My colleague and frequent collaborator Ann Marie Sorrell is fond of saying that engagement with diverse communities must be more than “checking a box” and she’s absolutely correct. Ann Marie and I are long-time collaborators in this work, starting with a multi-year initiative many years ago at Palm Beach Opera.
As National Black Business Month has just concluded, I’m reminded of an article in The New York Times which brought this concept to the front of my mind once again. It shines a light on the sometimes performative nature of A.D.E.I work, often at times when it is convenient such as Black History Month, MLK Day, Juneteenth, etc. Many organizations in our sector continue to maintain audience demographics that do not reflect the communities they serve.
There are several insights in the article, some of which I’ll share here:
[Black History Month] in which D.E.I. firms are ordinarily flooded instead became a reminder, for clients, that their drive should persist throughout the year.
Wise words from Faith Kares, senior director of research and impact at Beloved, a firm working to deepen DEI practices & antiracist leadership:
Dr. Kares was skeptical as she watched dozens of corporations appoint new diversity and inclusion directors in 2020. “Giving $60,000 to these positions is nothing,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face. What’s going to happen in five years when it’s not on trend anymore?”
As many performing arts organizations schedule concerts, museums put on exhibitions, and everyone puts on a show on social media with a flurry of content featuring the diversity hashtag-of-the-month, have we ever stopped to think that this might actually be hurting us rather than helping? Reaching out one person — let alone an entire community — just once per year doesn’t demonstrate very much sincerity.
And finally, one key point:
…unless [an organization’s] senior leaders are engaged, because they know that without that commitment the efforts could easily get sidelined.
Without the sincere and mindful commitment from everyone at an organization, building a true relationship with underrepresented and historically excluded communities will not be a success.
All of that said, I invite you to do an honest audit of your organization’s A.D.E.I activities. Are you engaging in true relationship-building and fostering systemic change?