One good step deserves another

Like at least a third of the folks on my Facebook feed and Twitter stream (it would be higher, but I know a lot of people who just couldn’t care less about organized much less professional sports), I was transfixed by the Don Sterling meltdown and general debacle.  What a horrible person, how upsetting and confusing the opportunity to stare directly at a specimen of fully grown, mature racism, spread out on a table to examine in full light.

I’m pleased that the NBA decided to take action against him.  But I’m also skeptical that it was more than a nod to general survivalist instincts, to manage public relations by cutting off their suddenly visible wart only after it was put in the media spotlight.  What I really wanted was for the organization to pat itself down afterwards, to realize there might be more sickness lurking, and to take affirmative measures towards becoming an institution where diversity flourishes at all levels.  To figure out how the institution can become a model for other businesses.

That’s what I thought of when I read this article, on the dismissal of Anne Baldassari, President of the Picasso Museum in Paris, France.

Firing nonprofit leaders who allow (or more likely generate) “profound suffering in the workplace” and “a toxic atmosphere”?  Great!  I bet that any random grouping of nonprofit professionals, out for a drink, swapping war stories, will have no shortage of tales to tell about suffering and toxic work places thanks to bad bosses.

Management is hard, and good management is hard to come by.  In the nonprofit world, we often overlook bad management (both the aggressively poisonous kind and the well-intentioned but inept kind…it’s not clear that one is always worse than the other when looking at outcomes) for folks who are great figureheads, great fundraisers, etc.

Wouldn’t it be nice to start a movement, ousting those nonprofit leaders who cause or allow “suffering” in the workplace?

But that’s not what this is…

In my mind, Don Sterling and Anne Baldassari are jumbled together.  I can’t hate that these nasty people were called out, Don and Anne, and faced some well deserved consequences.  But I’m also muddling Anne Baldassari and Jill Abramson, recently of the New York Times, wondering what would have happened with these two had they not been women.  Because there’s no grand movement afoot towards insisting on great management, no general justice sought against inept or toxic leaders on behalf of the suffering workers of the world…just some women, dismissed from their powerful positions, and questions about why (which remain, even if the firings were deserved…)

It’s interesting – folks who are attuned to see a particular prejudice in the workings of the world (in my case, misogyny) are very likely to see it where other factors were decisive.  (I was going to write “where there is none,” but that’s not quite accurate…I’m talking about the cases where it’s irrelevant and undetectable, not obviously absent.)

What I’d love to see is for all of us in the US to take a page from the French, and fire nonprofit leaders who are causing profound suffering in the workplace.  And if we do so actively, rather than passively awaiting complaints to accumulate from the staff, not only will the nonprofit sector be a more attractive place to work for talented professionals, but I’ll sleep well at night knowing that we’re not just witch-hunting and hanging a lot of women no better or worse than their male counterparts.

Leave a comment


email* (not published)