Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce
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Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce

Tobie S. Stein

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eBook - ePub

Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce

Tobie S. Stein

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About This Book

Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce examines the systemic and institutional barriers and individual biases that continue to perpetuate a predominately White nonprofit performing arts workforce in the United States. Workforce diversity, for purposes of this book, is defined as racial and ethnic diversity among workforce participants and stakeholders in the performing arts, including employees, artists, board members, funders, donors, educators, audience, and community members. The research explicitly uncovers the sociological and psychological reasons for inequitable workforce policies and practices within the historically White nonprofit performing arts sector, and provides examples of the ways in which transformative leaders, sharing a multiplicity of cultural backgrounds, can collaboratively and collectively create and produce a culturally plural community-centered workforce in the performing arts.

Chapter 1 of this book is freely available as a downloadable Open Access PDF at http://www.taylorfrancis.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) 4.0 license.

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1 Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce

I define workforce diversity as an environment where people regardless of race, class, color, and gender all have the equal opportunity to be self-supporting, self-sustained artists.
Black respondent, Workforce Diversity study


Workforce diversity, for the purposes of this study and book, is defined as racial and ethnic diversity among performing arts workforce participants and stakeholders, including employees, artists, board members, donors, audience members, educators, and community partners.
Racial and ethnic workforce diversity is an inclusive term. It encompasses the leadership process and organizational collective and collaborative management practice of valuing and intentionally recognizing, including, and affirming the representation and engagement of a workforce with a multiplicity of cultural identities, experiences, perspectives, and traditions at every organizational level in the workplace, reflecting the entire community.1
According to scholar Antonio C. Cuyler,
racial and ethnic workforce diversity is part of a quartet that includes racial and ethnic access, diversity, equity, and inclusion (ADEI). Together these intersecting practices embody creative justice or the manifestation of all people living creative and expressive lives on their own terms.2
In achieving racial and ethnic access, the historically White performing arts workforce tackles and removes structural access barriers for underrepresented groups found in the career pathway and in recruitment and retention practices. In addition to examining and dismantling its structural access barriers, an inclusive and equitable performing arts organization scrutinizes and disrupts the interpersonal unconscious and conscious racial bias of employees and other stakeholders that also often restricts access, entry, and the full representation, engagement, and retention of participants from historically underrepresented and marginalized groups in ALAANA communities.3
Within the workforce diversity conversation, there is recognition that for a performing arts organization to be racially and ethnically diverse, the organization must also value active planning and execution of racially inclusive and equitable or socially just practices in the workplace. The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council defines inclusion as
the practice of including and of being included within a group or structure. It highlights the mosaic of individuals offering unique perspectives, with the goal of minimizing tensions between groups and building capacities to get along. Inclusion involves authentic and empowered participation and a true sense of belonging.4
Racial equity, according to Fred Blackwell, chief executive officer of The San Francisco Foundation, is
just and fair inclusion in a society where everyone can participate, prosper, and thrive, regardless of their race or where they live or their family’s economic status or any other defining characteristic.5

Why Racial and Ethnic Workforce Diversity Matters

Social scientists6 as well as respondents interviewed for this book recognize that racial and ethnic workforce diversity matters because when multiple perspectives are engaged, cognitive decision-making is strengthened, and better decisions are made throughout organizations. When the workforce is racially and ethnically diverse, cultural pluralism or the respect and high regard for cultural difference7 is a core value and a community connector. Furthermore, in a culturally diverse organization, policies and programs are created to intentionally remove exclusionary racial and ethnic access barriers and embrace the full inclusion of “‘distinctive and creative’ cultural traditions”8 in the workplace. Most importantly, when racial and ethnic access, diversity, equity, and inclusion matters to a historically White performing arts organization, there is an intentional effort among all members to acknowledge systemic racism and actively participate in its elimination.

Workforce Diversity Engages Multiple Perspectives and Strengthens Cognitive Decision-Making

When there is intentional and equitable inclusion of multiple perspectives as well as the recognition that input and engagement of everyone who has been historically underrepresented in an organization matters, the organization is more creative, productive, and more likely to represent the entirety of its community’s interests. Various studies have shown that when an organization hires culturally plural employees who have a broad range of perspectives and experiences, the culturally diverse employees will contribute expansive input, inspiring and encouraging their White colleagues to think and act in more innovative ways and “outside the [White] box.”9 For example, a Workforce Diversity study respondent who identifies as both Black and Puerto Rican speaks about the cognitive impact of different perspectives on an organization: “If all members of the human race are represented without regard to whatever [racial and ethnic] boxes one may check, it provides us all with a way to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. If you can be inclusive and open the door to everyone who has the qualities you’re looking for, in terms of work performance, you’re going to ensure that everyone in the organization will grow cognitively and have a great opportunity to engage different perspectives.”

Workforce Diversity Values Cultural Pluralism

One White respondent, with an ethnic heritage that includes English and German roots, speaks about the need for historically White nonprofit performing arts organizations to intentionally acknowledge and embrace the multitude of ethnic and cultural perspectives within diverse performing arts communities of Color. In other words, in seeking to create a diverse workplace, organizations must adopt cultural pluralism as an organizational value and lens that recognizes that each community culture has a distinct contribution to make to the workplace.10 When cultural pluralism is a core value, performing arts organizational leaders respect and engage employees, artists, and board members who share a multiplicity of different cultural traditions within a multitude of racial and ethnic communities.
Not everyone in the performing arts sector is conscious of the multiplicity of cultural traditions that reside within socially constructed racial and ethnic groups. As sociologist Edwin M. Schur points out in his work on labeling, there are individuals who presume “that all people are alike,” within a racial or ethnic group, but in actuality cultures and traditions vary greatly within racial and ethnic groups.11 For example, within the Latinx12 community there are many cultures that thrive. The Pew Research Center identifies the ethnic heritage of the fourteen largest U.S. Hispanic groups: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Dominican, Guatemalan, Columbian, Honduran, Spanish, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, and Argentinean.13 Within each Latinx ethnic group, there are distinct rich cultural traditions that are learned and practiced in the process of social interaction. Cultural traditions encompass values, standards of beauty, as well as art and culture.14 When working with artists that identify as Latinx, non-Latinx performing arts managers, who may not be well versed in the rich variety of Latinx cultural traditions, must be cognizant of collaborating closely and in concert with the Latinx artist and the artist’s specific ethnic community. This is only accomplished when a non-Latinx arts manager is immersed in respecting, learning, experiencing, and engaging with the cultural perspectives and traditions of the Latinx artist’s specific community. For example, one Workforce Diversity study respondent who identifies as White as well as English and German American explained the importance of intentionally working with artists that matter to a specific ethnic community:
We [historically White organizations] often talk about the White community and the community of People of Color, but depending on the situation, we’re also talking about the African American versus the Latinx versus the Asian—the API (Asian and Pacific Islander) communities, and then of course there are many communities within any one of those communities. And it may be for a given project, that the difference between selecting a Puertorriqueña artist or a Chicana artist, makes all the difference to their community.

Workforce Diversity Recognizes That Intersectional Social Identities Are Community Connectors

Broadly defined, a performing arts organization that supports racial and ethnic workforce diversity, not only openly values the shared leadership and contributions of a culturally plural workforce, but also acknowledges and welcomes the involvement of a workforce grounded in the intersecting relationships among race and the socially constructed categories of gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, age, disability status, religion, and sexual orientation, among others. In a workplace environment that considers racial and ethnic workforce diversity a core value and therefore an organizational priority in its board and staff recruitment, casting, hiring, promotion, and retention practices, organizational decision making, programming, and community relationships, all intersecting social identities are equally acknowledged, accepted, respected, and treated as assets and not deficits to the performing arts organization.15 With respect to intersectionality or the interrelationships among race, ethnicity, and other social identities, one African American respondent who interviewed for the Workforce Diversity study emphasized how important it is to broadly define workforce diversity:
I see workforce diversity on a broad spectrum inclusive of race, age, religion, and sexual orientation. I don’t believe it’s enough to just have racial diversity in an organization. I find that in my position as a marketer, having employees of various ages, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds only add to my ability to speak to different audiences and ultimately do my job better.

The State of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts: A Statistical Portrait

Both scholars and practitioners recognize that culturally plural organizational members collectively make better decisions, are cultural connectors with communities of Color, and provide opportunity and access to individuals who have been historically marginalized. But what does the statistical data tell us about the extent to which U.S. nonprofit performing arts organizations16 are culturally plural and reflect the U.S. population? In addition, to what degree does the nonprofit performing arts workforce replicate the racial and ethnic diversity found in U.S. major metropolitan areas? To what extent are specific performing arts disciplines racially and ethnically diverse? Furthermore, what is the racial and ethnic makeup of the audience members, board members, ...

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