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The Workforce of the Future Starts Now

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
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We get a lot of questions about who will be working, or should be working, in the museum of the future, and how museums should be finding, recruiting and training these future staff members.
Any exploration of the future of the museum workforce has to start with an accurate snapshot of what we have now. So CFM commissioned an analysis based on U.S. Census data.
These numbers are based on the American Community Survey (ACS) conducted in 2009 (the most recent public dataset available in September). They will probably shift a bit when we get access to the 2010 ACS and the 2010 decennial Census. Also note that there are different ways of counting museum workers (such as by occupation) that yield different results—and the Census numbers never quite balance with numbers from other federal agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
For now, this is probably the best reflection of the current museum workforce as a whole. The workforce is:

  • 80% white
  • 52% male
  • full of people who attended college (70%), but only 11% have a master’s degree or doctorate.
We take a broad view of the “museum workforce,” so these numbers include everyone who draws a museum paycheck—from the director of the Met to the custodian at your local historical society—and not just the professional staff. For a useful point of comparison, 87% of museum studies graduates in 2009 were women and 70% were white.
Some items for your discussion: 

  • What other data do we need about the current museum workforce to inform our planning?
  • What do you think the workforce of the museum of the future needs to “look like”?
  • If the future workforce needs to be different in its composition from the current workforce, what needs to change?
  • What do we, as trainers and employers, need to do to make those changes come about?
Please weigh in using the comments section below.

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  1. I created a New York Museum demographics, which overlapped some of your stats. Definitely overall the field is highly educated white women (at least in New York) though a lot do not have director positions, which are still highly male. You should also ask the question of the types of museums you are considering because that might contribute to why your numbers have higher male numbers as opposed to mine. I restricted mine to art museums, while there could higher male domination in other types of museums.

  2. In reply to Padrino50: The Census Bureau now separates race from Hispanic origin (with the understanding that people of any race or racial combination may also define themselves as Hispanic). According to the ACS2009 data, 10.1% of museum workers also self-identified as Hispanic. This made it into the report but not the blog post.

    Phil Katz at AAM

  3. In my experience, two factors seem to play the biggest roles in determining what any business or organization should strive for its staff.

    1. "Hire for attitude, train for skill." People of passion, dedicated to their organization and topic are crucial and priceless, regardless of their age, race or other characteristics. We need to make a point of connecting to the younger generations and getting them interested in our topics of choice and comfortable around museums if we want to raise the next generation of professionals.

    2. National demographics are usually trumped by local ones; if the people at a local institution reflect the demographics of their area, visitors will feel connected and comfortable.

  4. I'm interested in the types of museums considered as well as the specific positions held. In my extremely informal research looking at art museums, I've found that many African-Americans who hold Director-level or managerial positions are concentrated in museums that explore related cultural backgrounds (African art, African-American art) and those that do not are concentrated in positions such as food service, security and maintenance.

  5. I have worked in museums in 5 different states over the past 15 years. What I have seen has been a huge disparity in diversity of museums. Even the Museum for African Art, New York, had few minorities in the higher positions–still Africans were relegated to security positions and lucky to have Education or registrar positions.
    In Oregon, where I now live, I don't really expect diversity in the museums because the state itself is not a diverse one. But with a masters degree in my field and a hefty list of museums on my resume I am a bit surprised that it is extremely difficult to secure regular museum employment in Oregon and the Northwest in general. I have searched for 5 years now…

  6. I received my BA in Art History in 2007 and currently completing my MA in Museum Studies. All my museum experiences have been through internships. They have all been positive and I receive above average reviews and letter of recommendations. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a job in the museum field. I live in the Southwest where the largest populations are white or Latino. The museum environments are virtually all white. I am African-American. In my experience, people are hired based on whom they know. Friends and acquaintances hire each other or refer others to positions. It is a hard place for diversity to break through sometimes.

  7. I demand that the post be updated with an appropriate and updated visual graphic of minority representation in the museum workforce. To leave the entire Latino "NOT Hispanic" demographic out of the picture is irresponsible and insensitive.

  8. Carolina:

    Please see the earlier reply to Padrino50 from November 2011, which addresses this same concern. The graphic here reflects the categories that the Census uses to define the American population. Self-identified Hispanics (of all "races" as defined by the statistics-gatherers) made up just over 10% of the museum workforce in this analysis.

    Phil Katz, AAM

  9. I agree with other comments that Latinos/Hispanics data is missing. Also, diversity is about recruitment, referral, hiring, retention, promotion, representation at entry-level, mid-level, senior-level and executive. The entire pipeline must be assessed if you want an accurate picture of diversity.

  10. Just curious about how this study considered museums that were strictly founded for and by African-Americans. It seems possible that the inclusion of these institutions could add an unintended curve.

  11. Helynsia–the Census Bureau asks people to identify their occupation & industry, rather than asking employers (including museums) about their employees. So there is no way to track what portion of the Census respondents worked for African-American founded or focused museums.

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