Qualitative inequalities research for the archaeology sector

In 2022, with funding support from Historic England, CIfA commissioned Cultural Associates Oxford to undertake qualitative research to explore people’s individual experiences of archaeological careers, and to improve understanding of barriers that prevent a wider range of people from entering the archaeology discipline and progressing within it.

We would like to thank all the individuals who engaged in this project. This research would not have been possible without the generosity of those who shared their experiences with the research team. By amplifying the voices of those who have lived experience of the barriers to starting or progressing careers in archaeology, this qualitative study supports the findings of previous quantitative studies.

The results of the research make for sobering reading and it is clear from the findings that although work has, on paper, begun to make changes in the profession, these changes have not brought enough actual, tangible change to those who face barriers to entry or progression.

The key findings by Cultural Associates Oxford are that the archaeology discipline in the UK is seen by many of the individuals involved in the research as exclusive and closed to different kinds of experience. Many people surveyed felt excluded or marginalised because of ethnicity, sex, gender identity, health and disabilities, social class, lack of family wealth, caring responsibilities and age. This view is not limited to people from marginalised groups: many respondents reported witnessing discriminatory behaviour directed at others. There are barriers to entry to the UK archaeology sector that can have a discriminatory impact and there are discriminatory barriers to career progression.

Areas of good practice were also identified. Parts of the public and not-for-profit sectors have more progressive organisational cultures and working practices, as do some contracting organisations. But initiatives to improve equalities can place too great a burden on the very individuals the initiatives aim to support.

The report results in a series of recommendations for CIfA, and for the discipline as a whole and for other organisations.

A Recommendations for CIfA

  • A1: CIfA should work to maintain momentum and profile for improving equality and should encourage others in the discipline to commit to action and to work together
  • A2: CIfA should review and, where necessary, adjust its professional pathways, looking at other accreditation processes for good practice
  • A3: CIfA should encourage people to report poor practice, discrimination and harassment
  • A4: CIfA should improve connections between academia and the Institute
  • A5: CIfA should use its frameworks and regulations to encourage good practice
  • A6: CIfA should seek to improve opportunities for disabled people through reviewing its own processes and supporting attitude change

B Recommendations to others

  • B1: Sector organisations should initiate a programme of leadership development
  • B2: Employers should continue to improve HR practices
  • B3: Employers should review the wording of their job adverts or recruitment documentation to ensure they are not creating an expectation that voluntary experience is required and should also ensure they are taking account of transferable skills
  • B4: Sector organisations should collect better equalities data
  • B5: Employers and sector organisations should broaden access to career development opportunities
  • B6: Sector organisations should consider further research on topics including into good practice from elsewhere and ways of overcoming attitudinal barriers to careers in archaeology among young people.

The recommendations from the report were considered by CIfA’ Board of Director in September. It was agreed that the recommendations for CIfA will be added into current and future Business Plan schedules to take forward alongside the ones already included from previous work. The results of this research further reinforce CIfA’s commitment to maintain momentum and profile for improving equality and will encourage others in the discipline to commit to action and to work together through a series of specific recommendations.

For further information about the project, the project report and the recommendations made please see: Qualitative inequalities research for the archaeology sector | Chartered Institute for Archaeologists

When reading the report, it is important to remember that this was a piece of qualitative research focusing on the experiences of individuals, as a way of shedding light on broader themes and structural issues. The rationale for taking this approach is that understanding these individual stories and experiences can help sector bodies plan more appropriate and tailored ways of addressing the problems of inequality. These findings reflect the lived experiences of individuals and their perceptions of archaeology which matter if they are acting as barriers to progression.

If you have any comments you would like to share please contact alex.llewellyn@archaeologists.net

You can find more about the work CIfA has been doing to support equality, diversity and inclusion at www.archaeologists.net/practices/equality