A flash mob at the Museum of London several years ago organised by the Museum Detox network for Bame museum workers

Workforce diversity remains static at museums in England

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 19.02.2019
ACE report finds much of culture sector is “treading water” 
Museums in England are still lagging behind other cultural sectors when it comes to workforce diversity, according to the latest statistics from Arts Council England (ACE), with little progress made year-on-year. 

Published last week, the arts council’s annual diversity survey for 2017-18 showed that the proportion of Major Partner Museum (MPM) staff from diverse backgrounds has remained largely static, with disabled people and those from black and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds particularly under-represented. 

The percentage of Bame staff at MPMs was 5% in 2017-18, according to the data – a 1% rise on the previous year. This compares to 12% at the arts council’s other National Portfolio Organisations (NPO), and 16% in the general population. People from Bame backgrounds make up just 3% of the boards of MPMs, a 1% increase on the previous year.   

The percentage of disabled staff at MPMs has remained static at 4%, significantly lower than the 20% of working age adults in England who identify as having a work-limiting disability. Meanwhile, the number of disabled people on the boards of MPMs has dropped from 4% to 2%.  

There was also a decrease in the percentage of female staff at MPMs, from 62% to 52%. More women were represented in leadership roles across MPMs and NPOs, however, with an 11% rise in female artistic directors (now 46%), a 3% rise in female chief executives (now 52%) and a 2% rise in female chairs (now 37%).  

There was a small rise in the number of LGBT people at MPMs, from 1% to 2%. This aligns more closely with the 2% of people age 16 and over in England who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and the 0.5% who identify as trans or non-binary.  

The report acknowledged gaps in data due to a high number of responses returned as “unknown”, particularly regarding disability and sexual orientation.  

Overall, the report found that, despite some gradual improvements, the English culture sector as a whole is “treading water” on diversity. 

“The numbers are bad for museums and there’s a lot more work to be done,” said Kate Bellamy, the arts council's director of museums. “Other parts of the cultural sector are doing better so I wonder if there are lessons to be learned there.” 

This will be the last survey to include the now-defunct MPM portfolio, as the arts council’s regularly funded museums have since been integrated into the NPO system. However the data will continue to be broken down into distinct categories to assess how each subsector is performing.  

As NPOs, museums will now be formally assessed and rated on their contribution to the arts council’s Creative Case for Diversity, which requires them to integrate diversity into the work they produce, present and collect. Bellamy said she hopes this will have an impact on the numbers going forward.  

Other initiatives aimed at improving workforce diversity, such as the Museums Association's Character Matters Delivery Plan and the arts council’s new Transforming Leadership programme, are also underway.  

The arts council has also produced a Culture Change toolkit to help cultural institutions follow best practice in recruitment and develop a diverse workforce and leadership.  

ACE chair Nicholas Serota said: “There has been progress in some areas; in others we see little momentum. We must be more focussed in our approach to the issues and from next year we will be reporting in greater detail, looking at diversity in the context of the funding organisations receive as well as their artistic disciplines.” 

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