Gennean Scott Steps Into Broadway’s ED&I Spotlight

Gennean M. Scott – Photo credit: J. Mayo

December 12, 2021—I was encouraged when I learned earlier this year of the nationwide search launched by The Broadway League to hire its first-ever Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

In my opinion, that was a signal that The League recognized the essential need to establish this position to address the racial and social justice issues raised over the years; issues that received nationwide attention in 2020 with the online posting of the declaration “We See You, White American Theatre.”

The coalition of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists behind “We See You, White American Theatre” has since expanded its efforts to foster a new “social contract for work environments that care for and sustain artistry and lives,” and it includes “Principles for Building Anti-Racist Theatre Systems.”

The Broadway League’s new Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is Gennean M. Scott, who began the job in July. Gennean joins The League from the Omaha Performing Arts, a League member, where she served for seven years as the Vice President of Human Capital and Inclusion. She has been engaged for 20 years in Equity and Inclusion work for various racial and social justice initiatives involving the arts, non-profits, education and community organizations. She founded and directed a non-profit dance school to promote equity in the arts for youth in Omaha and also was co-founder of the Black Arts Leadership Alliance.

I had the opportunity to meet with Gennean and believe she is well-grounded in ED&I work; passionate about the theater, and is determined that theater workers, audiences, as well as the community, believe that the commitment to change is real. The following is my interview of Gennean for Arts & Culture Connections. 

Donna Walker-Kuhne: How did you prepare to step into the role as the first Diversity Chief for the Broadway League?

Gennean Scott: A lot of my prep work began before I even applied for the position. At the time, I was the Vice President of Human Capital and Inclusion at Omaha Performing Arts. OPA is a League member and Broadway presenting organization. Consequently, I had some knowledge about where The Broadway League stood as it relates to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I), and I knew their reputation.

However, I wanted to see how they presented themselves to marginalized groups, so I did some research—I did a deep dive—Googling the words “Broadway” and “diversity” to see what came up. I also read numerous blogs, listened to podcasts, webinars, as well as talked to industry members. I wanted to ensure The League’s commitment to ED&I aligned with who I was and the work I had already been doing. And I also wanted to make sure it was a safe space for me to walk into as a Black woman.

During the interview process, our industry was facing its own racial reckoning, not just nationally, but locally in Omaha. With the assistance of key stakeholders and colleagues, I tackled many of these same challenges—from looking at diversifying third-party vendors to increasing our community involvement. We slashed turnover rates of our BIPOC staff from 45-percent to 20-percent; increased promotion and hiring; narrowed the pay gap by 6-percent, and worked with developing an accessibility plan for our patrons.

I ensured that Equity and Inclusion practices were promoted across the Omaha Performing Arts organization, from marketing to operations. In addition to impacting our local community, I was a consultant for another League organization, the Velma V. Morrison Center, which is located on the campus of Boise State University. We established a community resource group at the Morrison Center, which was responsible for advising the organization in the areas of Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility. Members were given stipends for the time they served as community arts advisors.

My professional experience includes 20 years of equity work—15 years of those years were spent in arts administration. I have no delusions about the tasks at hand. Along with establishing myself as a resource for the industry, my goals include improving communications and building upon existing initiatives.

Donna: How have you responded to the “We See You…” declaration?

Gennean: I read the statement before applying for the position. Currently, I use the document and other resources to help inform the direction I have recommended The League take.

While there has been no direct response to the statement, I think it’s important to note that the discussions about creating this position began before the pandemic. However, I do believe the events, like the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, helped to keep the process going during the shutdown.

Streamlining our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives, as well as taking those efforts to the next level, is a central focus of Board President Lauren Reid. One of those initiatives is our speaker series entitled “Listen. Learn. Act.” It is an ongoing conversation about Equity and Inclusion designed for members, leadership, and staff to understand the plight of those marginalized groups and then to “Act” on the information learned.

We know many people have heard the promises of change before. It is my hope that in the ensuing months, as more information is shared, the world will see our commitment. The industry has a responsibility to make sure change is not performative.

The Broadway League’s board leadership, along with League President Charlotte St. Martin, has taken a hard look at Broadway membership to see who is NOT at the table and it has changed policies and practices to address those issues. I also look at the ongoing unconscious bias and anti-racism training; the signing of the Black Theatre United (BTU) New Deal, and the added requirements to participate as a Tony voter, as some of the initial steps we are making to create systemic change.

In addition, the upcoming conversations with unions; the examination of hiring practices, as well as plans to reach out to those beyond the tri-state area also will be vital for addressing the Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive future of Broadway.

Donna: What is your process for building the culture of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion?

Gennean: First, building a culture of inclusion is a moral obligation and not up for debate. The process is qualitative and more than checking a box. I am looking at the collective experiences of those 100 plus people I interacted with during my first 90-days on the job, and the many more I have yet to meet.

Although we are meeting people where they are, it’s also about being able to have challenging conversations. That process involves educating and re-educating our industry about the history of the systemic exclusion at play, as well as teaching about the inherent biases that crop up. Those tendencies don’t just show up in hiring, but also in advertising, sponsorships, and with whom we choose to do business.

That is step one. It’s essential that everyone recognize that ED&I must be an integral component of every committee at The League.

Donna: What has been your experience thus far?

Gennean: The issues facing our industry are not unlike the problems facing every sector of business, culture, and the arts across this country. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with producers, general managers, company managers, union reps, you name it—and there has not been one person who’s said, “I don’t understand why we’re doing this.” Instead, the reaction has been: “Whatever you need, Gennean, call me any time!” “How do we do this, how do we move this forward?” “We don’t want this to be a one-time thing. We recognize we must change.” “Teach me; teach us.”

My meetings with organizations and key stakeholders, like yourself, have been inspiring. The willingness to all come together, strategize, and start to implement change has been exceptional. Seeing so many people mobilized to right the wrongs of the past is exhilarating.

Donna: What are your goals and how do you see the industry becoming more inclusive and equitable?

Gennean: We have some internal work to do that requires us to continue to look in the mirror. Our ED&I initiatives focus on audience development, community engagement, and the workforce. With that in mind, I have four overarching goals:

Goal 1: Effectively leverage the diversity of member and industry cultures and identities. Conduct an ED&I audit to identify gaps and needs in policies, procedures, and practices and make recommendations. Develop metrics for tracking all ED&I-centered initiatives and administer a quantitative industry survey to our members. This will serve as a benchmark to measure improvements.

Goal 2: Promote continual development and training to build individual and collective capacity for contributing to and supporting an inclusive and equitable Broadway League. At present, our Board leadership and staff have attended anti-racism and unconscious biases trainings. Still, we must look at what’s next. Building on these initial foundations, it is expanding into Psychological Safety, Inclusion, and Belonging; ED&I – Gender Identity and Pronouns; Holding Space and Empathy, and developing an accessibility plan.

Goal 3: Build out The Broadway League Union Partnership. This initiative is a new effort to partner with all of Broadway’s unions, their members (and our employees) to find growth opportunities and challenge the status quo in marginalized communities.

Initiatives will focus on dismantling systematic racism in employment; creating and enhancing career opportunities throughout the theatre industry, and having action and solution-inducing conversations with our union partners specific to their various memberships—all in support of the League’s ED&I Committee and the industry.

Goal 4: Externally, it is looking at improving communications and amplifying the diversity of voices, perspectives, and identities represented among the Broadway community. This goal requires us to be a part of every community.

These are my initial goals, many of which will be further detailed in January 2022. The coming year will be busy!

What inspires you in your work?

Gennean: As a former dancer of color growing up in the Heartland of America, I didn’t always feel accepted. Consequently, I created a dance studio of inclusion to create a safe space for dancers like me.

That’s why I do this work. The world needs to see the value of diversity and culture in the arts. It is important that the arts reflect the stories of the gender identities, ethnicities, abilities, and cultures of all people.

I look at my daughter, who has an affinity for the arts, and I don’t want her to face the same barriers. So, I wake up every day and grind for the greater good.

I also need to know that my daughter’s children, as well as her children, will walk in a more equitable, inclusive world than me. Am I optimistic? Yes! I must do this work. I am driven by the audacity of hope.

Donna: Thank you so much, Gennean!

As always, I want to know what the readers of Arts & Culture Connections think—what’s your vision for a more equitable and inclusive Broadway? I invite you to share your thoughts and comments below.

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