New Manifesto Explained: Qualifications Update

This outlines the changes we have made to the manifesto specifically relating to qualifications. To read about the other changes we have made, read this post.

Click here to read the full manifesto.

The Fair Museum Jobs Committee has long recognised credentialism as a major barrier to fairness, inclusion, and the diversity of our sector. For too long, requirements for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees have been added arbitrarily to specifications for job roles without any real justification for why they are there.

While degrees are a good way to impart specific skills (research, writing etc.) or specialist subject knowledge, an academic environment is not the only one in which these competencies can be developed. Recruiters who seek such skills in candidates too often ask for academic qualifications rather than the skills themselves.

Candidates who have these skills but who do not have these qualifications are either heavily disadvantaged or else totally excluded from these roles by recruiters insisting on one particular path to employment in museums, at the expense of many other valid ones. This arbitrary filtering is far more likely to affect candidates from already disadvantaged backgrounds and favour those with privilege, which has marked impact on the makeup of the sector’s workforce.

Since our foundation in 2018, Fair Museum Jobs challenged credentialism through our manifesto requirement that when qualifications are specified for a role, equivalent experience must also be accepted. This was put into action through our campaigning, challenging and advocacy. While a good first step, we have come to believe that the manifesto requirement does not go far enough, and in itself presents a few difficulties.

What is equivalent experience to a degree? That is difficult to quantify, and different people will have different opinions. Some recruiters have attempted such quantifications, but examples such as five years’ professional experience seem both disproportionate and dangerously close to age discrimination. Recruiters who leave out any attempt at quantification also run the risk of allowing whatever prejudices they may have a free rein, and candidates are being asked to justify that they meet a criterion without knowing its bounds.

The other problem is more subtle, but still an issue. Often, qualifications are the very first line on a job specification. Even if equivalent experience is also accepted, what sort of message is being given to prospective candidates who do not have degrees? That they are unwelcome, or that their skills and background will not be respected and valued? We have seen examples where candidates have responded to job adverts on social media saying things like ‘this would be my dream job, but I’m not qualified for it’ because of a degree requirement even when equivalent experience is also stated as an acceptable alternative.

To continue our efforts to make our sector as inclusive as possible, we have decided to change our manifesto in order to reflect the above concerns. From now on, we ask that recruiters do not ask for degrees altogether. If a recruiter wants candidates with a specific set of skills or knowledge that may be gained from a university education, then they should ask for those skills or experiences alone.

This need not be burdensome on those who write job descriptions. Where a curatorial role may have been advertised with the requirement for a degree in a particular area of history, this could instead be broken down into a requirement for knowledge of that area of history, together with any skills such as research proficiency. This could allow a candidate with those skills, but without a degree, to demonstrate their aptitude for the role. It would also in no way disadvantage graduates, who could similarly demonstrate such aptitude through reference to their studies.

Similarly, a collections management role, which may have previously asked for a museum studies degree, could easily break that requirement down into knowledge or experience of relevant areas such as cataloguing or loans management.

These changes are easy to enact and go a long way to removing some of the many barriers of access that exist for some candidates trying to break into our sector. We believe that any museum which purports to value fairness, inclusion, and diversity (and really, they all should) must look to make these changes in the way that they recruit. We at Fair Museum Jobs will continue to advocate for these changes, challenge organisations who we see as perpetuating unfair practices, and celebrate those who stand by their values and put meaningful change into place.

Manifesto Change

From:

1.1 Undergraduate Degrees: Should only be required when a role requires significant amounts of research, analysis, source criticism, citation and theoretical knowledge.

1.2 Undergraduate Degrees: When these qualifications are required, all candidates must be free to demonstrate equivalent skills to those gained by completing an undergraduate degree (e.g. research, analysis, source criticism, citation and theoretical knowledge) if they have been gained outside of the formal educational environment. ‘Or equivalent experience’, or similar phrasing, must be explicitly stated when asking for degree qualifications.

1.3 Postgraduate Museum Studies or Heritage qualifications: When required, equivalent experience must also be accepted. It is imperative to acknowledge that broad sector awareness, knowledge of professional standards and understanding of theory can be gained in a variety of environments.

To:

1.1 University Degrees, both undergraduate or postgraduate, must not be required as criteria on personal specifications. Where relevant skills or knowledge is deemed a requirement for a role, such as subject specialism or aptitude at research, analysis, and source criticism and citation, these specific skills and knowledge areas should be required rather than blanket qualifications. 

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