Last edited 22 Jan 2023

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Diversity in the heritage workspace

Historic England’s approach to inclusion, diversity and equality recognises that there are large sections of the population that neither the organisation nor the sector is reaching.

Hamptead Hill School.jpg
Children from Hampstead Hill School in the nave of St Stephen, Rosslyn Hill, Camden, London (Photo: Historic England Archive).

Historic England’s Strategy for Inclusion, Diversity and Equality 2020–2023, which launched in November 2020, was our statement of intent to ensure that a diverse range of people are able to connect with, enjoy and benefit from the historic environment. Historic England’s purpose is to improve people’s lives by championing and protecting England’s historic environment. We recognise that as an organisation, and more broadly as a sector, we are not currently reaching large sections of the population.

While we have already taken some steps to make Historic England and the work that we do more inclusive, we know that there is more we could be doing. The strategy outlined an ambitious array of actions we could take to do this and serves as a tool to hold ourselves to account with. This strategy is for Historic England. It is not intended as a strategy for the historic environment sector, but it does include actions for us to support the development of a more diverse and inclusive sector.

While it is a three-year strategy, our ambitions reach far beyond that, and we have seen throughout the delivery of the strategy so far, that other new areas of work emerge. Delivery so far has included building on and developing existing areas of work, and tackling new challenges, or existing challenges in new ways. The strategy was developed over 18 months, as a result of wide consultation with Historic England staff, commissioners and members of our external advisory group. We built the strategy around workshops and discussions with these stakeholders, and from drawing on existing research from the government and the historic environment sector.

The research we drew from demonstrates a lack of diversity in those who engage with heritage, a lack of inclusivity within heritage sector decision-making and significant economic barriers to participation. For example, we know that people in deprived areas are significantly less likely to participate in heritage. In 2019/20, 51 per cent of adults in the 10 per cent most deprived areas in England had visited a heritage site in the past 12 months, compared with 83 per cent for those in the 10 per cent least deprived areas. Black and Asian people are less likely to engage with heritage than White people, both in terms of direct engagement among those working in the sector, while 11.9 per cent of people of working age in England identify as Black, Asian or other minority ethnic group.

Only 2.3 per cent of accredited library professionals, 4.4 per cent of middle managers in national and hub museums and 5.5 per cent of those running independent creative and cultural businesses identify as Black, Asian or other minority ethnic group. We know that these trends are persistent. Evidence from the Taking Part Survey shows that levels of participation in heritage among socio-demographic groups have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. In 2007/08, 59 per cent of adults from lower socio-economic groups participated in heritage compared to 61 per cent in 2018/19. Likewise, 54 per cent of people from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds participated in heritage in 2007/08, compared to 55 per cent in 2018/19.

We found it important and necessary to give priority to our strategic activities which support those people who are least represented in our workforce and/or are least involved in our work. We are prioritising resources to make sure that our activities deliver improved outcomes for people with Black, Asian or other minority ethnic heritage; people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer + (LGBTQ+); young people under 25 (school-aged children and young people aged 16 to 25 outside of school); people with disabilities; and those who are disadvantaged by their social and/or economic background or circumstances, or by where they live.

Our approach to this work can be defined by three strands, which are both distinct, and interconnected. These are: our work, our people and our role within the historic environment sector. The strand focusing on our work includes the advice we give, the content we create and share, our policies, our projects and the grants we award, and it aims to ensure that they are relevant to a diverse range of people and are delivered in inclusive ways. So far, we have begun exploring ways to recognise a more diverse and representative heritage through the National Heritage List for England (NHLE), the register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England, which we care for on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and have designed a new grant call, and a pilot Place Marker scheme to address alternative ways of recognising and celebrating places beyond the NHLE.

We are undertaking improvements and reviews to our digital content to ensure that it is accessible to all and reflects the diversity of England’s heritage. Other activities within this strand include the creation of a new approach to audience segmentation, to understand who we are reaching and how best to reach those who we currently do not engage with well, and reviewing the ways in which we procure goods and services to reach a wider and more diverse supplier base.

The second strand looks at the people who make up Historic England, ensuring that our people better reflect the communities in which we work, enabling us to benefit from a diverse range of perspectives and recruit from the widest pool of talent. We have created a new employer brand which aims to make us more accessible and relevant as an employer, and are piloting new approaches to recruitment such as sending interview questions to candidates in advance. This strand looks inwards at the culture of Historic England. So far we have taken steps towards shifting our approach to recruitment for all our roles, and are broadening the way in which we advertise our roles and appeal to more candidates.

We have established a series of staff networks relating to various communities within our Historic England staff, such as a Pride network, a Race Equality network, a Disability network, and most recently a Neurodiversity network and Social Mobility network. These networks, as well as our newly recruited and trained Inclusion and Diversity Champions across all teams within the organisation, are helping to hold us to account on our delivery of the strategy, as well as providing creative, safe and supportive spaces for conversations around how we can better support and engage people. We have focused on creating early careers opportunities for young people through apprenticeships, Kickstarter placements, partnering with diversity-focused work placement schemes and through virtual work experience.

We have also begun a rolling series of training opportunities for staff to familiarise themselves with various aspects of diversity and inclusion, and to help them understand the roles they can play in supporting the ongoing delivery of the strategy.

The final strand considers our role within the wider sector and sets out approaches to becoming leading advocates for inclusion and diversity, learning from others, facilitating partnerships and sharing best practice to enable the heritage sector to become more diverse and inclusive. There are three key pieces of work here that we feel will be of most value to the sector.

First, we undertook research with the University of Warwick’s Institute of Employment Research, to understand the current diversity of the historic environment workforce. This proved a useful exercise, revealing that the sector does not feel confident in collecting data about its staff and highlighting the role Historic England can play in supporting organisations of all sizes to do this.

Second, through formal and informal conversations with the sector, especially with the amenity societies, we established the need for an inclusion and diversity advice hub, where organisations can easily access case studies, best practice guidance, and simple resources for ensuring that their work and workforce are as diverse and inclusive as possible. We are aiming for the hub to be launched in autumn 2022. It will be an evolving and responsive resource, and we will actively encourage other organisations to share case studies and showcase the progress they are making.

Third, we are undertaking a project with Getting On Board, a charity that aims to diversify board trustees. Getting On Board is conducting research to understand the barriers that young people, Black, Asian and other minority ethnic people, and disabled people face that prevent them from applying, or succeeding in taking on governance roles in the sector, as we recognise the need to diversify the decision makers in order to support and influence all other work we are doing. Following this research, we will explore with Getting On Board how best to remove those barriers, which might be through shadowing and training opportunities.

As well as developing a training programme for our own staff, Historic England is committed to extending these opportunities to the wider sector. More than 150 professionals from small museums to planning officers in local authorities recently participated in free disability awareness training led by Celebrating Disability (one of our training partners). We are currently planning an inclusive communication training programme. This, to be rolled out in 2022–2023, will be designed to increase confidence around the language of diversity and inclusion.

We know that this is a work in progress for Historic England and the sector, and that the three-year strategy is just the beginning of a larger ongoing project. But we feel confident that the progress we have made so far, and the enthusiasm and interest our recent work has been met with by the sector, indicate that we are moving in the right direction.

This article originally appeared in the Institute of Historic Building Conservation’s (IHBC’s) Context 173, published in September 2022. It was written by the Historic England Inclusion Team.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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