Do your staff represent your community?

What are some common barriers to staff diversity in the heritage sector?

“We only hire the most qualified people, and they just aren’t coming from those communities.”

This is probably the most common copout, er, response from museum leadership: we only hire the best, regardless of what their background is, and the best just happen to come from white, wealthy backgrounds.

Cast the recruitment net wider

When we recruit along channels frequented by white wealthy people, we get white, wealthy candidates. So cast the net wider. Do community recruitment outreach in your underserved communities. Spend more on recruitment: more time and more cash. Find the colleges who attract under-served communities and recruit there. Work harder. And don’t let your HR department or board off easy when they helplessly throw up their hands and say, “What can we do? This is who applied.” They need to do better.

Revisit your selection criteria

Consider taking some risks with your job requirements. It is so easy to change “Master’s degree in subject matter x” to “Master’s degree or equivalent experience.” And follow through with your rating system when those applications come in.

Give points for those who have direct experience with your under-served communities. Some years ago I was working with a number of national historic sites; all of these have trouble recruiting anybody but white, educated, young people. One of them, a ranching site, simply added to the job description: “Must have direct personal experience with ranching.” Boom, suddenly all those university students were less qualified, and suddenly local people had jobs as interpreters. The transformation was remarkable; they became the most authentic historic site in the system, and their programming improved immensely.

Create leadership track positions

In some of the parks I work with, the leadership is working toward a full co-management model with the local First Nations. With these sites, the vision is that the directors (superintendent, visitor experience manager, etc) will come from the Nation. If there’s nobody qualified for the role yet, they recruit these community members in whatever position they can, and track them toward leadership roles. It may take five years or more, but they get there.

Have community representatives on the selection the committee, and empower them

Are you ending up with a lot of old white guys in your higher-paid positions? As an official Old White Guy, let me share something with you: we are very good at working the system, because we invented it. We know where the jobs are, we know how to write a powerful resume, how to work an interview, and how to work the old networks. I can’t stress this enough: the system is rigged towards us. Sorry, fellow OWGs, it’s a fact.

Get under-represented professionals on your hiring boards. Sit them in the room with the candidates and let them do the talking and the rating. Share your power. Take some risks. You’ll be glad you did.

There are so many ways to work toward a more diverse staff.

The biggest barriers are not the logistical ways and means; the biggest barriers are lack of courage and will. It’s time to change that.

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