Diversity must move beyond "specialist projects"

Geraldine Kendall, 28.03.2012
MA roundtable discusses how to create wider culture change
Efforts to widen the diversity of the museum sector must move beyond specialist projects, according to consultant Lucy Shaw.

Shaw said that, at a Museums Association roundtable discussion on diversity earlier this month, there was a consensus among participants that the sector needed to start taking a broader approach to diversifying the workforce.

Shaw, who coordinated the MA's Diversify programme until it came to an end last year, added: “The overriding sense was that diversity projects are great but focusing on individuals only gets you so far and doesn’t create a big enough groundswell to cause a shift.

“We need to start looking at organisational culture change and what needs to be done to make that happen.”

The roundtable brought together senior representatives from museums, advocacy groups and government bodies to discuss future priorities for improving workforce diversity following the end of the Diversify scheme.

Participants included Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, Clara Arokiasamy, director of the workforce development consultancy KALAI, and Hedley Swain, director of museums at Arts Council England.

The group looked at the impact of the current political and economic climate on efforts to increase diversity and debated what messages the sector should be communicating to funding bodies and the government about the issue.

Participants discussed measures such as reforming employment and recruitment practice and developing alternative entry routes to the sector away from university education.

Between 1993 and 2008, the proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people working in UK museums almost trebled, from 2.5% to 7%. But this figure remains unrepresentative of the proportion of BAME people in the population as a whole, which stands at 12% (rising to 30% in London).

Shaw said that the definition of diversity in the museum sector had widened considerably since the launch of Diversify in 1998, now taking into account aspects such as disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic background.

In addition, museums have become increasingly focused on linking their collections to communities and boosting their public impact, said Shaw, meaning the development of a more diverse workforce should be a priority in future museum strategy.

The MA will take a closer look at workforce diversity as part of its new initiative, Museums 2020, which is setting out a bold vision for UK museums focused on the social impact they can achieve.