As a formal investigation continues into allegations of racism at the Royal British Columbia Museum and Archives, a separate workplace culture survey conducted by a diversity and inclusion consultant has yielded troubling results. The internal survey found that overall, “RBCM is a dysfunctional and ‘toxic’ workplace, characterized by a culture of fear and distrust.”
The findings were shared with management in late November and at a virtual presentation with staff in early December. The results point to concerns from staff regarding poor leadership and management – including bullying and abuse – and that the organization is seen by insiders as a “racist, anti-Indigenous and colonial space.” The results also indicated that women and equity-seeking employees are having more difficulties in the workplace culture than their counterparts.
In an online meeting with staff, the museum’s chief executive officer called the results “truly devastating” and said he was “deeply sorry” – and “deeply disappointed” by his own inability to see what was happening.
He has since acknowledged systemic racism at the museum in an e-mail to staff and resolved to improve. Details on these actions are expected to be shared with staff on Wednesday – as well as changes to the museum’s organizational structure, after two high-profile departures announced to staff Tuesday.
The developments come at a time of reckoning at the Victoria museum. Last summer, the head of the First Nations Department and Repatriation Program resigned, citing racism and a toxic workplace. Lucy Bell cited several upsetting examples in a farewell speech to her colleagues. She later told The Globe and Mail that the final straw was when a colleague, during an anti-racism Zoom session, made a comment about Indigenous people not being able to tolerate alcohol.
After the allegations, the museum board requested a B.C. Public Service Agency investigation. Separately, it hired a diversity and inclusion consultant to work with the museum.
RBCM declined to release the consultant’s survey findings to The Globe, but others connected to the organization shared the information with The Globe.
“There are quite a few areas that need improvement,” board chair Daniel Muzyka said in a recent interview, acknowledging the survey results were “not good.”
He said the findings will inform the work of management and human resources, as well as a newly established task force on equity, diversity, inclusion and access.
He noted that “absolutely critical” sessions around diversity and inclusion, including bystander training, continue. And that the museum is not waiting for the results of the formal Public Service Agency investigation to take action.
The museum declined to make CEO Jack Lohman available for an interview, but in an e-mail to staff before the holidays, he acknowledged the problem.
“The Royal BC Museum is a colonial organization that includes systemic racism that has meant barriers for many to participate fully in it. The organization requires rethinking from the ground up. This includes building capacity to bring Indigenous thought leadership at the highest level and a strong commitment from everyone to change practices and behaviours,” Mr. Lohman wrote in the e-mail, which called 2020 one of the most challenging years in the museum’s history.
“I know I need to take steps personally, and within our organization, that will define the character of the museum and archives of the future. I am committed to doing better.”
In a virtual meeting, a video of which was obtained by The Globe, Mr. Lohman told staff he was working on a bold plan, to be announced in January, likely on Wednesday. An all-staff meeting has been called for Wednesday. On Tuesday, staff were told of the departures of Joanne Orr, deputy CEO and vice-president of collections, research and international programs, and Erica Wheeler, head of collections care and conservation.
In an e-mailed statement to The Globe, B.C. Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Melanie Mark said she was “extremely troubled to hear that RBCM staff have raised concerns over racism and discrimination” in the survey. She said racism has no place in the province. “Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected in their workplace,” she wrote, adding she expects the museum to implement any recommendations without delay.
Ms. Mark said she would not comment further until the formal investigation has been completed.
However, some current and former museum staff have spoken out about the continuing issue.
Former deputy CEO Angela Williams, who retired in late 2018, published an opinion piece in the Victoria Times Colonist saying she had witnessed instances of racism when she worked at the museum. While she felt the specific issues raised with her were resolved, she acknowledges she could have done more at the time to ensure the impact of these resolutions were satisfactory to the parties involved.
“As a white woman who was once in a leadership role, I have an obligation to Lucy,” Ms. Williams told The Globe when asked why she wrote the piece. “I have an obligation to corroborate what she said. The terrible part is that I shouldn’t have to corroborate what she says, simply because I’m a white woman who was once in a leadership position. People should believe her because it happened.”
She said she understands that a third-party investigation takes time, but she is frustrated with the board and executive. “To have a senior staff member so defeated that she had to quit because of racist talk that was not addressed at the time when it should have been, more than five months ago now, in my view, is completely unconscionable.”
On social media, Troy Sebastian, curator with the museum’s Indigenous collection, has repeatedly called out the museum. On Twitter on Jan. 6, the day of the U.S. Capitol attack, he called on the museum and staff “to publicly denounce systemic racism and white supremacy within the institution” and he demanded action by the province.
Another museum employee, Eve Rickert, retweeted Mr. Sebastian’s comment, adding, “Colonialism and white supremacy are encoded in the DNA of the museum. It’s the air we breathe, and it can’t be transformed short of complete commitment at every level.”
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