By Amanda Talboys, BA MA ACIfA
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, I moved to the United Kingdom with hopes of being an archaeologist. Not that there wasn’t plenty of archaeology in the United States. Though it was clear that commercial archaeology in the UK was leading the way for practical application of the subject, and I wanted to be a part of that. Even though I studied archaeology, worked in a museum, and had been on excavations, the thought of working in the heritage sector seemed pretty out of reach. No one in my family really understood what being an archaeologist meant. They had a vague concept of Indiana Jones movies, but knew it probably wasn’t typical. And I didn’t know anyone in the UK that was a practicing archaeologist. For me it felt like the whole heritage sector felt like a closed club that wasn’t taking any new admissions.
It was only this past summer, when I thought about the time I spent trying to break into archaeology in the context of diversity and inclusion. An occupational survey in 2012-2013 found that, where out of the entire UK workforce, 13% were black or minority ethnic origins; 99% of working archaeologists were white. This was effectively unchanged since 2007-08 and from 2002-03.
Measuring my first trench to scale on the Mount Lykaion
Excavation and Survey Project, in Greece in 2009
When thinking about barriers to entry into the sector, my race didn’t really seem to explain my difficulties. It seemed like a side effect of wider inclusivity issues. When I had been looking for opportunities, it felt like my nationality (and visa requirements) and the fact that no one in my community was an archaeologist, or even knew one, were the more obvious limiting factors. My support system lived in a different time-zone and I remember asking friends of friends if they knew of anyone who might be hiring. It wasn’t until an old professor at University College London contacted one of his old students who was working as a consultant that I landed my first role.
Diversity and Inclusion has become a hot-button topic for several reasons, and employers are finding themselves trying to understand why they don’t have a more diverse workforce. For a while, people tried to tell me that the lack of diversity was because people from my community have no interest in archaeology. However, that could not be further from the truth. When I told my family, I wanted to study archaeology, they were initially hesitant because it didn’t seem like a “safe” job. What were the opportunities like? Were these roles seasonal? Could I support myself on those salaries? And at the time, I didn’t know how to go about finding the answers. The lack of diversity has less to do with interest or passion, but rather lack of understanding in where and how to get opportunities. Employment in this sector can feel elusive and available only to the well-connected.
To solve these issues there needs to be concerted effort in eliminating barriers to entry that are completely unrelated to talent, ability or qualification. An early barrier for me was funding. I would never have been able to get the excavation experience at university if I had to self-fund. I’m eternally grateful for grants like the Stavros Niarchos fund, which enabled me to get practical experience, and essentially fuel my passion for archaeology. If at the entry level, work experience is required, and people are unable to support themselves on unpaid internships, or have to self-fund, then they are effectively closing the door on an entire socio-economic group. There are several ways in which commercial archaeology can play a role through paid internship schemes or apprenticeships. This way we can nurture talent in all communities and make sure that inclusion doesn’t only relate to those of minority ethnic groups, but all communities regardless of advantage.
Another major barrier for me has also been understanding how to get into the industry in the first place. While I had professors and early employers who were encouraging and wanted to see archaeology become more diverse, not everywhere welcomed my unconventional background. Which is why I feel so fortunate to have found such a supportive team at HCUK Group and within the CIfA Equality and Diversity Committee.
One of the very last in-person conferences I attended last year was the CIfA CPD training on Diversity and Equality entitled “Inspiring equality: Visions for the future of heritage practice.” I am lucky in that my employer HCUK Group encouraged me to go to the training in the first place, and my line managers supported me in my request to get more involved in the CIfA Diversity and Equality working group following the CPD training, by joining the committee as a Communications Officer. To me, the CIfA Diversity and Inclusion Committee felt like a badge of honour.
Being involved in the CIFA Diversity and Inclusion Committee has opened my eyes to just how inclusive archaeology my colleagues and peers want the industry to be. Laura Hampden (Museum Detox, Historic England) and Hannah Cobb (CIfA Equality and Diversity Group, University of Manchester) worked tirelessly to put on events like the CIfA & Museum Detox Decolonise Archaeology Workshops. There have been incredible efforts with groups like IDEAH (Inclusion, Diversity and Equality in Archaeology and Heritage) and Neil Redfern at the Council for British Archaeology.
What has blown me away is the CIfA Diversity and Inclusion Committee’s goal - unlike many initiatives out there, it is to become irrelevant. It wants CIfA to become an organisation that attracts universally to the profession, and support groups and individuals regardless of their circumstance throughout all the stages of their career. From the discussions I’ve had with members of the committee and colleagues within it, I remain cautiously optimistic that the future for British archaeology will be one that is more inclusive and more empowering to those of more diverse backgrounds.
In becoming more engaged with the shortcomings, and understanding why I had the experience I had, I’ve become more motivated to get involved in ensuring that archaeology and heritage become more accessible to not just minority communities, but women and people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
We, as an industry, have to do a better job of showing our relevance to communities where access to higher academics is more difficult, and support the initiatives aimed at eliminating the diversity gap in the industry. It begins by encouraging those who might not fit in the typical mould we’re used to seeing. I’m so grateful to the professors, colleagues and HCUK Group, who’ve made me feel like I belong in archaeology. We had a saying in my house growing up, which was don’t be afraid to be what you can’t see. Hopefully, one day, that won’t be an issue anymore.