US museums have made significant progress toward gender equality but little headway in building ethnically diverse staff, according to a survey released last week by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The average museum’s curatorial, education, conservation and top administrative staff members are 84% white.
The survey, administered to 181 museums in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) this spring, was the first comprehensive study of the ethnic and gender makeup of US museum employees. (Researchers also intended to analyse the demographics of museum board members, who are responsible for appointing directors and helping to shape policy and priorities. But response rates were so low that the data were deemed unrepresentative.)
Researchers found that museum staff is, on average, 60% female. In curatorial, conservation, education, and other leadership roles, women are particularly well represented. They comprise more than 70% of staff in these departments, which often serve as a pipeline to directorships and higher-ranking administrative positions.
The same career ladder does not exist for historically under-represented minorities, the survey found. Minorities make up 28% of museum staff, but most work in the security, facilities, finance and human resources departments. Only 4% of curators, educators, conservators and top administrators are African American; 6% are Asian; 3% are Hispanic; 3% are multi-racial. Of the 17 job categories included in the survey, registrars are the least diverse—around 90% are white.
These demographics do not reflect the diversity of the US population. According to the 2013 Census, the most recent year for which data are available, around 14% of the US population is African American; 17% is Hispanic or Latino; 5% is Asian. By 2043, white people will no longer make up a majority of the population, according to the Census Bureau.
“To thrive in the long term, it is crucial that museums bring the demographic profile of their staff into alignment with that of the communities they serve,” says Elizabeth Merritt, the director of AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums. “This will require challenging a broad range of assumptions about how museums train, recruit and manage the staff…. And it will require taking a hard, uncomfortable look at the conscious and unconscious influences that have shaped our institutional culture and created the current imbalance.”