By Laura Huerta Migus
“It is diversity that drives innovation: a diversity of perspectives, of industries, of cultures. When we bring together these different perspectives, we have a far better chance of breaking new ground.”
—Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect
Over the past two decades, the United States and other countries have experienced major demographic changes in race/ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic distribution, paired with rapid development of new technologies. In response to these changes, many corporations have positioned recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce as a core strategy for relevance and innovation. Many of the lessons learned are easily translated to science center and museum staffing practices. In particular, writing clear and inclusive job descriptions, advertising job opportunities in new channels, and ensuring a fair and balanced interview process are the pillars for recruiting for inclusion and innovation.
Writing a great job description
Readings from human resources and recruitment professionals emphasize concise, concrete job descriptions that focus on essential and necessary skills and qualifications. It is critical to review the list of skills and qualifications with an eye toward inclusion: Are these items—including minimum degree requirements, content area knowledge, and previous museum experience—unintentionally prohibitive or narrow? As a point of reference, according to the ASTC-ACM 2011 Workforce Survey Report (co-produced by ASTC and the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)), nearly half (46%) of U.S. science center CEOs’ original field of study was not science or engineering, and 30% do not have graduate degrees.
Here are a few tips on writing a clear and inclusive job description:
• Outline 5 to 10 day-to-day responsibilities and expectations in performance-based language (e.g., “Responsible for leading 5 to 7 field trip groups for up to 30 students each per week.”) This is a clearer way to communicate the experience necessary for adequate performance than traditional qualification statements centered around years of experience or degree attainment. For positions that require function across multiple areas, provide some guidance on the proportion of time or number of hours per week/day expected to be spent on each task.
• Differentiate clearly between essential job functions and non-essential functions, especially with respect to any physical activity required. Include clear descriptions of these physical activities (lifting, standing, verbal communication, etc.) and their frequency as important cues for applicants with physical challenges.
• Avoid using field-specific jargon and abbreviations when possible (especially in job titles). If jargon is unavoidable, include explanatory language to clarify the job description for candidates that may not be familiar with the field or the organization. An effective job description should appeal to candidates already in and/or familiar with the field, as well as to highly skilled newcomers.
• If you work with diverse constituencies and are looking to recruit staff with skills that facilitate building relationships with particular audiences, list these items explicitly as a requirement for the position rather than a preference.
• Do not let the application process itself be a barrier. The American Library Association’s guidelines recommend providing contact information for human resources staff that can assist individuals with disabilities who may need accommodations to complete the application process.
Advertising for flexibility and innovation
According to the workforce survey data, U.S. science centers and museums have some work to do to ensure that the workforce reflects national demographic diversity in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, and disability. Women are generally overrepresented in almost all positions except in exhibits (67% of exhibit directors and 94% of exhibit designers in science centers are men) and as CEOs of large institutions (87% of CEOs in institutions with budgets over $10 million are men). Racial/ethnic minority representation in middle to senior management (6–29%, depending on position) lags behind national statistics, as 32% of the U.S. population comes from minority backgrounds.
The majority (72%) of respondents indicated positive feelings about how well their floor staff reflects their communities’ demographics. This is great news: It means that some institutions have found techniques that work for diversifying what are likely entry-level positions. Institutions have the opportunity to leverage these strategies for diversifying the pool of candidates for all positions.
It is essential to create relationships and find communication channels that will give employers the greatest chance of attracting a diverse and talented pool of candidates. Post job descriptions not only to the traditional museum-centered job listings, but also through local community-specific media outlets, community partners, professional societies, and universities that are known for successfully serving and supporting diverse constituencies. Ideally, all opportunities should be advertised in a consistently inclusive way, regardless of seniority or content area. Don’t forget to encourage current employees to spread the world as well—they are your best advertisers!
Create an equitable hiring process
Once you’ve succeeded in writing and disseminating a job description that attracts an optimal talent pool, it is essential to structure effective processes for interviewing and hiring. Assemble a diverse interviewing or selection panel with colleagues of varying levels of seniority and at least one representative from a different department. The panel should be given a standard set of questions to work from, along with clear direction on selection criteria and minimum expectations. Keep interview environments as consistent as possible with respect to time allotted for interviews, the structure of the interview, and the individuals participating in the process.
The science center and museum field celebrates the diverse and surprising pathways that bring employees into the workforce. A well-written job description and well-designed hiring process that give all qualified candidates an equal chance is beneficial to both job seekers and employers.
Laura Huerta Migus is ASTC’s director of professional development and inclusion. Christine Ruffo, ASTC’s manager of research, contributed to this article.