I’m Not Sure HR Mulligans Count

The 4/6/2022 edition of SFCV.org published an article by Tom Jacobs that examines some of the aftermath of Long Beach Opera (LBO) and the mass resignation of Alexander Gedeon (minister of culture), Derrell Acon (associate artistic director), and Elijah Cineas (education manager). That resignation was due to those individuals feeling the LBO “a culture of misogyny, a sustained pattern of racial tokenism, a lack of defined values and principles, a structural failure to process uncomfortable feedback.”

Their departure was followed by a decision by the LBO to cancel the production they were working on and the entire ordeal triggered an internal review by an outside party into the LBO environment.

“The newly released report, by independent investigator Aisha Shelton Adam, only partially agreed with that assessment.

‘Ms. Adam found that LBO did not have a misogynistic or racist culture and found no evidence of any racial or gender discrimination,’ the company reported in a statement released over the weekend. ‘Additionally, she found no evidence of tokenism, no evidence of mistreatment of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] staff/contractors, and no evidence that female staff were treated unfairly because of gender.'”

The trio of former employees doesn’t exactly agree with that assessment and went on a podcast sponsored by the Black Opera Alliance and hosted by Garrett McQueen.

I encourage everyone to give the podcast a listen (zipping through on 1.5 speed works out wonderfully for this episode) but what jumps out via the SFCV article is that the LBO’s response to their own investigation seems to reinforce some of the primary concerns from the former employees but falls short of doing much about it.

The whole thing feels like some sort of HR mulligan where missteps don’t really count against your score and the worst anyone admits is they should have done a better job listening the first time around.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with the trio and Mr. Acon touched on it at one point in the interview.

“Prior to December that I was leaving the company I did not find myself to be empowered there and I did not see a pathway toward convincing these folks that I actually can do the job I was hired to do and was in fact the most skilled person to execute that expertise. But the thing that made me want to speak more publicly, to speak with a fuller throat as it were, is the fact that when I announced I you know as I was making my exit which was going to be quiet and I was I was prepared to do the normal you know here you go Jennifer Rivera who’s the CEO of long beach opera I think just as we’ve been named in the press their name should be out there as well…however when I began to speak to colleagues both those who were still employees at the company and those who had left recently a number of complaints had come in. And these were mostly coming from women about half of whom were women of color and you know and I remember one employee I would tell I told her that I was leaving and she broke down into tears and talked about feeling terrorized at the company feeling like you know alexander and I were the only sources of protection similar to that folks who had left the company um were just as passionate about this this space that we were potentially creating for them to get some sort of justice.”

It’s worth pointing out that when referencing the report during the podcast, Acon frequently encapsulated that word in air quotes.

Time will tell how this event will impact the LBO but for now, change appears glacial.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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