MA poll finds regional museums lack diversity

The results of a survey by the Museums Association (MA) into the ethnic diversity of staff at hub museums across England have been described as 'shocking' by Maurice Davies, the deputy director of the MA.
Patrick Steel
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The survey, which did not include current positive action trainees or work placement students, showed that the percentage of African, Caribbean or Asian staff working at hub museums is 2.49 per cent, compared with 8 per cent of the total population.

It found that people from these backgrounds are severely under-represented in educational, interpretation and curatorial positions, and that 98 per cent of senior managers at hub museums are white.

Lucy Shaw, the freelance consultant who conducted the survey, said it was a representative sample, with questionnaires returned from 32 of the 45 hub museums contacted. Among the 32 museums that returned the questionnaire, there were no African or Caribbean senior managers, one full-time Asian senior manager and two full-time senior managers from other ethnic backgrounds.

However, there is some debate in the sector about what the findings mean. Caroline Dudley, the head of museums and archives at Hampshire County Council's museums service, said that the results did not come as a surprise.

'You have to start somewhere, and people are gradually climbing up the ladder, but I do wonder whether the museum sector is attractive to high-flyers from the African, Caribbean and Asian community. The implication is not that we are repelling these applicants for jobs, but that they may be repelled by us.'

Davies disagreed: 'The Diversify scheme exploded the myth that people from ethnic minority backgrounds don't want to work in museums, but this shows that Diversify by itself is not enough.' Areas that could be addressed included the wording of recruitment advertising, the way that museums talk to schools, relationships with careers officers, and the image of the sector generally, he said.

Alec Coles, the director of Tyne and Wear Museums, said he found the findings 'depressing'. 'To truly engage with people we need a representative workforce,' he said. 'We should encourage sideways movement instead of putting up barriers, but our linear view of career structures dictates that if you don't start at the beginning, then you won't get in.'

The survey comes after the National Museum Directors' Conference (NMDC) published a report into cultural diversity at national museums in March. The NMDC findings tallied with the MA's report, showing that only 4.21 per cent of curatorial staff, 7.66 per cent of education and interpretation staff, and 1.3 per cent of senior management in national museums were from African, Caribbean or Asian backgrounds.

A spokeswoman for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) described the findings as 'disappointing, but not necessarily surprising'. 'There is a need for individual organisations to look at recruitment and retention all the way through and at board level,' she said.

She confirmed that in the recent MLA restructure, two posts that were charged with policy on cultural diversity had been made redundant. One policy officer now deals with this area, but she stressed that all policy officers were now required to be briefed and have an understanding of cultural diversity issues.

Patrick Steel

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