New leaders should represent us all

The news highlighting the low percentage of women in senior leadership positions in museums came as a genuine shock to …
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Maggie Appleton
The news highlighting the low percentage of women in senior leadership positions in museums came as a genuine shock to many.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been told that we cannot possibly need to campaign on this issue, simply because so many people working in the sector are women.

In fact, that makes it even more unacceptable that just 28% of our major museums and galleries are led by women, and that a similar percentage of trustees and board members are female. So what is to be done? As a starting point, we need to look closely at some of the basics.

How openly are these roles advertised? What is the make-up of interview panels? How well do we support flexible working? Getting these fundamentals right will benefit everyone in the profession, not just women.

There are wider issues at stake here, too. To ensure a better leadership profile for the future we must strengthen our recruitment and development practices at every level.

Alongside the dearth of women in senior positions, we must continue to tackle other inequalities, too. Austerity-driven job cuts mean that graduates who have invested time and money in their education are often struggling just to get a foot on the ladder.

This must not impede the progress made in recent years to open up entry routes into the profession. Young people from families with no experience of higher education are reluctant to take on significant debt to achieve even a first degree.

But where is the incentive for museums to put resources into the development of school leavers when there is already a surplus of talented, skilled graduates prepared to work for all too little, just to get some experience under their belts?

If the sector is to develop a new generation of outstanding leaders who are truly representative of the society we seek to document and interpret, these challenges must be tackled.

So the Museums Association’s workforce plan, Working Wonders, couldn’t come at a better time, addressing workforce issues at all levels and offering key recommendations for stakeholders and funders.

And it is backed with Arts Council England-funded support, via the Creative and Cultural Skills’ Cultural Heritage Blueprint, to support interns and apprenticeships into the profession.

Culture secretary Maria Miller’s commitment to diversity and representation of women is welcome and we need that leadership from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. But we all have responsibility for the leaders of tomorrow, and that means not becoming inward looking just because the landscape is challenging.

This is precisely when we should protect our organisations’ training and development resources. Only that way will we ensure that we face the future with more creativity and greater business acumen than ever before.

Maggie Appleton is the chief executive of Luton Culture and a Museums Association board member

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