Katie Ann Smith, Senior Youth Education Manager and previously Heritage Engagement Manager at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution speaks about the challenges of creating a diverse career in the sector.
Years of studying, volunteering and an infectious passion for what I do has landed me slap bang in the midst of a career cross roads. There is so much talk about diversity, appreciating diversity in gender, ethnicity, sexuality to names a few but we also need to talk about employment diversity. Taking an opportunity to do a little side step myself, this year I took the plunge and ventured into the world of education. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to gain a different perspective, understand what it is I love doing and devote some well needed time to focus on me.
However, whilst I’m sure this will benefit me in the long run there is a real risk of getting trapped in a more secure sector and little support (unless you make it yourself) for staying relevant and up to date with the sector. Which leads me to ask the question: should we not be encouraging diversity by providing support mechanisms for professionals to change their focus, even if it’s on a temporary basis?
It’s pretty much been a full time job for me to stay relevant and engaged with the sector, taking time off for meetings, covering conference costs (which I am no longer eligible for funding for as I’m out of the sector) and finding the resources needed to fully commit to developing my ambitions whilst still being amazingly kick ass at my day job. I can see how easy it would be to take the ‘easy’ route, and drift away from the sector, utilising my skills, enthusiasm and experience as a part time hobby at best, with casual museum visits and going for the odd drink with my museum pals (whilst hiding my envy behind my glass of red wine).
Taking this side step has equipped me with so many new skills, an understanding of a different sector, a new team and networks, broader partnership work, engagement with younger audiences (previously I’ve always been more involved in the collections and curatorial elements of museums) and the headspace for me to understand what exactly it is I miss about working in a museum. This last point has probably been the most revelatory for me over the past 6 months, and really what has given me the energy to pursue my career in the museum sector.
The reason I’m writing this is because if we are truly committed to diversity then I believe it is important we encourage our staff and teams to understand new perspectives, to take those secondments, try something different and work outside our sector, not just recruit people into our organisations with no museum or heritage experience from these sectors.
By letting our teams experience a life beyond the arts, we will be making ourselves more relevant, gain new experience and open doors for the sector to work in different areas. Organisations should be mapping out other sectors and see where we could gain useful expertise? 12 months working in health and wellbeing for the NHS? Youth services? Or how about the financial sector? Museums should not be operating in isolation and we will learn much more from speaking to people in the room next door to us than we ever will by continuing to talk to ourselves.
As leaders, we need to support our colleagues to take on new challenges and welcome them back into the museum and heritage sector with open arms, brimming with new ideas and enthusiasm for what we do, having had a chance to make a change, take a break and think differently. We should not be isolating them as they take what is a very daunting and isolating leap of faith into a brave new world and make it increasingly difficult for them to remain ‘relevant’ to our work.
I’m yet to make my move back into the sector, but the one thing I do know, is that I’ll be an even better leader, manager and collaborator for this experience.