Saturday, April 17, 2021

Detroit Museum tries to change after review cites culture of fear

The Detroit Institute of the Arts is taking steps to improve its workplace culture following a critical review by external investigators, who said they had placed employee complaints of unfettered leadership by directors whose autocratic leadership style said, Boosted, leading to a disproportionate number of women on staff to leave.

The findings of the review by the museum-hired law firm Crowell & Moring were presented to its board members in November, but were not made public.

Investigators at the Washington, DC, law firm’s office also said that current and former staff members spoke to complain that the director, Salvador Salort-Pons, demonstrated “a lack of convenience with race-related issues” Was. According to an audio recording of the board meeting, at which investigators presented their findings.

The museum said on Monday that it had taken several steps in response to the findings, including establishing a new board position between staff members and the board of directors. It has also established a confidential hotline for reporting discrimination, retaliation or other workplace issues.

“The board wants anyone concerned, new or lethargic, to come forward and listen,” the museum said in a statement. “The creation of new board employee relations liaison status and regular availability for employees who wish to communicate directly through the hotline underscores the DIA’s commitment to address any adverse situations or experiences identified and reported by DIA employees Will be done.”

The law firm’s review included a review of data dating back to 2016, according to audio recordings of interviews and discussions with 22 current and former employees and board members. Was obtained by recording Whistleblower aid, A nonprofit law firm in Washington that represents some museum staff members, and was reviewed by The New York Times.

Investigators said staff complained that Salort-Ponce was intolerant of disagreements and said they punished staff members for disagreeing with or complaining to them, which led to some being held in meetings or excommunicated. Fear of retaliation, investigators said, did not prepare some former employees to come forward to talk to them, and added that this fear of retaliation was more pronounced than many other nonprofit organizations with he worked.

Kraul and Moring’s lawyer Preston L. Pugh said at the meeting, “former employees and current employees described the leadership clearly, which did not give them the necessary direction”.

In a statement, Salort-Pons did not directly address the criticism, but said, “I appreciate the opportunity to continue this important work in partnership with our staff and board that shapes a culture for the DIA Which reflects our values ​​and shared vision. The future of the museum. “

The museum did not answer a question that asked whether the director, whose five-year contract was scheduled to expire at the end of last year, had signed a new employment agreement. In its statement, the museum said: “Salvador’s role and responsibilities as DIA director, president and CEO will continue in 2021. His performance is regularly monitored by the executive committee of the board to ensure that Progress in maintaining the workplace continues. Thrive. “

Investigators raised concerns about the lack of consistent oversight of Salort-Ponce, who said, in one instance, he did his own performance review, which he said was unusual for anyone at his level.

The museum said that since September, directors had been working with a leadership coach “to support their efforts in creating a work environment where all employees feel valued for the talent, skills and unique attitude they bring to the D.I.A. Bring in “

Salort-Pence is credited with helping preserve the financial existence that the museum has continued, after a turbulent period after rescuing by the institution Infusion of about one billion dollars From the foundation, private donors and the state of Michigan. Investigators said employees said they respected their efforts in this regard.

He has retained the board’s support, and last year the institution persuaded three surrounding counties to continue a property tax surcharge that helps support the museum.

But morale was so low in 2017 that nearly half of museum staff said in a poll that they did not believe the institute provided a work culture where they could cite insults and ignore their opinions. A review by Crowell & Moring found that those problems were not addressed in a meaningful way.

Last year, as issues of culture and diversity gathered around the country, current and former employees came forward publicly with complaints, particularly about the institution’s treatment of its Black employees.

In September, the institute hired a Chicago-based Diversity and Inclusion Consultancy. Kallidoscope, the consultancy, has conducted a survey of employees and is conducting staff focus groups on issues such as equity and diversity. “The board is fully committed to addressing these concerns and shared that commitment with our staff in December,” Christine Klostra, a spokeswoman, said of the review’s findings. “At all levels of our organization, we are working together to make DIA a better place for all members of our team.”

Reviewing employment data, investigators found that in recent years there were more women in managerial and professional positions than men. In 2018, for example, it was found that 27 percent of women employed by the museum in managerial and professional positions had departed that year, compared to 2 percent of men. In some cases, said Ellen Moran Dyer, one of the investigating lawyers, the women said they had given up even though they had no other job “because they were unhappy with the environment.”

Whistleblower Aid said findings from outside reviews showed more changes were needed to address the serious problems that their own customers had exposed several months earlier.

John N., the founder and CEO of Whistleblower Aid. “It has reached a point where people are so desperate for accountability and change that they are taking such a step,” Ty said.

Some employees said they would wait to see if the steps the institute was taking would make a difference in addressing the challenges.

“There is a glimpse of hope that something is being done,” said Margaret Thomas, House Manager of the Detroit Film Theater. “This whole situation should not flow under the rug.”

“I believe there is something to be done about this,” he said.

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