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03.07.2020

Icon takes steps towards a diverse and inclusive profession

On 24 June 2020, Icon’s Board of Trustees established a Diversity & Inclusion Task and Finish Group to consider the issue of diversity and inclusion in the conservation profession and to develop recommendations for action. 

Being inclusive is one of Icon’s core values. We value diversity and aim to ensure that opportunities are open to all those who want to care for our heritage. In 2018, Icon hosted a townhall debate with The C-Word podcast on improving diversity in conservation, examining the range of potential barriers to access, from salaries to perceptions of the profession. 

While we have taken some modest steps to better understand the lack of diversity, this is clearly not enough. Icon’s evidence shows that we are still far from being diverse: our latest membership survey saw more than 88% of respondents identify as white. Only 6% gave an alternate ethnic group designation, representing less than a percentage increase since our 2015 survey. Icon member Ashleigh Brown recently wrote about her experience of being black in the heritage sector, highlighting the challenges minorities face in conservation. 

A lack of diversity and inclusion in conservation can have significant and harmful repercussions. As Fletcher Durant stated in his recent Conservation: Together at Home webinar: “Conservation is not neutral; and neither are we.” He went on to reflect on whether conservations are “neutral actors in the preservation of heritage or if we actively engage in making choices to influence what is preserved and how society might interpret these objects in the future.”

Without diverse perspectives, diverse lived experiences, and diverse cultural knowledge it is reasonable to conclude that we cannot expect the heritage we preserve to be neutral, equitable, inclusive or fair. 

To make a positive change we need to develop ideas and actions for how we might support diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our professional lives - from the items that we select for treatment, to the objects we talk about in research publications, to the people we hire or encourage into the workforce. Only then can we be sure that the messages we promote and the decisions we make reflect the totality of our society and do justice to the contributions of diverse groups to our shared heritage.

The Task and Finish Group formalizes Icon’s commitment to taking action shaped by a full understanding of the issues and the most effective means of achieving lasting change. The Group has been tasked with a range of activities including researching tools for understanding and monitoring diversity, promoting positive examples of good practice and developing a theory of change for achieving a diverse and representative Icon membership and conservation profession.

We hope that Icon members will engage with, and participate in this work, which will directly support Icon’s strategic objectives to inspire people from all backgrounds to value and engage with conservation and to diversify those participating in conservation practice and the conservation profession.

And, in the meantime, we would like to recommend the compendium of useful resources for the humanities on the Being Human website. These include some of the leading voices focused on improving access to the humanities, engaging the public, sharing diverse and untold histories (including Black British history) and showcasing research.

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