For most UK museums, a higher education qualification was almost always included in the selection criteria for new staff openings—even for low-paid, front-of-house and retail positions.
But museums are increasingly opening their job criteria up to candidates who did not go to university, in part thanks to the pressure exerted by an online campaign called Fair Museum Jobs, which is co-founded by Tom Hopkins, a curator at the Royal Air Force Museum in London, and Louise McAward-White, a recipient of the Museums Association Benevolent Fund. In May, McAward-White will be a keynote speaker at the conference Making Museum Professionals’ first workshop, Museum Work: Hierarchies and Barriers, Exclusion and Inclusion at Birkbeck, University of London.
Together, they founded Fair Museum Jobs in 2018 to raise concerns about “the terrible state of recruitment and employment in the sector”.
The organisation uses “keyboard warrior” tactics to call out unfair recruitment practices at leading museums in the UK, including salary cloaking (where salary details in job advertisements are not disclosed), credentialism and unreasonable qualification criteria for entry-level positions.
Fair Museum Jobs views credentialism “as a major barrier to fairness, inclusion and the diversity of our sector”, emphasising that it has become standard practice to require a degree, or “equivalent experience”, with little justification, meaning many candidates are put off applying. Degree-level qualifications, given the cost of access to higher education in the UK, are not available to all.
The group has also hit out at museums for advertising low-pay positions. In February, it took to Twitter to highlight a position as a kiosk assistant at the Imperial War Museums advertised at £9.00 an hour—below the legal National Minimum Wage. The Imperial War Museums responded that there was “an administrative error” in the listing and adjusted the listing to £9.90 an hour—still £1.00 lower than the Real Living Wage of £10.90 an hour.
That said, Fair Museum Jobs is equally keen to champion examples of good practice, having recently highlighted a Historic Royal Palaces’ advertisement for a historic buildings curator role—with no higher education qualifications required.
The group has also focused on the widespread practice of salary cloaking, which, Hopkins says, enables museum employers to perpetuate unequal pay and discriminatory practices. When the pay range for a job is hidden, or described as “dependent on experience” or “competitive”, “it is not only unhelpful for job candidates, it is damaging for sector diversity, equality, equity and staff wellbeing”, Hopkins says. It is, he adds, tantamount to gatekeeping, the practice of ensuring only the privileged classes have access to the best museum jobs.
“Nobody has come up with a good reason to justify salary cloaking,” Hopkins says. “We believe the real motivation may lie in the fact that it allows many organisations to pay as little as they can get away with.”
Although some museums have been receptive to the campaign, the group wants to go further. “We would like to see salary cloaking legislated against on a national level,” Hopkins says. “Until we get that—and it is probably a long way off—we would like to increase our messaging about just how pernicious it is. This is often a case of raising awareness to such an extent that the level of opprobrium raised against its occurrence is such that no museum will try it on for size.”