 includes a provision relating to harassment and discrimination, which can be a function of your own status and lived experience as well as by association.
  • If you feel you have been discriminated against, harassed or victimised then you may have recourse through grievance policies and procedures.
  • Depending on the incident, there may be a formal offence to report the police. Please review your nation’s legislation to that effect.


Do not underestimate the impact of a hate incident. In the moment you may feel able to manage, but time alone and time to reflect and process the hurtful words spoken can have an impact days, weeks and months after the event.

Top tips
  • Be honest with yourself and others around the impact this interaction has had on you, your health, your wellbeing and your confidence.
  • Take time to recover and heal, and seek support and medical intervention where applicable.
  • Connecting with others that have had similar experiences may help you to realise that you are not alone and your response is normal.
  • Communicate the impact that the interaction has had on you and what that might mean in terms of activities you can or cannot participate in while you recover.
  • Share your insights so that, where applicable, risk assessments can be put in place and standard operating procedures can be reviewed and improved.
  • Learn from other individuals and organisations regarding how they protect and support their workforce.
  • Understanding the reasons behind your response can help – our understanding your emotions guidance can be found in our Wellbeing Hub.

Next steps

We hope you find this information helpful.

If you have any other suggestions to include, please email