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Museums aim to build diversity among leadership

Most museum directors believe increasing the diversity of boards of trustees is important to advancing their mission, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and BoardSource. Museums are eager to address diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) issues at the leadership level, but may not always be sure where to start. In 2019, AAM announced a field-wide initiative, Facing Change: Advancing Museum Board Diversity & Inclusion that will provide coaching and support to participating museums. Forty-nine museums of all types and sizes are participating in the first cohort of this national initiative. Each will work to change board structures and make progress on specific focus areas for increasing diversity.

ASTC’s own Ann Hernandez, senior manager of inclusion initiatives, is one of the ten Facing Change Fellows, who will work with AAM to implement trainings and support the museum boards in developing sustainable and measurable inclusion plans. Here, Ann shares some details about the program and how museums can begin working toward their DEAI goals.

What is involved in Facing Change? What can participants expect?

Facing Change is a field-wide initiative—this is the first time AAM has tried a DEAI initiative this big. Participating museums are developing visions and action plans for increasing diversity among their boards. Many are thinking about board recruitment practices: What are the board member requirements? Can requirements be improved to support inclusiveness? The participating museums receive direct support from AAM and the fellows, but we’re also working to determine how to share lessons learned with the wider field. At the end of the process, participating museums will have added at least two people of color to their boards and will have sustainable, measurable inclusion approaches identified as part of their strategy going forward.

Why does the field need an initiative like this?

Almost half of all museum boards have only white members, which is evidence of the exclusive systems in which museums have historically operated. We know this is not representative of or supportive of our communities. There’s a lot of interest across the field in becoming more diverse, more inclusive, and including the voices of different cultural groups to expand the reach and relevance of their organizations. Building cultural competence is a continuing process. Many Facing Change participants are building on learning gained through other cultural competence initiatives, such as the Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI). The fact that they’re also participating in Facing Change shows that this is an ongoing and multifaceted issue that requires commitment on many different levels. It’s important for organizations to think about DEAI in multiple ways with multiple efforts at multiple places of entry.

Why focus on Museum boards? How will fellows coach them?

Organizations are only as culturally responsive as their top leadership, which is why this initiative focuses on increasing diversity on boards of directors. Through this initiative, primary decision makers will improve their ability to integrate cultural competence in guiding the organization as a whole: from organizational practices to relationships with vendors, partners, and other organizations. That shift will influence everything else, like how exhibits are designed and how educational activities are developed. The fellows operate as coaches, as cheerleaders, and as lifelines throughout the two years of the initiative. There are set activities, but we’re also there for the participants when they need us outside of those scheduled check-ins or activities.

nullWhat has happened since Facing Change kicked off in 2019?

There are five geographic regions* where Facing Change is happening. Right now, each city has just completed their kick-off retreats. I’m assigned to Chicago, and during our retreat, we focused on developing a common language around the material and thinking about shifting perspectives. Next, the fellows will help participants think through initial ideas for increasing board diversity and create action plans to make inclusion approaches part of future planning. This is not a cookie cutter approach: we’re thinking about the individual institutions and what works for their structures and their boards. Every board member and staff member involved is doing a self-assessment to find out where they are on a developmental track for cultural competence and how that affects their team and institution.

Why is ASTC supporting this effort?

This initiative is in line with ASTC’s commitment to DEAI that is outlined in our new strategic direction and complements related ASTC activities and programs. The 10 ASTC members that are participating in Facing Change (Adler Planetarium, Bell Museum, Exploratorium, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Oakland Museum of California, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Space Center Houston, Science Museum of Minnesota, and Witte Museum), and other ASTC members, are pursuing their own new frontiers related to DEAI.

What can ASTC members expect to learn about going forward?

I’ll be posting to ASTC’s blog each quarter and readers can also check out the Facing Change blog for posts from the fellows. These posts will provide updates on training and share major concepts and activities. We’ll also dig into topics that all museums can think about as they approach their DEAI efforts, like unconscious bias, perceived barriers, white fragility, and managing the uncomfortable nature of this work.

Read more about the Facing Change initiative and the Fellows on AAM’s blog.

* The five geographic areas are: Chicago; San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose; Houston/Dallas/Fort Worth; Jackson, Mississippi; and Minneapolis/St. Paul.