Skip to content

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion

Inclusion for Effectiveness and Sustainability

Inclusion is central to the effectiveness and sustainability of museums

Our institutions’ viability and financial sustainability depends largely on our ability to be relevant, magnetic, and inclusive. Museums will need to cultivate effective practices for managing change to continue to do our work. The working group agreed that the purpose of discussing DEAI in the context of organizational sustainability is not to justify museum equity efforts—at base, equity is the right thing to do. Rather, we wanted to frame the discussion for those seeking to express the financial implications of DEAI in addition to the social and moral imperatives.

Through their exhibitions and programs, museums provide spaces for reflection, community-building, and inspiration. They offer resources that help visitors learn and grow. They also bolster local and national economies—to the tune of $50 billion in GDP in the United States in 2016, according to recent research by AAM and Oxford Economics. But, despite this wide reach, museums’ workforces and audiences continue to be plagued by inequalities. Although non-white people make up 23 percent of the overall US population,¹ they comprise only 9 percent of museum visitorship.² African Americans hold only 4 percent of the leadership positions in US art museums; Latinx professionals hold only 3 percent of total leadership jobs in the sector.³

The 2017 Museum Board Leadership report, published by AAM in partnership with nonprofit leadership organization BoardSource, revealed that 46 percent of museum boards are all white. Compare these statistics to national trends: demographic data indicate an increasingly broadening spectrum of ability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity in the United States. If museums want to continue to receive the trust and economic support of the public, they will need to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Working group cochair Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole compellingly expressed this idea in her keynote address at the 2015 AAM Annual Meeting. Speaking on the theme of “The Social Value of Museums: Inspiring Change,” Dr. Cole reminded us that “if businesses are to compete effectively in this global economy, they must have within their company employees of diverse backgrounds who will bring different and innovative ideas to the table.”

Trends in philanthropy and impact investing underline the point that diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion make both moral and financial sense for museums in today’s climate of rapid social and demographic change.

Read Ford Foundation President Darren Walker’s call for moral courage in philanthropy.

Call to action: 

While research on inclusion and sustainability abounds in the private sector, there is a great need for accurate benchmarking information and research about DEAI in the museum field. You can take steps to fill in this picture by highlighting successes in your museum to demonstrate that everyone is enriched by this work.



¹U.S. Census Bureau. QuickFacts. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.

²Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums, The AAM Press, American Association of Museums, 2010

³The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, 2015

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.