Desegregating Arts Administration

Today’s guest blog post is written by Judith Shimer, Senior Client Administrator, PatronManager. 

Arts administration, like many industries, has a diversity problem. According to a 2015 study, while white women, as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, tend to be well-represented in lower-paying roles, they are still underrepresented in higher-profile roles. Meanwhile, people of color, transgender people, and people with disabilities are underrepresented across the board. For people with more than one of these identities, the struggle of finding and keeping employment, achieving promotions, and feeling welcome in the workplace is multiplied.

Take a moment to try the following exercise. It may feel uncomfortable but it is essential: look around your office and think about who you see. Especially consider the roles of your coworkers, and how much they likely earn. For example, are your box office and administrative offices equally diverse? Lower-paid employees versus higher-paid?

On top of denying great candidates employment, a segregated arts industry impacts what art gets made and performed, and sends a message to young people about whether or not they belong in the arts. How can individuals already in the industry build a more inclusive environment? Here’s how to start:

  1. Mix up where and how you advertise job openings. Don’t rely on word of mouth and friend referrals, which keep the bubble closed. If most referrals are white, cisgender, and able-bodied, open your doors wider. A quick Google can turn up online job boards in your community, as well as a number of diversity-oriented job posting sites.
  2. Change your prerequisite qualifications. Does your organization require advanced degrees or multiple years of experience? Marginalized people often decline to apply for jobs if they feel even slightly unqualified, while people with relative privilege just apply for those jobs anyway (and get hired–this is well-documented along gender lines). If your current employees didn’t meet every prerequisite to a “T” when applying, what other assets did they demonstrate that convinced you to hire them? Those softer skills like thoughtfulness, creativity, curiosity, and passion are valuable. Encourage more great applicants by focusing on these and removing excessive qualifications from your job descriptions. (Our Director of Client Administration, Rachel Hands, has written more about how to write great job postings here!)
  3. Promote your employees. Just as people are less likely to feel qualified for jobs if they have marginalized identities, they’re also less likely to push for advancement once hired. Keep the momentum going by advocating for your employees’ promotion.
  4. Cultivate a welcoming work environment. This should go without saying, but never tolerate harassment anywhere in the office, and make sure there is a clear escalation procedure if an employee needs to report harassment; you may not be seeing it when it happens. Remember that harassment is not always as explicit as slurs or sabotage. Tasteless jokes, prying questions, and stereotyping may add up to a hostile work environment.
  5. Be ready to accommodate employees with physical differences. Is your office wheelchair-accessible? It should be! And it’s always a good time to brush up on employers’ responsibilities under the ADA.

With concrete steps like these, there’s no need to feel hopeless when it comes to the challenge of desegregating arts administration. The goal is achievable, and the power is in our hands. What steps has your organization taken to cultivate an inclusive workplace? Please share in the comments below, and happy hiring!

Additional reading: Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Arts Management: An Exposé and Guide, by Elena Muslar


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One response to “Desegregating Arts Administration

  1. I completely disagree with this viewpoint, speaking from the perspective of gender specifically. I see arts administration as a job field that is overwhelmingly comprised of women, in both leadership and supporting roles. Both in my own community and in communities in other parts of our state and the nation, I see photos of arts administration staff and conferences, and the strong majority of people represented are women. My husband works in the arts as well, and he has had a hard time finding a job, especially in a leadership role within a team, when he is well-qualified. I’ve also heard other women in leadership roles view male job candidates with reluctance because they worry that a male in the office will be “cocky,” “pushy,” or “not sure if he’ll be a team player.” I happen to think that’s just as prejudiced — when I have worked with and over several young males who were unfailingly pleasant to work with and did as good of a job as their female colleagues.

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