Detroit Museum Tries to Change After Review Cites a Culture of Fear

The Detroit Institute of Arts is taking steps to improve its work culture after outside investigators critically investigated complaints from employees about retaliation by the director whose autocratic leadership style, they said, created an environment that was disproportionate Number of employees led women to leave the staff.

The results of the review by the museum’s law firms Crowell and Moring were presented to board members in November but not made public.

Investigators from the Washington, DC office of the law firm also said current and former employees they spoke to complained that the director, Salvador Salort-Pons, had a “lack of facilities with racial issues.” have proven. According to an audio recording of the board meeting where investigators presented their findings.

The museum said Monday that it had taken a number of steps in response to the findings, including establishing a new board position as a liaison between staff and the board. A confidential hotline has also been set up to report discrimination, retaliation or other problems in the workplace.

“The board wants anyone with new or ongoing concerns to come forward and be heard,” the museum said in a statement. “The creation of the new liaison office for employee relations in the Board of Directors and the regular availability for employees who want to communicate directly via the hotline underscore DIA’s commitment that all adverse conditions or experiences identified and reported by DIA employees are addressed in the future.”

The law firm’s review included interviews with 22 current and former employees and board members, as well as a review of its wear and tear data from 2016 as per the audio recording of the discussion. The recording was received by Whistleblower Aid, a not-for-profit law firm in Washington that represents some of the museum’s staff, and was reviewed by the New York Times.

Investigators said staff complained that Salort-Pons did not tolerate dissent and that he had punished staff for disagreement with him or for making complaints, which resulted in some being banned from meetings or downgraded. Fears of retaliation, investigators found, had caused some former employees not to come forward to speak to them, and they said that fear of retaliation was stronger than many other nonprofits they worked with .

“The past and present employees described the leadership as frankly one that didn’t give them the direction they needed,” a Crowell and Moring attorney Preston L. Pugh told the board at the meeting.

In a statement, Salort-Pons did not respond directly to the criticism, but said: “I appreciate the opportunity to continue this important work in cooperation with our employees and the Board of Directors to create a culture for the DIA that reflects our values ​​and ours common vision for the DIA reflects the future of the museum. “

The museum did not respond to a question asking if the director, whose five-year contract was due to expire late last year, had signed a new employment contract. In its statement, the museum said: “Salvador’s role and responsibilities as DIA director, president and CEO will continue in 2021. Its performance is regularly monitored by the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors to ensure that progress continues to be made in promoting a workplace where all employees can thrive. “

Investigators raised concerns about a lack of consistent oversight of Salort-Pons, who they said had conducted his own performance review in one case, which was unusual for someone at his level.

The museum said the director had been working with a leadership trainer since September to “support his efforts to create a work environment where all employees feel valued for the talents, skills and unique perspectives they bring to the DIA” .

Salort-Pons has been credited with helping ensure the museum’s financial survival after a tumultuous period in which the institute was saved by the infusion of nearly $ 1 billion from foundations, private donors, and the state of Michigan. Investigators said the staff they spoke to respected his efforts in this regard.

He has retained the support of the board, and last year the institute convinced three surrounding counties to agree to continue a property tax surcharge that will help support the museum.

But morale was so low in 2017 that nearly half of museum staff in a survey said they don’t believe the institute offers a work culture in which to thrive, citing disrespect and feeling that their opinions have been ignored . The Crowell and Moring review found that these issues were not addressed in a meaningful way.

Last year, when issues of culture and diversity plagued museums across the country, current and former staff members publicly filed complaints, particularly about the Institute’s treatment of their black staff.

In September, the institute hired a Chicago-based diversity and inclusion consultancy. Consulting firm Kaleidoscope has conducted an employee survey and organizes employee focus groups on issues such as equity and diversity. “The Board of Directors is determined to address these concerns and shared this commitment with our employees in December,” said Christine Kloostra, a spokeswoman, about the results of the review. “At all levels of our organization, we are working hard together to make DIA a better place for all of our team members.”

When examining the employment data, investigators found that more women in managerial and professional positions than men had left the museum in recent years. In 2018, for example, it was found that 27 percent of women in managerial and professional positions at the museum had left that year, compared with 2 percent of men. In some cases, Ellen Moran Dwyer, one of the investigative attorneys told the Chamber that women left while they had no other job “because they were unsatisfied with the environment.”

Whistleblower Aid said the results of the external review indicated the need to make major changes to address serious issues their own customers raised a few months ago.

“It has gotten to a point where people are so desperate for accountability and change that they are taking such a step,” said John N. Tye, founder and chief executive officer of Whistleblower Aid.

Some staff said they would wait and see if the steps the institute takes would make a difference in addressing the challenges.

“There is a glimmer of hope that something will be done,” said Margaret Thomas, house manager of the Detroit Film Theater, which is part of the institute. “This whole situation shouldn’t be swept under the rug.”

She added, “I want to believe that something is being done about it.”

Comments are closed.