Knowledge and transformation: diversity across cultural sectors

Roger Schonfeld | March 15, 2018

I work for Ithaka S+R, the research and advisory service of the not for profit ITHAKA, which also provides JSTOR, Artstor, and Portico. Over the past three years, my colleagues and I have been examining issues of inclusion, diversity, and equity in a number of communities, including art museums, research libraries, and NYC cultural organizations.

Our work began with a series of projects, several of them in partnership with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to examine representational diversity, starting with art museums. Our work was initially confined to measuring the apparent inequities in these organizations. We were brought in for our ability to gather data from hundreds of organizations in a logistically efficient manner, and to provide an objective analysis.

Although our findings were never going to surprise observers who had considered diversity issues, we recognized the value in documenting these patterns empirically. And, we began to hear from employees of the organizations we studied. In several cases, they reported that our findings were transformational. Our work helped to transform how many organizations and their leaders perceived their own diversity and therefore how they engaged internal critics: from isolated perspectives that were all too easy to ignore into empirically validated findings that are in an increasing number of cases being addressed by leadership.

Should it have taken our work to reach this outcome? Absolutely not. This is a matter of ongoing self-reflection for me.

Having now conducted similar projects for NYC cultural organizations broadly, and for art museums and academic libraries nationwide, I have had the chance to reflect comparatively. It is my sense today that organizations that see public or community engagement as a key part of their mission, not just rhetorically but fundamentally, seem to be better prepared to address the diversity and inclusion imperative. By contrast, scientific and academic organizations may need to work harder and more mindfully to make meaningful progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Today, there is growing momentum and focus on these imperatives in the scholarly publishing sector. I hope you will take the WE Survey as one small contribution to helping us understand our challenges and provide the evidence needed to push harder for solutions.

Originally published by the Workplace Equity Project.

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