30 MARCH 2017

When most people are asked to imagine what an archaeologist looks like, the likelihood is that they will describe a middle-aged white man. He may be wearing a fedora and leather jacket like Indiana Jones in the movies, or a colourful woolly jumper like Mick Aston in the TV show ‘Time Team’, but the person wearing the clothes is essentially the same person – a middle-aged white man. The good news is that in reality this description isn’t always the case, but the bad news is that like any stereotype there is a kernel of truth that lies within it. This highlights the problem of equality issues in the archaeological community and profession.

Archaeology in the 21st century is a global profession that struggles with issues of equality just like any other sector and like wider society in general. Some of these equality issues are those like gender equality that are of direct relevance to the Fawcett Society. Other equality issues are those of the presence – in most cases, distinct absence – of BME identifying individuals in the sector; of equality for those who self-identify as disabled in the many such forms that can take; and of equality of gender and also sexual identities. Concerns about freedom from harassment in relation to all and any of these identities also loom large in the archaeological community, as they do among the wider populace.

In the United Kingdom, the leading professional body for archaeology is the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), of which many, although by no means all, archaeologists are a part. Accreditation by CIfA is a mark of professional competence and brings with it both privileges and responsibilities. In particular, the newly established CIfA Equality and Diversity Group has been working since 2015 to boost the consideration of these particular issues by the sector.


As a small sector with approximately 5700 people employed nationally in mid-2016 at the time of the most recent survey, archaeology in Britain has a dataset originating in the 1990s from which to analyse its demographics. Like many professions, its workforce is overwhelmingly drawn from university graduates, with most archaeologists having a bachelor’s degree (a loaded term in itself as regards equality), and a significant percentage holding higher qualifications, including masters degrees and doctorates. Data collected between 2012-14 also shows a relatively good gender balance of approximately 46% female / 54% male archaeologists self-identified by gender, but overwhelmingly white British recruitment, with over 99% of all UK archaeologists self-identifying themselves as white in the same survey. The same survey also showed that 98% of archaeologists do not self-identify as disabled. Both of these latter demographics are substantially lower than the national averages in Britain, and organisations, including CIfA, national heritage organisations like Historic England and universities have been working hard to improve this overall demographic balance among the sector.

Sadly, recent news stories of the levels of sexual harassment in British Higher Education imply that this positive gender balance hides a darker picture of ingrained harassment and bullying, especially among students. While no specific survey on sexual harassment in archaeology has been undertaken to date (March 2017), a workshop on gender issues at the CIfA Annual Conference in April 2015 saw harrowing narratives of sexual harassment and bullying shared by survivors of such abuse. This workshop was one of the driving forces underlying the establishment of the CIfA Equality and Diversity Group.

Issues of gender inequality in archaeology in particular are exasperated by entrenched institutional cultures and working practices. While there is a good gender balance in archaeology immediately upon graduation, the figures for gender equality drop sharply the older and/or the more senior the demographic analysed. While this imbalance reflects, and in part is a consequence of, wider society’s gender imbalance, there is a particularly marked imbalance in favour of men in more senior roles and among older age groups across the archaeological sector, especially in leadership roles.


Archaeology, although generally a friendly and welcoming working environment, suffers from particular social and cultural problems that can lead to discrimination for many different reasons. In addition to the imbalances and biases noted above, many archaeologists come into regular contact with non-heritage professionals who may act (either deliberately or accidentally) in a discriminatory way when working with archaeologists who may be of a very different background to them. Such problems can be exacerbated by the physical working conditions experienced in some archaeological workplaces, such as limited private space (including washing and toilet facilities), and remote or inaccessible locations (including extended periods of working away from their homes and neighbourhoods), and so put in potentially more threatening physical environments as well as away from their social support networks.

Anecdotally, all of the following examples of discrimination are known to have recently occurred, or to be actively occurring, in the archaeological profession in 2017:

• Sexual harassment (predominately of women by men) by those in positions of authority to colleagues, employees and students alike;
• Discriminatory behaviour in employment practices as regards gender-neutral pay, contractual/working conditions and access to rights such as shared parental leave;
• Discriminatory behaviour to those who self-identify as disabled;
• Discriminatory behaviour on the basis of self-identified gender, particularly for those transitioning from one gender identity to another, or to those who have transitioned.

The CIfA Equality and Diversity Group are working hard to challenge discriminatory behaviour of these and all other types. Strongly supported by CIfA itself at the highest level, the Group:

• Lobbies about harassment and bullying in the sector, raising awareness and creating a supportive, inclusive environment where people feel able to air their experiences, concerns or even formal complaints knowing that they will be taken seriously and treated with respect;
• Develops training sessions on equality and diversity issues for CIfA members;
• Collaborates with other industries representative bodies to build experience and cross-working on Equality and Diversity issues.

The Equality and Diversity Group is open to all members of CIfA, and we also encourage non-members and students to join us as well. We already have members from many areas of the heritage industry, different specialisms and a spectrum of interests. We hope that the issues we cover are something which all people within the heritage industry can relate to and have a vested interest in improving for all.

You can find out more by visiting the group’s website or on Twitter at @CIfA_Equality.

Joe Flatman, Historic EnglandABOUT AUTHOR 

Joe Flatman works for Historic England, the public body that looks after England’s historic environment. He tweets in a personal capacity as @joeflatman, including on issues related to equality and diversity.