Report: Diversity, Advocacy Issues Create Problems for Museum Boards

A new report by the American Alliance of Museums suggests that diversity issues are a significant challenge for museums, particularly in regards to their boards.

The American Alliance of Museums is putting a spotlight on a challenge that the sector is struggling to get a grasp on: the issues of diversity and inclusion.

In its latest Museum Board Leadership report (conducted with the help of BoardSource and Northern Trust), AAM had respondent boards grade their own progress on a variety of issues, with boards as a whole giving themselves a B- overall, roughly on the same level as nonprofits as a whole.

But the report suggested that one area where museum boards particularly struggled was with diversity. The report states that 46 percent of boards contain no people of color (compared to 30 percent of nonprofit boards overall), and while diversity is seen as a key issue, only 10 percent of museum directors say their boards are actually following through on such knowledge with an action plan.

“Research suggests that lack of diversity in board composition may be a network problem,” the report stated. “Ninety-one percent of white Americans’ social networks are other white Americans, which is the racial group that dominates nonprofit board and chief executive positions.”

Overall, “increasing board diversity” was one of many areas where museum directors and museum chairs agreed that their boards underperformed as a whole, with directors giving the boards a C+ and museum chairs a C-.

Boards were much stronger on issues such as understanding mission, financial oversight, and supporting the director. Other areas where museum boards struggled, however, included fundraising, monitoring legislative or regulatory issues, educating policymakers, and monitoring performance against goals.

But it was the diversity point that drew the most discussion in the museum sector, especially amid the backdrop of the recent AAM annual meeting, which took place in St. Louis earlier this month and had a diversity-related theme.

“In many ways, the report serves as a source of encouragement, given the high marks museum directors assign their boards,” AAM CEO Laura Lott said in a news release. “Other results—particularly around board diversity and engagement in critical advocacy efforts—demonstrate a dire need for improvement. We look forward to using these findings as a springboard for important conversations in our field, and a benchmark against which to measure progress.”

The full report is available on the AAM website [PDF].


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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