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Article Published: 15 Mar 2018

At the National Trustee Forum: On Achieving Diversity and Curbing Harassment

On the opening day of the National Trustee Forum in February, Marc A. Scorca moderated a conversation with Jane DiRenzo Pigott, a trustee at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Ryan Taylor, the president and general director of Minnesota Opera, about increasing diversity in the sector.

Jane and Ryan emphasized the importance of having the commitment of company leaders to increasing diversity at every level of the organization, from board and staff to artists and audiences. But diversity is not just a matter of counting people. A company’s programming must include stories that resonate with the world around us, created and performed by artists of all backgrounds.

Progress in achieving diversity must be measured against goals for recruitment and retention that are appropriate to the company and city. Ryan described new hiring practices at Minnesota Opera modeled on the Rooney Rule used in professional football and tailored to the demographics of the Twin Cities. Marc also described a strategic approach to board member recruitment that interrupts the tendency of boards to self-replicate as members simply invite people they know to join the organization.

Given recent events in the #MeToo movement, there was great concern among National Trustee Forum attendees about sexual harassment in the industry. OPERA America invited Sarah Glowa-Kollisch, director of strategic services at RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, to introduce and help define the nuances of harassment, calling on trustee participants to share policies and procedures they had created.

What emerged was a shared understanding about the importance of communicating these policies and procedures to all company members, including board, staff and volunteers, as well as to visiting artists, directors, designers and other independent contractors. It was affirmed that creating a respectful and safe work environment is essential — while still allowing for the teamwork and collaborative spirit that are central to good performances.

This article was published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Across the Board, a publication of OPERA America for opera company trustees.