Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How Diverse are We?

At another Idea Lounge at AAM, Dwan Reece, Carol Enseki and Fabiana Chiu-Rinaldi moderated a thoughtful, complex discussion on diversity in the field. To all of our amazement, there has never been a survey that establishes a benchmark for diversity in the field, despite decades of conversation. And, despite those decades of conversation, we all felt that the field, particularly in terms of leadership, is not substantially more diverse than twenty years ago.

In the session, there was discussion about indicators of qualities that allow diversity to flourish in an institution:
  • openness to staff learning
  • willingness to learn by doing, as well as ongoing training
  • a real commitment to diversity, rather than lip service
  • having realistic expectations for staff
  • having a diverse board which helps signal real change, and change from the inside
  • supportive leadership, grounded in an understanding of diversity

At the same time, the group (all women, by the way) came up with many more questions than answers.
  • Has the emergence of many new museum studies graduate programs filtered out other accessible routes into museum work?
  • How does an institution think about values? Are we relevant and valuable to the community?
  • How can mid-level staff keep fostering conversation about and focus on diversity?
  • Is the museum field ready to have a diverse field of candidates for leadership positions?
  • How can a group of people move this conversation forward in the field? (There is a Diversity in Museums Committee (DivCom) at AAM--but the link to the DivCom website is dead...hmmm.)

Think diversity doesn't have anything to do with your museum? All of the demographic trends tell us otherwise. Take a look at the Center for the Future of Museums discussion paper, Museums and Society 2034 for a look at the changing demographics of the United States, in both rural and urban areas. Have you thought about the diversity of your community? When I do strategic planning with a museum, one of the first places I suggest looking for information is the US census. It's the place to find out real information about your community--and perhaps overturn some of those long held assumptions.

It's troubling to think that progress has been slow, but heartening to talk with such a committed passionate group who made their way to a far conference location, at a very early hour.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Re: graduate programs in museums.

I wonder about that myself, although more in the 'will they want me' because while I work at a historic site and want to stay in museums/public history in the future, my degrees are in history (and if I go for a PhD, it will be in history).

My feelings are that the degree programs will only matter if they become a defining factor ("throw out anyone who hasn't studied this formally!"). As long as museums are willing to look at people with related experience/degrees, I think there should be a way for diversity.