Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Impact on Equity and Diversity of the Lack of Upward Promotion Opportunities

Good morning
"And the beat goes on..........................."

In March, Americans for the Arts released its most recent (2018) Local Arts Agency Salary and Compensation Report(and though I note that one cannot conclude wholesale that local art agencies dovetail exactly with all the other kinds of organizations within our field) still here's some of what caught my attention:

1.  The field is dominated by white women.
2.  The ages of staff are fairly evenly split between 2and 54
3.  Only 38 percent thought they had a clear path for job advancement
4.  Only 55 percent anticipate they will still be working in the arts in five years.
5.  In terms of the goal of the diversification of the field, the report noted that: "while we do see more diversity in the entry- and mid-level positions that hopefully will eventually feed into the leadership of the field—this survey data suggests that the field has made virtually no progress in these efforts."

[Note:  This report has far more information and data than concerns me for purposes of this post, and is worth a read for its insight and observations apart from the issues raised here.]

An equally comprehensive look at compensation, career trajectory options and opinions, ethnic and gender spreads and anticipation of continuing in the field across the entire nonprofit arts sector would be valuable, as would a breakdown of all the organizations in our field as to geographic location (urban, suburban or rural) budget size, and staff size, but I know of no such study.

Equity and Diversity are major, critical objectives for the sector. These goals legitimately dominate our policy making, funding, hiring, and other conversations and concerns.  We know equity depends on achieving diversity in our decision making process, and achieving that diversity means more diversity in the workplace, and in those positions of decision making.

But we have a problem.  Actually two problems.  First a structural problem to realizing our diversity objectives, and that lies in the size of our field, and the size of the organizations that comprise our field.  The fact is that most of our organizations are relatively small - small staffs, small budgets in small demographic settings - rural and suburban.  Most of our organizations, with the exception of organizations that are primarily multicultural in staff and orientation, are predominantly white in both staff and board. While there is an increasing spread as to the age groups comprising our staffs, there is still a Boomer holdover at the top.  As noted in the AFTA study, as we make progress and inroads into hiring more diverse staffs, we might expect that, over time, those hires would rise within the hierarchies of our organizations to increasingly move into more senior positions of authority, power and decision making, but the Second problem, the limitations of size, budget and location, prevent intra advancement within our organizations, principally because there are so few openings, and that is because people in the more senior positions aren't leaving - no matter their age group - and, more critically, because there are few positions within any given job category in our organizations.

Even in our larger organizations with bigger budgets allowing for larger staffs, defined areas within the staff - e.g., the development department, or the marketing department - may have only one or two employees.  Its hard to land a spot in those departments, and even if you do, its harder still to move up as no one is moving out.  For the most part, the only chance for advancement is lateral movement to another organization when an opening occurs.  And lateral movement is difficult given the competition for such scarce openings.  So how do we recruit diversity in our ranks if their are so few openings for people period.  And how do we retain diversity in our ranks if, once recruited, people can't move up either internally or externally?  If we recruit people of color for various jobs in our field, eventually, over time, we ought to see those hires advancing up the organizational ladders to increasing positions of influence and authority.  But we can't just hope that happens. I believe, in certain instances, we have begun to see the first signs of that.  But how long will that take, and if a likely prolonged period, how does that impact the recruitment -- when compared to other sectors, including the private sector, which may be on a faster track and which may have the advantage of budget and size allowing for greater upward career trajectory -- of people to our field, in the first place?  As attractive as our field may be on many levels, we still compete for talent with lots of others fields, public and private.  And job seekers on every level are naturally somewhat impatient.  If there is no identifiable career trajectory options, that may well discourage any number of people from entering the field in the first place.

If these impacts are negative, then where are we if we can't advance diversity because we can't attract diversity to begin with?

Much of our efforts on the diversity front, involve policies, protocols and practices that encourage and enable extant organizations to expand the diversity within their organizations, but those efforts don't address the above reality.  The one area where those negatives may not necessarily apply are with the existing multicultural organizations that are peopled by and serve multicultural audiences and constituencies.  Rather than continue to concentrate a disproportionate amount of our resources on moving white organizations to  diversify, perhaps moving some of those resources to more fully support existing and new multicultural organizations would yield us a larger pool of recruits who would then sooner constitute a larger pool of of seasoned, talented, experienced managers and administrators that could compete for and move into leadership positions across the entire sector.  And when I say move some of our resources, what i'm suggesting is that we move a significant amount of funding, of money.

Another area that compounds the problems we face, is the slower, if not outright lack, of progress in diversifying our Boards, which is where the ultimate decision making authority lies.  And, this is the area that we really need to put a lot more energy and focus on if we are to change the paradigm.

I am not advocating any one approach, or the abandonment of any one strategy, to move us to greater equity and diversity. Certainly we need to continue to push for diversity in all our organizations.  But I do believe we need to recognize the structural limitations of our field as those limitations impact our strategies.  If we can't figure out how to change the structure and the system in which our structures operate, then I don't see how we make timely progress in undoing the past and moving to the future.

We need to consider and address the problems of too few career advancement possibilities - both within organizations, and within the field as a whole - for everyone.  And these are both, in part, structural problems due to our size.  Career trajectory options are important to everyone.  And if we want to recruit and retain more people of color so as to diversify our workforce, then we have got to address that.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit