Executive and administrative assistants in the cultural sector are a vital but overlooked section of the workforce, according to researchers at the University of Oxford.
Their report Supporting Leadership calls for action from the sector to ensure the expertise of support staff can be recognised and working practices improved for the benefit of all.
Contributions from staff at more than 60 UK museums, libraries, heritage sites, and arts and performance organisations reveals the importance of support roles in enabling and facilitating dynamic cultural sector leadership. But the often ‘invisible’ work that goes on behind-the-scenes means there is a danger that this work isn’t appropriately valued.
Some support staff describe their contribution as ‘invisible’, they are ‘seen as unskilled’ and their roles can be ‘a dumping ground’. Consequently there is a high rate of turnover among support staff, with only 31% of administrators in the cultural sector seeing their roles as a long-term commitment (of more than three years). A lack of professional recognition drives the discontent, with certain roles seen as more important than others.
The report makes recommendations for greater clarity in defining assistant roles, for raising awareness of administrative work across institutions, and for creating a culture where staff feel empowered to take ownership of their work. It provides practical advice for leaders and support staff with advice series of tools focusing on role descriptions, working environments, recruitment processes, and development pathways.