Arts Council England chair Nicholas Serota. Credit: Olivia Hemingway

Diversity shortcomings underlined by Arts Council England report

Rob Picheta, 16.01.2018
Serota calls on sector to improve inclusivity of workforces
Cultural organisations must improve the diversity of their workforces, Arts Council England (ACE) chairman Nicholas Serota has said, as the organisation’s annual diversity report finds that people from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, women and disabled people are under-represented in museums and arts organisations.

The report was released ahead of ACE’s annual diversity event in Nottingham today, where Serota gave the keynote speech. It highlights a number of employment inequalities in Major Partner Museums (MPMs) and National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), as well as in the arts council itself.

Just 4% of staff at MPMs and 11% of staff at NPOs are from a BME background, compared to 16% of the working-age population.

Serota said: “I want the arts to be an inclusive world; a building open to all. Not an exclusive club. Our mission to deliver on diversity is doubly vital.”

The report also found significant gender inequalities in managerial and director positions, with women making up 38% of board members at MPMs despite comprising over 60% of all staff.

At ACE itself, just 46% of director roles are held by women despite the council’s overall workforce being two-thirds female.

And just 4% of staff at NPOs and MPMs, and 6% of ACE staff, identify as disabled, compared to 20% of the working age population.

A number of organisations did not provide data for the report, despite ACE chief executive Darren Henley threatening the funding of such organisations at last year’s diversity event. Henley said at the time that arts council “will have to look at the funding conditions of those that do not comply”.

ACE said that it had no data on the ethnicity of 31% of the NPO workforce and 36% of the MPM workforce. Organisations that did not provide any ethnicity data included the Black Country Living Museum and the University of Oxford.

Among those that did provide data, the Design Museum in London, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, University of Cambridge Museums, and York Museums Trust all said that less than 5% of their staff are BME.

Leeds Museums and Galleries, which manages nine institutions in the city, reported a 9% BME workforce, while Bristol’s Museums, Galleries & Archives found that 6% of its employees are BME.

In his speech, Serota called on all ACE-funded organisations to provide full and accurate diversity data. He said: “We need you all on board, if we are to make a compelling case for funding at a time when the competition for resources is fierce.”

He also looked to the future, saying: “The sector is moving forward. Those organisations that aren’t prepared to change will be left behind.”


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12.03.2018, 07:33
Could someone please clarify the meaning of NPOs and MPMs please?
Patrick Steel
Website Editor, Museums Association
12.03.2018, 10:55
Hi Sean -

NPOs = National Portfolio Organisations - organisations in receipt of regular funding from Arts Council England

MPMs = Major Partner Museums - museums in receipt of regular funding from Arts Council England

The distinction comes because museums are relatively new to the arts council - the arts council took over museum funding following the scrapping of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in 2012 so museums were funded from a separate pot as MPMs. To make things more confusing, MPMS are to be scrapped from 1 April, and museums can apply for NPO funding for the first time.
01.02.2018, 11:10
York Museums Trust fully understands the importance of the ACE vision and the significance of an inclusive recruitment policy that represents people from different cultures and backgrounds.
Since the above figure was submitted to ACE York Museums Trust have been working to create a more diverse workplace. Now 9.3% of our employees and 20% of our managers, including our Muslim BME Chief Executive, describe themselves as BME or White Other. The board of Trustees is 7.2%.
lauren masterman
press and marketing Coordinator, York Museums Trust
12.02.2018, 09:12
Posted by Lauren Masterman, press and marketing coordinator for York Museums Trust
25.01.2018, 12:33
‘Cultural organisations must improve the diversity of their workforce.’ This sort of comment, although undoubtedly well-intentioned, is not particularly helpful or meaningful.

UK museums and galleries are prevalently staffed by white, middle-class people: I would argue that the main reason for this is that salaries are so inadequate that the only people who can afford to work in the art world are those who do not have to depend solely on their salary. I am an established curator with 20 years’ experience and since 2010 my salary has risen by £900. I really care about my job, so I continue to do it even though I can hardly afford to; my managers know they can count on this. I simply cannot see this situation changing: museums and galleries will continue to pay badly, not only because of the financial difficulties they face, but because they know they CAN. They know they will keep attracting high-quality candidates because people are passionate about the arts. The only ‘snag’ in terms of diversity is that the low salaries will continue to attract the same type of applicants. What I foresee happening is that, instead of thoroughly embracing diversity (as they should) museums and galleries will do it in a tokenistic way, so that they can tick the right boxes when it comes to government directives, funding requirements etc.

When I started my career I was insulted to read a Guardian piece describing History of Art degrees as being for ‘middle-class girls on a fast-track to marriage’. I soon realised that the ‘middle-class’ part of it at least was more than accurate. The introduction of university fees has only made this situation worse. Why would anyone – unless their family can support them – choose to be saddled with huge debts to become a curator (or similar), when entry positions start at well under £20,000 per year? And let’s not forget that these are the museum/gallery jobs that ARE paid. For instance, on today’s Museums Association’s job pages, 27 vacancies are advertised. Three of them are for trustees and FIFTEEN of the remaining 24 are for voluntary positions, including a ‘Human Resources Volunteer’ at Royal Museums Greenwich. This is shameful. If this was not bad enough, at the museums and galleries I have worked those who had been able to undertake unpaid internships – particularly if they had taken place in glamorous organisations such as the Guggenheim or MoMA – were invariably deemed by senior staff to be more ‘committed’ than those who had not, rather than simply luckier, better off and better connected.

Sir Nicholas Serota has commented, ‘I want the arts to be an inclusive world … not an exclusive club.’ I used to work for him, indirectly, at Tate. He was an austere and slightly intimidating figure, but also hugely inspiring; he also always listened to ideas from staff regardless of their seniority and I respect him greatly. The organisation he ran, however, was the very definition of an exclusive club. The great majority of curatorial and senior staff came from Oxbridge, the Courtauld or indeed the Royal College’s Curating Contemporary Art course, which Sir Nicholas’ wife Teresa Gleadowe ran. Clearly Sir Nicholas had no problem with this at the time so I find his comments now quite disingenuous. When one looked at the different staff at Tate very few years ago, from the lowest paid such as the cleaners, to the highest (the many directors), the trajectory was very clear – darker-skinned and female at the bottom getting pastier and more male the closer to the top. There may have been recent changes in terms of having a couple more women directors but we are still talking about the same people, all of whom know each other from the same universities. Plus ça change.
25.01.2018, 14:25
I know what you mean about people who do unpaid internships being taken as inherently more 'committed'. I know someone who worked for a national museum in a voluntary capacity for several years. Recently, she has secured a paid job there, and fair play to her, for her determination.

However - she is a white, middle-class girl from a wealthy family. Her parents not only paid for her to do an MA at the Royal College of Art, and then to study in Italy for a year, but also pay for her flat and give her an allowance. They're still doing this even though she's now earning. Her wage is a pittance of course, but that doesn't matter to her.

None of this takes away from her ability - if she wasn't good enough she wouldn't have got the job no matter how much voluntary work she did - BUT - her efforts notwithstanding, she couldn't have hoped to have done what she did without huge and continuing financial parental input.

All of this gives people like her a massive unfair advantage. Of course museums, like any other employer, want the best candidate for the job, but the range of people they are going to get to choose from (while the jobs continue so insecure and poorly paid) are going to be overwhelmingly people like this young woman, who are almost inevitably going to be white, middle-class or above, and affluent.

I wonder if Sir Nicholas is reading these comments? I would very much like to hear his reply to any of them.
Rebecca Atkinson
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
30.01.2018, 12:20
There is some interesting research from Mark Taylor (Uni Sheffield) and Dave O’Brien (Uni Edinburgh) called Culture is a Meteritocracy: Why Creative Workers’ Attitudes may Reinforce Social Inequality. 6732

I heard Dave speak recently aout what qualities are most important in getting ahead in culture - class/race/gender etc or ability/hard work. Those most committed to idea of meritocracy were people in positions of power/paid the best...

I would argue that regardless of your friend's ability, her class, race and family's money are more than an unfair advantage - they are the reason she was able to prove her ability and become the best candidate for the job.

That is a problem and like you say, the more we overlook that and assume meritocracy the more white, middle-class etc our sector will continue to be.

Unpaid internships, focus on academic qualifications and high expectations of candidates are just the start - we need to acknowledge that the odds are stacked in favour of certain people and against others, and work on ways to change that.
19.01.2018, 09:45
Can a piece of work please be done by an independent researcher to allow for the size of organisations and location in respect of the BME populations relative to the organisations?
We are not a big sector and many independent museums are run with volunteers or paid staff numbering less than 20. What are the true numbers in respect of a big organisation in a large city versus a smaller venue in rural that may still be NPO or MPM? Is it fair to make national comparisons between cities of 10 million versus hundreds of thousands? Are we independent organisations entrusted to deliver exhibitions, maintain collections and entertain and educate audiences and staff? or organisations to have an approved makeup that is controlled by a funding source?

The diversity drive has been going on for 10 years and I dont feel it has yet approached with the correct data and spends the time shouting for more BME staff to have organisations better reflect the population of the country.That's great but if we are to be more sustainable with reducing budgets how can that be achieved, look at the private sector of any industry. There seems little appreciation of region, size of organisation or acknowledgement for professionalism of staff in handling topics that are not from their background.

It is important to have a diverse workforce, however in a sector as small as ours perhaps that is just not possible. If two thirds are female, is that representative of the country? If majority of the highest paying jobs are populated by men, is that representative of other industries? What do we mean by diversity? Is colour of skin and ethnicity really the best definition we have after 10 years of investigation? Does education level, family background, money in the bank have any impact? When being selected for student finance support, parents' income and education background, school attended are considered, should we ask these questions for interviews? Perhaps the approach to hiring people is all wrong. Perhaps the advert - application - shortlisting - job specification -
competency based interview - decision of bosses approach needs a shakeup to allow other candidates in. Is that the inbuilt tradition hurdle that is preventing more appointments of ACE's suitable workforce?

How about an honest understanding of what ACE wants? What would their ideal arts organisation look like? Tell us that and what assumptions have been made? Would it not be prejudiced too? If we can focus less on perceived and ill founded ratios perhaps more creativity and professionalism can occur that allows professionals to research with objectivity and artists to be creative without boundaries, the visitors will come because of the art, exhibitions and stories. The objects museums care for and the visitors they serve have no interest in these numbers, they want the best from their local and national venues, can organisations afford to spend time and resources arguing and being misdirected about data and topics we may not be able to influence when cuts and funding continue to be swingeing? What's our mission?
18.01.2018, 20:17
I work for an MPM and I exercise my right to choose how and when my personal information is shared. The survey on workforce has also requested sexual orientation data. Museums are my job and I while i have a passion for the work it is continually dimmed by the need to collate data and package up people neatly.

I understand the need to advocate to government, which for many years has loved statistic's but there comes a point of personal choice and activism by refusal to participate.

Perhaps Mr Serota would like to define diversity for me, as I'm highly unusual for the profession currently having come into the profession in my late 30s after a decade as unpaid parental carer living near the poverty line for many years. I then inherited a life changing sum of money, which means that I can survive on the low pay rife in the sector outside London. I'm also middle class from an Irish immigrant family made good. I appreciate the need to concentrate on BME but we need to recognise the hidden diversity of staff. It has been mentioned by others that BME is a narrow view, but it is also how the lacklustre government views its country, so to a degree you have to live with it. Challenging it though would be seen as a step forward for us and other industries.

I would suggest a more complex, independent and data strong research that looks beyond our institutions to the BME communities asking what they want from a career and life would be more of a support for improved diversity and gain the funding required. The fact that the numbers employed is low in less diversely populated area's is an issue that affects all employers seeking to diversify staff and is not something that can be changed quickly and should be used to beat museums over the head with. Also the nature of some jobs and the skills and qualifications needed should to be considered as a barrier.
19.01.2018, 09:52
I agree with the above comments. It's true not everyone wants to tell work-based surveys everything about themselves, why should we? And it is equally true that diversity is a more complex term than perhaps we first think. What is diverse in one area of the country may not be so in another.

I couldn't agree more that we need to examine ourselves and our assumptions, but also agree that to diversify the workforce, in order to achieve it genuinely rather than purely tokenistically is a long-term goal which needs approaching on many levels and in many ways, preferably simultaneously, for a long time before any significant change will become apparent. There are no quick fixes either. A directive from above saying 'Become more diverse now, or else', is not going to achieve anything except piling more pressure on an existing workforce already stretched to breaking point.

Growing up in a poor and working class family myself, with a single mother who left school at 16, it would not have occurred to me as a youngster to pursue a museum career. But we lived in London and my mum took me to museums regularly, mainly because they were free and all it cost her was the bus fare. If we'd had to pay, we wouldn't have gone. Similarly, when I went to university, they still had grants. If I'd had a costly loan to pay back, it would have put me off and I may not have gone.

In order to encourage diversity we need to open up access to the arts for young people at an early age - so they become familiar with them, feel at home with them, and make them encouraged to feel the arts, not just visual but music and drama too, could be for them, just as much as anything else. In many state schools now many of these subjects are cut to a minimum, unless you can pay for private lessons - how could we expect people NOT now to be feeling that arts are for the upper classes and/or the rich? That is the message the government is putting across. Many young people are likely to be put off before they start, and automatically not consider such a career. Then they see that most of the jobs available are so low-paid that few could manage on them without a second income, and that's the end of that.
18.01.2018, 11:48
I totally agree with the comments below.
I have also long argued that culture and museums is not an area that BME see as a viable profession, in fact they don't consider it a profession at all.
If ethnicity and diversity of the workforce are Nicholas Serota's concern then how come he is in post?
After all he is white, male, middle -aged, middle class and well paid.
Most of us do the jobs we do because we are passionate about what we do, not because we get big pay awards or high flying positions.
18.01.2018, 10:41
Dear Nicholas

I'm sure you want museums to be more diverse. So do we all. But that, pardon me, is easy for you to say. I bet your job is not a part-time, insecure, low-paid, short term contract. And threatening museums already on their knees is not necessarily always helpful.

So - instead, and as well as, why not put pressure on the government to stop swingeing cuts to local authority museums, and ditto cuts and changes to arts education in state schools which is meaning that fewer children across classes, regions and ethnicities now have the opportunity to engage with the arts at an early age and thus believe an arts career could be for them. How about asking government to re-introduce free or very cheap local authority-run adult education classes, which existed 25-30 years ago and which included the arts, so again, engaging with all the arts was more accessible at different levels of society.

And while you're at it, campaign for more affordable accessible workplace childcare, so more women can have the opportunity to rise higher in the museums profession. The fewer staff there are, the longer hours everyone who hasn't been cut has to work, because no-one is making any allowances at all for the huge cuts in the workforce, which includes all the access officers, outreach officers and disability awareness people of course. The ten people left trying to do thirty peoples' jobs are half-killing themselves, just to cover the basics. Museums are being put under more pressure than ever, from all directions. Had it occurred to you that of the organisations that did not provide the ethnicity data, it might in some cases have been because the job of the person who would have done it had just been cut, there was no-one left to do it, and the next person in line was off sick with stress? That is the kind of thing which is happening in our museum.

Women with children (who make up a lot of museums' workforce as you probably know) find it more difficult to put in huge numbers of extra hours than those without. Could that possibly be one reason why there are fewer women at management level than there might be?

I appreciate your efforts to raise awareness about the need for diversity. I doubt anyone who works in museums is unaware of this, but you can't just take a sticking plaster approach, you have to tackle the roots of the problem. If an eager queue of would-be employees from all classes, races and walks of life is not waiting at the door hoping for the next appallingly-paid insecure job to come along, which might be cut at any moment, the fault is not really that of the museum - any workforce trend reflects the society it comes from. Look to our society and the way it is going. This society, and government, only values the ability to make money, and what is measurable in financial terms. It doesn't really think people who can't afford to pay even deserve access to the arts. When many museums can't, because of the way they are funded, even be free to enter, how can we have true diversity? Start there.