In February, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) released a diversity and inclusion policy statement. Since then, Aletheia and I have been involved in many conversations with other museum professionals about what this policy statement is all about and what it means for AAM and its members. To gain a little clarity on these questions, I interviewed the two key drivers of this policy: William Harris, Senior Vice President of Development and Marketing at California Science Center Foundation and Vice Chair of the AAM Board of Directors and Auntaneshia Staveloz, State and Community Partnerships Manager at American Alliance of Museums and Board Officer at the Association of African American Museums. The interview will be presented in the next two blog installments. -Rose
Please feel free to leave questions for William and Auntaneshia in the comment section below.
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Could you share with me a brief history of how this diversity and inclusion policy statement was developed?
William (W): AAM has a long history of trying to embrace diversity and inclusion that dates back to the 1990’s when a task force was established to look at the goal of diversity and how to encourage institutions to include more diversity programming in, for example, staff and volunteer recruitment, board composition, and annual conference content.. Through the years, other task-forces were created, policy statements were developed, and resources were disseminated through the AAM Information Center. What we found over time was that it was very hard to get people to adapt…and, in large part, it was that people were having difficulty including diversity in their visioning goals. What I think AAM came to recognize was that, while philosophically, the institution was and is committed to diversity and inclusion, these goals weren’t being carried out as comprehensively within the organization and its membership as we would have liked. So the board established a new task-force which I led and Auntaneshia staffed on behalf of AAM to really explore this issue. We determined that, not only did we need to bring our existing policy up to date, but we really needed to put in place an infrastructure to ensure its integration into the DNA of the Alliance.
Auntaneshia (A): To add to that, several of the key tangible resources that came out of AAM’s early work on diversity and inclusion included the well-known publication Excellence and Equity along with a toolkit that was developed in the early 2000’s called Mastering Civic Engagement that sought to address some of the “how-tos” William previously mentioned. More recent publications on the topic came out of our Center for the Future of Museum and include Museums and Society 2034: Trends and Possible Futures and Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums. As William said, this current effort with the diversity and inclusion policy statement is really about changing our gears in terms of understanding what diversity and inclusion mean conceptually and in practice today.
W: Another big part of the policy’s development was that Auntaneshia did phenomenal research on other organizations’ diversity and inclusion policies. We also assessed how other organizations beyond nonprofits and museums carry forward their diversity and inclusion programming and policies. We used all this information to determine what was the right fit for AAM because we’re a little different as a membership organization; we can articulate our expectations of excellence and best practices, but we can’t force anyone to enact them (laughs). So when we present things, it’s typically what we feel are best practices and what we want people to aspire towards. The only way we can be a little more assertive or direct in moving people in a particular direction is through our accreditation process where we’ve developed what we consider are best practices for museums.
Could you say more about how this current policy statement builds on and goes beyond the work you mentioned coming before?
W: I think what we identified was, while there are decades worth of work, we need to really look at why diversity and inclusion hadn’t gotten traction. Philosophically, everyone in the organization was in agreement, but this didn’t translate into what we felt was substantive action. This time, the goal was to really make diversity and inclusion part of the Alliance’s DNA. We recognized that this integration takes a constant awareness, constant work, being proactive, having as part of the strategy things like a management staff member at AAM, in this case Auntaneshia, charged with ensuring diversity and inclusion are always priorities within the staff ranks of the alliance, and having a board willing to take up diversity and inclusion as their priority as well. Another key piece to this board-approved policy that is different than what came before is a recommended set of actions placed in a timeline. This means the AAM staff members are accountable to report back to the board on the progress of these objectives. This helps ensure there is proactive activity and a high priority level placed on this work.
A: I would also add that this policy really aims to change the mindset from diversity and inclusion as an initiative to diversity and inclusion as a business practice, meaning that it’s just part of the work you do versus an aside. This is really a shift in thinking and doing. We want to ensure that this policy becomes interwoven in all of AAM’s programs, products, and services so that it really does become the operational way of thinking.
W: Well said, Auntaneshia…that’s really the essence.
Concretely, how do you see this policy statement impacting AAM and its individual or institutional members?
W: From our Continuum of Excellence, we took a close look at the accreditation process and the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) to better understand what an entry-point commitment to diversity and inclusion all the way up to accreditation, which is the ultimate commitment to excellence in the museum field, might look like. The Accreditation Commission and other networks of AAM are now looking at the policy and how to incorporate it into their expectations for museums and museum assessments, which is one way in which we can really broadcast and express this new standard, this new expectation throughout the field. The hope would be that the diversity and inclusion policy would become a formal part of consideration as part of the accreditation process. The specifics of what this might look like is something that we plan to explore with the Accreditation Commission.
One way this policy has already impacted AAM is that the AAM CEO, COO, and board have expressed a commitment to diversity and inclusion which has now been incorporated into the organization’s Operational Plan to ensure that those factors play a role in hiring, promotion, and all facets of the organization.
A: Additionally, this policy will have an impact on our Information Center, which is a resource of sample policies, plans and other forms available to museum members and will also boost our online resources that are available to most people visiting our website. We are also looking at how this policy will impact the make-up of our institutional membership. There are countless museums that have not particularly engaged with AAM and we hope that this policy will demonstrate AAM’s inclusiveness along with its opportunities. Finally, we are looking broadly at our business practices (e.g., hiring, recruitment, professional development, marketing, etc.) and how diversity and inclusion play into these. Ultimately, while this policy is particular to AAM, we want it to serve as a model for museums to begin thinking of how a similar policy might look like in their institution.
We’ve been speaking mostly about hopes. Do you have any concerns moving forward?
W: Well, I’m an optimist…(laughs), but there are always concerns. I think it’s like any change. Whenever you’re proposing a change in perspective, it takes time and it takes persistence. I think that’s one reason why the board, this time around, came up with a timeline of recommended actions and deliverables; to make sure that over a two year period, we’re keeping this at the forefront of our thinking. I don’t think this work will ever be done, it’s not something you can just check off a box thinking it’s no longer something that we need to be aware or conscious of. Rather it’s something that has to be incorporated in policy and in practice. I guess my concern would be that the document wanes over time and that a comfort level develops, making us think: “it’s ok, we don’t have to be as vigilant.”
A: I agree with William. I sometimes have heard people say that if diversity and inclusion is in everything then it loses its value. I hope the policy will help keep these matters top of mind, something we should continuously be aware of and working on.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of the interview…