The third session for MASS Action at the museum felt different than the previous two. It seems as though collectively, we are getting much more comfortable discussing difficult topics relating to inequality and white supremacy. There has been some variation in who has attended - there is a repeat session for those who have scheduling conflicts - and each session has resulted in different groupings of staff from across the museum. In spite of all this, it has become apparent that to some extent, those who are showing up feel comfortable confronting the realities we face at work.
We read the first half of chapter three of the toolkit, Organizational Culture and Change: Making the Case for Inclusion, in preparation for the session. Our previous readings dealt with broader issues, theory, and societal frameworks in which cultural heritage organizations exist. This particular section started to get into greater detail about what that means, practically speaking. The Levels of Systems theory pinpointed different hierarchical groupings to be considered for change: individual, team, organization, and marketplace (Taylor & Kegan, 2017, p. 50). Within each of these levels, the toolkit addressed general ways in which change can occur. Learning was highlighted as a key component to change at all levels, especially as it relates to unconscious bias that we all face (Taylor & Kegan, 2017, p. 54).
The first exercise of our session involved working individually to come up with a handful of words of phrases that we would use to describe the organizational culture of the museum. We then wrote these on post-it notes, and they were collected by the facilitators. They organized the sticky notes into general categories, clustering and grouping the terms.
Groups of around six to eight then discussed some prompts provided by the facilitators. These included questions about the barriers, challenges, and patterns of resistance that exist in our organizational culture that impact inclusion practices, ideas about individually supporting inclusion, and the general impact specific concepts or sections of the reading had. Our group discussed the challenges of the institution being so large and having such an extensive history. The size and reputation make change difficult, and when it does happen it often comes at a very slow pace. At the same time, there are great demands and limited resources to get our traditional work done, so prioritization is key if we want to work on change. This related back to the reading, which outlined diversity educators Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun’s theory of 13 aspects of culture based in white supremacy: perfectionism, sense of urgency, quantity over quality, and paternalism being just a few of these facets (Taylor & Kegan, 2017, p. 40).
We also discussed the need for buy-in from those in the institution with the power to make decisions, and the need for concrete steps that we can individually and collectively take to help create change. Given the range of departments represented in our group, this was framed both internally and externally. It seems there is an uneven pace of the awareness and action around notions of diversity and inclusion in the museum, with groups like the department of Learning and Public Engagement excelling and others lagging far behind. It is heartening to know that change at some levels is possible. It is essential that adoption of plans and policies take place at a much broader scope and with the weight of administration, given the power structure of the institution. There was also a consensus that there needs to be greater transparency within the decision-making process of the hierarchy, and that we need to approach work like this more democratically.
I appreciated the opportunity meeting those in my group, and hearing from them the work they are doing to acknowledge and correct white supremacy, and heteronormative and ableist ways of thinking. Their reflections made it clear to me that we all have our part to play, and that every individual’s work will be different.
The session ended with individuals sharing out to the group as a whole topics they discussed in the smaller groups. Finally, the facilitators shared some of the broad categories they found from our sticky notes relating to organizational culture. One of the largest groups was that which related to the extensive hierarchy within the museum - this had by far the most individual mentions. Other groupings related to ideas about perfectionism, whiteness, male dominance, conservative history, divided and siloed working groups, and general disorganization. On a more positive note, open mindedness, talent, and passion were also characteristics listed. It was interesting to note convergences in how we perceive the institution, and I would be curious to see similarities and differences in the public’s perception of the museum.
Given several comments participant made about the reading, and questions we had about putting some of these ideas into practice, the facilitators were able to share that some of the information from our sessions was bubbling up to the decision-makers within the institution. There is one additional session currently scheduled in order to review the last section of the toolkit. I sincerely hope the opportunities to meet, discuss, and plan for change that needs to occur, will continue to happen after next month’s session.
Jones, K. and Okun, T. (2001). White Supremacy Culture. Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups. Retrieved from http://www.cwsworkshop.org/PARC_site_B/dr-culture.html
Taylor, C. and Kegan, M. (2017) Organizational Culture and Change: Making the Case for Inclusion. MASS Action Toolkit. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58fa685dff7c50f78be5f2b2/t/59dcdd27e5dd5b5a1b51d9d8/1507646780650/TOOLKIT_10_2017.pdf