Frantzer Le Blanc, vice president of operations; Moody Center, Austin, Texas.
GUEST COLUMN: The Change We Wish To See
Almost three years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “Why I’m So Angry.” I wrote it to share my thoughts and emotions after watching George Floyd get murdered by Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer. I shared personal stories about some negative encounters I had with police officers. I wanted all of you, my friends, co-workers and colleagues to understand what I, as a Black man, experience in my life with the hope that you would realize that most men who look like me have at least one story of a scary encounter with police officers.
My goal was not to show rage but to inspire empathy and a conviction for us to work together to find solutions to the issues we see in our society and the diversity issue within our industry. Three years later, we still see unarmed Black men being unjustly killed by police officers and I have not seen any cultural training programs within police academies to teach officers how to view and treat the people they are serving with respect and not with fear.
However, our society has seen some changes within the last three years. There is a much quicker reaction to calling officers to justice when they unjustly kill unarmed people. Many offending officers were found guilty and imprisoned for their actions or inaction.
There have been some cultural changes. Many in our country acknowledged out loud that part of the reason we see so many minorities, specifically Black men, endure this treatment is the way we are perceived and the lack of representation within the executive leadership levels of every industry, including sports and entertainment. In response to this, countless diversity, equality and inclusion departments, jobs and initiatives have been added. In addition, industry leaders have publicly committed to creating a diverse workforce across our industry. And although these are significant and highly positive changes, we can’t allow ourselves to become complacent; we must commit to doing more.
To improve, we must continue to be intentional about diversifying the corporate and executive-level venue positions. I want to be clear that I am not advocating directly replacing every executive person with a minority hiring. Instead, I want to suggest that every job opening has a diverse applicant pool. Furthermore, I would like to suggest a challenge; if you are in an executive, team or office meeting and everyone looks the same, please understand that is a problem.
Author Trishna Damodar once said, “A good intention requires the support of a good action to translate into a positive outcome!”
Intention requires action and intentional actions must be taken to effect substantial change. When hiring for a position, if you get to the top three finalists and do not have a diverse group, let’s stop and reset the search. Challenge your company, the HR department, and yourself to uncover any unconscious biases that may have limited your ability to attract or dismiss minority candidates during your initial search. Ask your colleagues for advice or suggestions for people who could qualify for your open position. Reach out to your company business resource groups for candidates for your position. Develop a peer group that can identify minorities who deserve and are looking for new career challenges. Then, continue with your search with the added applicants.
I understand that this will be difficult and that I am asking for you to make your jobs harder, but ultimately, making sure the applicant pool is diverse for every open position is the right thing to do. Often, the right thing to do is rarely the easy thing to do. Avoid doing what is easy and commit to doing what is right. Even if you end up hiring a person who is not a minority for your open positions, the effort you put into the search will bear fruit. Before you know it, your company, venue and department will become a diverse workforce.
Ultimately, we want to hire the right person for the job, we just need to make sure the applicant pool is a diverse group, so everyone has a chance to be the right person.
We need to commit to building a home grassroots base. (French playwright and philosopher) Gabriel Marcel said, “On a grassroots level, we say that a man can touch more than he can grasp.” One of the people in this industry I look up to is Joyce Leveston, who serves as senior vice president of convention centers for OVG360. Leveston is a well-respected influential leader and looks to help everyone who is lucky enough to meet her. She has mentored and created opportunities for so many minorities throughout our industry. I aspire to have the same impact in my career that Joyce continues to have in our industry.
One of the programs Leveston created while she worked with Events DC was the internship program with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In this program, they would hire interns from the local HBCU schools, creating a partnership with each school to provide life experiences for their students. These interns were able to learn from the staff, create connections and develop relationships to help guide them in the beginning stages of their careers.
On the other side, Events DC created a bank of trained, qualified minority candidates to fill open entry-level positions. You may not have HBCUs near your company or venue. Still, you can commit to developing a diversity internship for each semester for your venue or department, creating a diverse candidate pool and ensuring you are creating opportunities to teach, inspire and mentor. As a result, you can draw from it when the time comes to fill a position.
“Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin.
The last way I believe we can create diversity in our industry is through mentorship. An old African proverb says, “Each one, reach one; each one, teach one. Until we are all taught.” This proverb spoke to the dedication of the enslaved Africans in America to educate each other.
If one learned how to read and write, then it was their responsibility to spread that knowledge to the next person until it was passed to everyone. Likewise, it is the personal responsibility of those with the knowledge and skills to impact the lives of others who need to learn from them.
Commit to being a mentor and specifically a mentor to a person who is a woman or minority. I am not advocating to not mentor non-minority people; instead, I am asking you to commit to also mentoring a minority as well. CEOs, CFOs and COOs should mentor a level below them. GMs, SVPs, and VPs should mentor a level below them. Directors and senior managers should mentor a level below them and so on. Share your knowledge and help your mentee prepare for the next level in their career and professional development. Be vulnerable enough to share the good and bad lessons you experience throughout your career. Guide them through their mistakes and be a positive figure they can count on when they need advice.
Help develop them into the future leaders of our industry. The great thing about mentorship is that even as a mentor, you get a lot out of the relationship. For the mentor, you are actively expanding your circle. When it’s time to look for the next executive, you have a diverse list of people ready for the opportunity.
Will this work every time? No, but not all hires work anyway, and what other option do we have? So, let’s try something new, learn from our mistakes and create the most diverse industry.
It is essential to take a step back and look at successful stories to help inspire us to stay on the path. There are many success stories and examples of commitment to diversity and its impact all over our industry and here are a couple that are personal to me.
Seven of the nine senior leadership positions belonging to women are individuals from a minority group for Events D.C.
The Moody Center, where I am lucky to work, is one of the most diverse workplaces, with 67% of full-time employees being either female or from a minority group. Furthermore, 60% of the senior leadership staff is either female or someone from a minority group. Since the Moody Center opened, it has been one of the world’s busiest and has been nominated for best new venue and venue of the year.
William Wilson, who was one of my interns when we opened the Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena five years ago, has taken on more responsibilities over the last three years, was promoted to director of events and was recently promoted to assistant general manager at the same arena.
At UBS Arena, while developing the arena operations staff when he was assistant general manager, Michael Sciortino, the building’s GM, was intentional about hiring a diverse leadership group. As a result, when the building opened, all three vice presidents in arena operations were minorities. That commitment to a diverse workforce was translated throughout the entire staff. The most impressive part about those hires was all three of us were directors before moving to UBS Arena. Sciortino could have just hired people who had those titles already from other buildings, but he took chances, giving us the opportunities, and UBS Arena, when it opened, was and still is one of the best-run buildings in the country.
One of the things I am most proud of during my two years at UBS Arena is the development of Mike Huie. We hired him to work as a production runner and now he’s an event manager overseeing all New York Islanders games. This is due to the commitment the event services staff put into developing Huie’s skills and the commitment he made to make sure he was ready for the opportunity when it came.
One of my favorite quotes from Gandhi is, “Be the change you wish to see in this world.”
I love this quote because it absolves us from only complaining. If you see something that needs to change, take action yourself. We may not be able to control everything in this world, but we can change our industry.
Let’s commit to being the change we wish to see.
(Editor’s note: Oak View Group is parent company to VenuesNow)