Moral Leadership and EDIA in the Performing Arts

Photo Credit: Richard Grossberg..

November 8, 2020—This week, I am delighted to share a presentation by Tobie Stein, Ph.D., who recently spoke at one of my workshops. Her presentation, which was titled “Moral Leadership and EDIA in the Performing Arts,” was insightful, instructive, and powerful. I sought Tobie’s permission to share excerpts from it with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections so that you also can engage in the much-needed dialogue I believe her ideas will generate.

Tobie is a two-time Fulbright Specialist (Israel and Taiwan), a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity, and a member of the American Sociological Association. She is the author of five books, including Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce (Routledge 2020) and Leadership in the Performing Arts (Allworth Press 2016). She received her Ph.D. in Sociology, focusing on career and workforce development from The CUNY Graduate Center.

In her remarks during my workshop, Tobie outlined what it means to truly be a White ally and what is required for Primarily White Organizations to create a culture of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access.

I look forward to you sharing your thoughts and comments. Please post them below.

Guest post by Tobie S. Stein, Ph.D.

Your organization’s process of transformation is being conducted as this country actively questions its moral leadership.

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, recently wrote:

“In every theater of our lives…we need leaders who are motivated by values and incentives and outcomes that transcend those offered by systems, which by design or neglect have widened inequality to an untenable degree….We need new profiles in courage—more business leaders who serve the interests of all their stakeholders….The crisis of moral leadership cuts across every issue. Every one of our ongoing crises have been compounded by choices made and not made. Choices that deny humanity, and dignity, and justice to others on a daily basis—whether they have taken the form of active harm or passive neglect….Moral leadership—of all kinds, in every movement, institution, organization, and community—is a prerequisite for positive change.”

In echoing the powerful words of Darren Walker, we find ourselves at an intersection of moral, financial, and health crises in our country. Consequently, throughout our field, we must have the courage, through these crises and beyond, to address and serve the interests of all of our stakeholders.

As White members of our Primarily White organizations, (and I include myself in this group) how do we gather the courage to examine our beliefs and center equity, diversity, inclusion, and access in every procedure and policy of our organizations? How do we center EDIA as a core value? How do we make sure our actions are not performative, but instead are intentional, impactful, and sustainable?

In other words, how do we make sure that our actions and words are aligned? How do we make sure that racial equity resonates and includes the expertise and assets of our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities?

Let’s first look at the data. When I say Predominately White Organization, what do I mean? I mean that the majority of the power and decision-making lie in the hands of White stakeholders. Studies conducted by Francie Ostrower and Antonio C. Cuyler respectively show that 91% of cultural board members are White and 78% of arts managers self-identify as White. We also tend to program for White audiences of which more than 80% are White.

What do these numbers represent? I interviewed BIPOC arts managers for a sociological book on EDIA and here is what was communicated:

“We are programmed as ‘ethnic programming’ once a year.”

“We are not invited to the table and recognized and listened to as thought partners.”

“We experience microaggressions or ‘acts of disrespect’ and wonder if they really want us here.”

“It doesn’t feel safe to bring our entire selves to work.”

“There’s pressure to assimilate.”

“I am not the spokesperson for my race.”

“It’s exhausting work and I’m tired of educating you.”

What are the career barriers that prevent BIPOC managers from working at Predominately White Organizations? Think about the answers to these questions:

Do your internships pay a living wage?

Are your personal and professional networks primarily White?

Are your job announcements widely advertised?

To what degree are there retention strategies in place like professional development, promotions, pay equity, and mentors?

Are your stakeholders willing to place EDIA at the center of everything you do? If not, why not?

Are your EDIA strategies tied to budget lines?

What are you willing to give up to be a culturally plural and inclusive organization?

Are you willing to be held publicly accountable?

If you are willing to be held accountable, you are considered and will be seen as a genuine White ally to many members of the BIPOC community.

In my own life, I cherish the memory of an African American man and mentor, Charles Inniss, who, over a 17 year period, taught me about the oppression of his community and his own lived experience of racial oppression. He opened my eyes to a community who saw him as an asset. His moral leadership, filled with dignity, integrity and equity, shaped my worldview.

I learned that in becoming a White ally I must stand up and show up for racial equity and racial justice. But what does that mean? It first means confronting my own White fragility, my own denial, defensiveness, and my own racist behaviors and attitudes.

Yes, I admit I have racist attitudes and behaviors. Now that I acknowledge that I have them, I must do something about it. It means using my White privilege to actively dismantle White supremacy, the system of White power, and White solidarity, the banding together to keep White power and privilege in place.

For White people, it is our obligation to make White supremacy and White solidarity visible so that we can disrupt and dismantle it. White supremacy and White solidarity are often hard words for us to hear, as White people. But both are systemic problems which infect our institutions and our personal worldviews.

When approaching the dismantling of these inequitable operating systems within your organization, think about the moral leadership of the organization and what that means to you: To what degree is integrity, dignity, and justice infused within your mission, which must serve a public purpose?

Building an antiracist organization begins with building a culturally affirming, EDIA-centered organization. How are your BIPOC employees supported financially, ethically, and morally during this time? How have you engaged in their healing, well-being, and wellness?

Listening to and actively participating in believing and valuing your BIPOC employees now is essential to your transformation. If you don’t substantiate the ways in which you value, trust and believe your employees of color, your words are meaningless because they are not grounded in antiracist action.

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, we must transform deficit-based criteria to asset-based criteria. The blame for inequity is often imposed on the socially marginalized community. So, statements like: “We don’t know where to find them” resonates with many of the White leaders I interviewed for my study.

I have also heard assets being turned into deficits. For example: “She speaks too highly about her accomplishments!” In this particular case, I questioned the worldview of the predominately White organization and said: “Perhaps she speaks boldly about her accomplishments because her achievements are not amplified and elevated by the organization.”

As moral leaders we must interrogate our language and understand the harm that comes from these statements and how these words impact your BIPOC employees who hear, see, and experience this harm.

Don’t assume that POC don’t have the financial resources to serve on your board. But also be willing to expand the criteria for board service. To what degree are multiple cultural perspectives honored in our Primarily White organizational cultures?

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, we must connect and build alliances that we don’t have. What does your community engagement look like? What kinds of authentic alliances do you have with communities of color? What are you doing right now in an era of racial reckoning with communities of color who are suffering?

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, we must live an integrated life and support our BIPOC-led organizations. We must expand our networks and build authentic relationships with our colleagues of color. We live segregated lives in the US, our school systems, our universities, our neighborhoods, our arts institutions, and our privileges are racially segregated. What is your organization doing to make sure its organization uses an integration lens in its recruitment of board and staff? In retention? In audience representation?

What do equitable alliances with BIPOC-led organizations look like for you? What are you willing to give up in order to forge equitable alliances? For example, if you expect a BIPOC organization to support your equity work, you must be willing to shift power so that the organization of color leads the effort and is well-paid for guiding you.

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, cultural and racial justice must be a priority and the core value in every policy and practice. For example, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has made racial justice a core value. In its job description for Artistic Director, the following statement was included: “This position will remain open until a diverse pool of candidates has been identified.”

Nataki Garrett, a person of color, is now the Artistic Director. OSF is a moral leader because they value integrity; they are genuine about aligning words with action.

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, we must hold ourselves personally and publicly accountable for racial justice and change. Your story of transformation should be made public on your website. You can begin by listening to your colleagues of color about what is needed to bring their entire selves to work, and to work in an environment where BIPOC values and beliefs are held in equitably high esteem. You can engage in relationships with social justice organizations in their fight for liberation and justice.

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, we must build alliances with White collaborators willing to take on the effects of White fragility and White solidarity. Some of these proposed solutions may make members of your White staff and board uncomfortable. There may be denial and defensiveness, which is manifested as White fragility, according to sociologist and author Robin DiAngelo. You must band together with other White collaborators against White fragility and white solidarity, which seek to keep white privilege in place.

If you haven’t already read Ms. DiAngelo’s book, have a book club discussion and practice calling out each other when White fragility is present in the room. Remaining silent protects our White fragility and racist behaviors.

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, we must make the effort to view the organization through a humility lens. One of my study respondents said this about humility: “I’ve just come to realize over time that I cannot recognize if my reaction to someone in a job interview is culturally informed. I just need somebody else to check me in this regard, and that’s giving away power. It requires being open to considering that you might be wrong [about your assumptions]. It necessitates looking at a situation and evaluating your thought process….”

In building an EDIA-centered organizational culture, we must believe POC when we may have caused them harm. We must admit it, confront it, and check in to repair and heal the relationship with our colleagues of color. Whether consciously or unconsciously, our socialization from age three, according to psychologists Derald Wing Sue and David Sue, teaches White people to “differentiate people with different skin tones and ascribe positive/superior meaning to our racial group and negative/inferior meanings to people outside our racial group.” Through verbal and nonverbal messages in our behaviors and attitudes, sometimes referred to as microaggressions, it is likely we have caused harm. We must repair and heal the relationship and it’s up to us to do it.

One useful way is to reflect on our language and behaviors and state to a person of color whom you may have harmed: “I have reflected and feel I may have caused you harm. I am sorry for the harm I may have caused you and I want to repair the harm and have an authentic relationship with you. May we please have a candid conversation about the ways in which I can repair the relationship and build mutual trust with you?”

Racial justice transformation must be centered in moral leadership where dignity, integrity, and justice are paramount and cherished. I challenge your organization to center your BIPOC communities justly and to cherish the dignity and integrity of your BIPOC stakeholders.

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