Museum Report Shows Gender Diversity in Leadership Lacking Minority Representation

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August 4, 2015; Los Angeles Times

According to a report on a survey just released by the Mellon Foundation, the Association of Art Museum Directors, and the American Alliance of Museums, approximately 60 percent of the staff positions at U.S. museums are filled by women. This gender diversity extends up and even expands through the curatorial, conservation, and education roles often seen as pipelines to top leadership positions. Ethnic minorities, on the other hand, were found to fill only 28 percent of staff positions, and those minorities were dominant only in janitorial and security positions.

As readers may recall, this is the second recent study we have covered about museum diversity. Last year, the Association of Art Museum Directors released a study that looked specifically at gender diversity only to find that leadership in larger institutions is consistently dominated by white males. This study deepens the examination of that field in a way that is very specific and useful.

With 181 art museums responding, the survey found no sign of a leadership pipeline for museum staff from historically underrepresented minorities. Among those highly paid positions of curators, conservators, educators, and leaders, four percent are African American, three percent are Latino, and Asians account for six percent. Whites hold 84% of these high-level jobs.

In the introduction to the study, Mariët Westermann, Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, suggests this means that two different strategies need to be deployed to achieve gender diversity and ethnic diversity, and the first is likely to be easier than the latter:

“Two specific results point to pathways for diversifying museum leadership and the positions that shape museums as venues of research and lifelong education. First, progress is likely to be swifter and easier on gender equality than on minority representation. As museum staff has become 60 percent female over the past decade or so, there is now also a preponderance of women in the curatorial, conservation, and educational roles that constitute the pipeline for leadership positions such as museum director, chief curator, and head of conservation or education. With close attention to equitable promotion and hiring practices for senior positions, art museums should be able to achieve greater gender equality in their leadership cohorts within the foreseeable future.

“Second, there is no comparable ‘youth bulge’ of staff from historically underrepresented minorities in curatorial, education, or conservation departments. The percentages of staff from underrepresented communities in such positions are basically level at 27.5 percent across the different age cohorts born from the 1960s to 1990s. Therefore, even promotion protocols that are maximally intentional about the organizational benefits of diversity are not going to make museum leadership cohorts notably more diverse if there is no simultaneous increase in the presence of historically underrepresented minorities on museum staff altogether, and particularly in the professions that drive the museum’s programs in collection development, research, exhibitions, and education. This finding suggests that diverse educational pipelines into curatorial, conservation, and other art museum careers are going to be critical if art museums wish to have truly diverse staff and inclusive cultures. It also indicates that the nation will need more programs that encourage students of color to pursue graduate education in preparation for museum positions…”

We’d love to hear readers’ reactions to these conclusions. Are there other fields that need to be examined in the same way?—Ruth McCambridge