I joined the NHM two years ago, passionate about the natural world and all its diversity, yet fearful for its future as a result of the catastrophic loss of species and their habitats due to human action. And the past two years have not been a disappointment. I have found a passionate community at the NHM highly committed to protecting and promoting diversity in nature – it’s at the heart of our vision of a world where people and planet thrive.
Yet, the vastly increased awareness raised through the Black Lives Matter movement following the brutal murder of George Floyd has highlighted the stark inequalities across our society. It’s been a wake-up call that we haven’t been focussed enough on diversity for people at our Museum. If we are truly ‘for people and planet’ then we need to be.
And that this has happened when we are in the midst of a global pandemic which is widening further the inequality gap, drives home the point even more starkly.
Museums are places for society to come together, reflect, debate and discuss, but they can only be so if they are inclusive of the society within which they sit. We have a lot of work to do in diversifying our workforce, audiences, and the way we understand and talk about our collection until that is true.
The founding of the NHM and its collection are intimately connected to Britain’s colonial past. In holding collections that represent multiple ways of understanding the world and speak to the past we must avoid presenting narrow exclusionary visions of our history
In January we launched a new strategy with diversity as one of our four critical values.
We have already started actions to improve understanding of diversity and inclusion, to reach under-represented audiences, to achieve greater diversity in our workforce, to better develop the careers of under-represented groups, and to tackle bias that holds back colleagues’ careers.
I am particularly grateful to our Diversity Working Group for keeping the pressure on and spearheading NHM involvement in activities such as Pride Month, Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Transgender Day of Visibility, and LGBT STEM Day. And it is crucial that we establish appropriate oversight and governance of NHM actions on diversity and inclusion, holding management to account.
Through our Urban Nature Project we have begun to work on engaging with more diverse audiences who feel the NHM may not be for them but realise there is much more we can do. We have embedded an inclusive design approach to all exhibitions, consulting directly with neurodiverse audiences, those with visual and hearing impairments, and others with a range of disabilities that may affect the way they engage with us. And we are increasing our own education and training – kicking off a new webinar series, inviting inspiring leaders with backgrounds different to those in the Museum to come and talk with us all about their experiences and what they want from a natural history museum.
Last year, our Principal Curator of Crustacea Miranda Lowe co-authored an influential paper examining the issues of museum collections linked to colonial histories. We have now started a review to understand, acknowledge and address the history of our collection and institution, including how the collections came into being, where they were collected from, who was involved and what the impacts were.
Visitors to the Museum have been able to attend black history ‘Untold Stories’ tours that recognise the contributions of indigenous people to the world of science and natural history, as well as LGBTQ+ themed tours, highlighting the stories about the Museum and the natural world that are often overlooked or historically hidden. There’s also Dawnosaurs, our onsite and online programme for children and young people with neuro-diverse conditions and for D/deaf audiences a programme of Deaf-led tours.
But we need and want to do more and to move faster.
Our next steps will focus on creating a more diverse workforce across all levels of the organisation and a workplace where everyone feels included and valued.
We will work with people across a wide range of sectors including museums, academia, research, influential community organisations, and charities and with those we want to reach. With their help we will encourage people to think about careers in museums and science, especially those who are under-represented in our workforce compared to London demographics.
We will do more to review our recruitment process to ensure we are reaching under-represented groups and make sure that everyone who applies to work at NHM is assessed fairly and appropriately. When people do join us we will do more to make them feel supported and welcomed and get the right career development to realise their potential.
Specifically, before the end of 2020 we will:
- Review our recruitment processes to ensure fairness and roll out mandatory recruitment and unconscious bias training for all hiring managers
- Advertise as many roles as possible internally to allow for internal promotion. We know there is far greater diversity in our lower grade jobs so we want to give opportunities for promotion and career development wherever we can
- Introduce consistent and compulsory access, diversity, inclusion and active-bystander training for all staff, beginning with senior management
- Use the staff survey to improve our understanding of colleagues’ experience of and ideas about Diversity and Inclusion. Colleagues will be encouraged to register in confidence their ethnicity, if they have a disability, their sexual orientation and gender so we have more accurate data about representation in our workforce
- Hold masterclasses with inspiring leaders who are experts and achievers on diversity and inclusion so we can learn from them
- Ensure all visitors know our zero-tolerance policy on any forms of discrimination or harassment and that staff know how to report any incidents and access support
This is just the start. As we work towards our new vision of a planet and people thriving together you will hear from more voices across the NHM community on what and how we are doing.
Clare Matterson, Executive Director of Engagement