Diversity vs. Inclusion

After a decade of working for museums and reading countless articles on their diversification efforts… I know they are trying. They are trying big time. However, the success is a little mediocre for all the money and effort put into it.

What I have seen in the past decade, and now, is that the effort lands on creating programs that include people from different backgrounds. These are performers, lecturers, artists, professors, etc. of different races that may come from a less privileged socio-economic background, are from different countries, or belong to various religious groups. Unfortunately, it stops there. This is shallow diversification and most audiences fall for it.

As many of you have noticed, many museums have a diverse entry level staff - receptionists, secretaries, assistants, etc. And, I am excluding ethnic museums for obvious reasons. Now, have you looked at the directorial body and the board/patron/donor body? What we tend to see is a gynocentric directorial body, which is good news for women, and an androcentric board/patron/donor body. One common factor between the groups: about 95% is Caucasian, from a privileged/wealthy background, educated, cisgender/heteronormative, and able-bodied. I want to see both groups equalized in gender and more minority diverse; by "minority diverse" I not only mean race, I mean LGBTQ, disabled/abled, socio-economic level, education level, and age groups.

These efforts can only go so far because the museum board and high level staff members deciding on the path they want to take the museum/organization do not empathize or sympathize with the audience they want to attract. They think they know how to reach these groups but language barriers, vocabulary, location, presentation and other crucial marketing strategies end up alienating said audiences. It easily comes across as too intimidating. Not inviting. Not inclusive.

If an organization wants to genuinely diversify they have to start from within. I want to see more diverse boards and more diverse high level staff. I also want to see those minorities in entry level positions move up the ladder. And if you believe that museum audiences reflect the population in this country, think again.

Since this is the time of the year I open up my spreadsheets to see what organizations deserve my hard-earned money, I want to suggest you do the same. If there is an organization getting real through actions NOT words, support them in any way you can: Donate, become a member, if funds are low you can go on a free day or with a coupon - just participate!, volunteer, network with the staff. If you are in any minority group, do what you can because we would love for you to be representing and pave the way for others like you. If you end up in a board or as a donor, understand that even though privileged people like to think of themselves as being progressive and politically correct, the truth is that many times they are blind to their own prejudices – call them out on it when you see micro/macroaggressions or hear stupid comments (e.g. people making cocaine jokes to Colombians because they cannot begin to image the damage it has done to the country and its nationals). Don't be a bystander and be mindful of the ways people do defend themselves, step in when required and stay true to your values.

A. Iaroc