Museum consultant Hilary Carty is calling for sector leaders to take action on diversity

Discrimination damaging sector diversity and staff retention

Patrick Steel, 25.07.2016
MA research finds workforce practices and relationships affected by unconscious bias
Institutional discrimination in the UK museum sector is negatively affecting workforce diversity, a report by the Museums Association (MA) has found, leading to people leaving the sector at mid-career level.

Valuing Diversity: The Case for Inclusive Museums, which draws on a year of research including interviews with more than 80 individuals across the sector, found that “unconscious bias not only impacts decisions related to recruitment and salary of individuals but also impacts investment in their ongoing development once inside an organisation”. Unconscious bias also influences decisions around programming, interpretation and representation in museum spaces, it found.

The report also found a small number of cases where museum staff from diverse backgrounds had to deal with prejudice from fellow colleagues.

“For people who self-identify, or who are identified as, being of a diverse background, the day-to-day experience of working in museums can be exhausting and can present regular emotional and psychological challenges,” it found.

“People report needing to constantly articulate and demonstrate how they have achieved their position on merit, explain issues of identity and cultural heritage to colleagues and deal with micro-inequities on a daily basis. Micro-inequities occur as an effect of unconscious bias and can be defined as micro-messages that communicate who is ‘within’ and who is ‘without’.

The report suggests a number of actions to improve workforce diversity: inclusion training at all levels from governance and management to staff; better and more comprehensive data, going further than Arts Council England’s yearly capture of data for Major Partner Museums, with clear and measurable key performance indicators; and the promotion of a broader understanding of diversity in all its complexities by funders and policy-makers.

Coming out of the report’s findings, the MA has committed to developing a programme to support a cohort of mid-career professionals from diverse backgrounds to help them negotiate and influence within their organisations, supporting the next generation of diverse leadership.

The MA will also develop its work with media partners and educational bodies to raise awareness with young people from diverse backgrounds around the potential of a career in museums.

The research was funded by Arts Council England as part of the MA’s Transformers: Radical Change in Museums programme and was informed by action research within that programme, along with anonymous interviews and a national event.  

Sharon Heal, the MA’s director, said: "This hard-hitting report outlines the lack of diversity in the sector at all levels. We need decisive, meaningful action now from funders and sector bodies if we are to make a real difference on these issues for future generations. The time for talking is over."

Museum consultant Hilary Carty said: "This research shows it’s surely time to take big bold steps forward on the diversity agenda. Here more than ever we need our leaders to lead - to step up, step forward and translate the oft-heard endorsements into concrete actions. Who's first?"

Links and downloads

Valuing Diversity: The Case for Inclusive Museums (pdf)


Museum Practice: Apprentices and Trainees


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Tehmina Goskar
Consultant Curator
31.08.2016, 16:07
I welcome this report although still struggle to find organisations within and outside the sector willing to work together to not only improve diversity, but also not ignore inequality endemic in our field of work.

Given the emphasis on diversity in the UK Government's Culture White Paper it is essential pressure is kept up from all areas at the highest levels to call to account those clearly showing intentional and unintentional prejudice.

I am also pleased reference was made to the challenges of achieving a more diverse, and therefore more democratic, workforce and audience in museums and cultural organisations in rural regions. Rural regions need to come up with their own plans to diversify and address the specific barriers to participation and representation that result in many of our museums looking like they only exist for a select audience from 50 years ago - or - just for the 6-week summer holiday tourists.

I would welcome hearing from other museum workers in rural regions who would like to develop research in this area with me. Get in touch:


Twitter: @tehm
Becki Morris
Collections Assistant, Market Hall Museum
29.07.2016, 09:11
We have a network for people who want more inclusive museums, by sharing knowledge, create innovation and to raise the profile of disabled people both visiting and working in the sector.

Have a look at the Disability Co-operative Network