In celebration of Pride Month, LYP Program highlights an outstanding woman leader, Jaime Martino, the Executive Director at Tapestry Opera.
Jaime is a strong advocate for the arts, social justice, and LGBTQ+ community. With extensive experience in project management, strategic partnerships, and pedagogy and performance, Jaime is able to identify and work with core issues while creating a judgment-free culture for others to bring their authentic selves to work.
In the interview below, Jaime shares her leadership journey as a queer woman, specific challenges individuals in the LGBTQ+ community face during the pandemic, and some core skills and attributes needed to be a strong leader in the arts industry.
1. Since we launched the WWL series, we have featured several women from diverse backgrounds and industries. Some of these women specifically highlighted the role that ethnic/racial identity played in their leadership story. How do you want to tell your leadership story? Is it important to highlight your identity as a queer female as part of your leadership journey? Why or why not?
I identify as a queer woman and I use she/her pronouns. It’s important for me to be identified that way as it’s part of my leadership journey. First, it’s who I am and I should be able to bring my authentic self anywhere I go. I should be proud of my life and who I am. I should be able to identify openly. It’s part of my history and what I bring to the room. Secondly, queerness and working in the queer community have taught me a lot about power and privilege. It has taught me how to engage with a community that is made up of diverse groups of people and how to center others with the greatest vulnerability by making space for them to feel safe. These are all important to me and as a leader, I try to bring them into my role outside of the queer community. As you know, there aren’t many of us in positions of leadership and we are underrepresented. Women are also underrepresented in leadership roles and culturally, at a basic level, it’s important for me to represent the queer community and be visible.
2. What suggestions do you have for leaders in creating judgement-free workplaces that allows everyone to bring their authentic selves to work?
It’s crucial to model the behavior and culture that you want to see in your workplace. Do this by holding yourself accountable, admitting your own mistakes without judgment, accepting yourself as a whole human, keeping good boundaries, and bringing your whole authentic self to work. The work culture comes from the top and it all starts with you. It’s also important for a leader to pay attention to the world. Listen to the conversations that are happening around you and know what people are talking about and why. Notice how it’s being discussed. Whether that’s racial inequity, housing crises, or anything relevant to you. Pay attention to where the conversation is going and don’t think that you understand everything. Learn about power dynamics so you can understand how they impact your workplace and pay attention to new ideas and conversations. Be engaged in your sector and what else is happening in your sector.
3. What advice would you give to those who want to be stronger allies and advocates for their LGBTQ+ colleagues?
To be a stronger ally and advocate for your LGBTQ+ colleagues, you need to first learn, read and listen to the LGBTQ+ community and what they’re saying. Follow them on social media and pay attention to how they’re responding to what’s happening in the world and the conversations they’re having amongst themselves. Get a sense of where the conversation is currently at right now. Do your own work to understand what problems the community is facing and how they believe it should be addressed. That’s important because everybody wants to learn, but it shouldn’t all happen in the moment when you’re speaking to the person you want to be a stronger ally for. Learn on your own as well.
Someone said to me recently, “Compassion is empathy plus education.” I thought that was so wise because many people are empathetic and that’s great. But also take your time to learn so you can bring that compassion and take action on your part. If you can get involved in something that creates a change, then do that. This type of allyship and advocacy needs to happen everywhere. My advice is that everyone can use the tools that are already in their hands. You’re already good at something and involved as a part of some community, so you can do that work there too. You can even call your representatives from time to time and ask them to vote for something you care about.
I would also like to address that a lot of times people don’t want to get involved because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. I can understand that and at some point, you are almost certainly going to say the wrong thing. It matters less that you get it wrong as it matters more on how you respond to it. Accept that you’re not going to get it right all the time. We all grow up swimming in this toxic soup of racism and sexism. Some things sneak in and you don’t notice it and you’re going to get it wrong sometimes. If someone does you the favor of saying, “Hey, that was kind of messed up what you just said”, you should treat it as a gift. Feel your emotions, but process them elsewhere and not with that person to make you feel better. Learn from them so that you can do better next time. This kind of work is never going to end and if you want to be a good ally or accomplice, the risk is that you’re going to mess up sometimes. That’s just part of it so accept that going in. Learn from your mistakes and don’t let them stop you from trying again.
4. We hear stories in the news about bullying, exclusion, harassment, and other struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. But we also are seeing greater acceptance and celebration of differences. What are some of the particular challenges of individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly during COVID pandemic?
In general, queer and trans people tend to on aggregate have lower and less stable incomes, and are more isolated and vulnerable to social changes, including the pandemic. Trans people are overrepresented among homeless and insecurely housed unemployed populations, and those people were very hard hit by the pandemic. Trans folks are also facing endless backlash. There are 120 bills in front of American States at the moment to deny trans folks rights. It’s happening in the UK, too. In Canada, we have been debating a bill to ban conversion therapy, which is a religious indoctrination therapy where people are trying to be converted to be straight or to be cisgender. It’s awful and dangerous as it’s correlated with really high suicide rates. 62 conservative MPs voted not to ban it, so we’re not immune here.
Trans folks are the most vulnerable in the community and when you add a racial lens to that it only gets much worse. Racial dynamics play out within the queer community the way they do in the larger society. The most vulnerable people are the most marginalized people, black trans women, indigenous queer people, and 2-spirit people. Issues of police brutality, systemic injustice, and ongoing genocide, are especially relevant to people who are also queer because they have that added layer of vulnerability.
5. The performing arts industry was struck hard by the pandemic. How did you lead your organization during such times of uncertainty and pause?
This year has been really difficult but we have such an incredible team. Everyone on the staff is compassionate, dedicated, kind, and thoughtful. We relied on one another and pulled through a lot together. My co-leader, the artistic director, and I made decisions early on that set us up for a year that we were able to plan. We decided to do a digital season and release it for free so we weren’t faced with issues such as planning for shows that we would have to cancel. Instead, we got to focus on making art which our audience responded positively to, making things feel better for us.
This year, I tried to lead in the way that I’ve always had, which is to be transparent, consultative, and decisive when it was required. Sometimes you just have to make a call, but I would explain why we were making that call before it happened. I pay attention to how my staff was feeling, how they were coping, and work with them to find solutions when they weren’t able to. We were hit hard by the pandemic, and I don’t expect everybody to work all year long, so we figured out ways to get people the time and space that they needed. I for sure did not get it right all the time, but I’ll learn some lessons from this past year that will stay with me into the future. I couldn’t be more grateful for the team that I have working around me.
6. What are some core skills and attributes that are needed for one to become a strong leader in the arts?
Humility is very important as you don’t have all the answers and you never will. You have to be able to accept when you’re wrong and that there is always more for you to learn. Curiosity is another important trait in a leader that can be cultivated. You have to be genuinely interested in people, learning, and staying involved in the conversations that are happening around you. Accountability is a great skill to have as you’re going to make mistakes, and you have to be able to own up to them. As a leader, the mistakes you make can have real consequences. To be able to say, “I messed that up and here’s how I’m going to fix it.” Or “Here’s what I’ll do in the future to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Collaboration and communication are the other core skills to become a strong leader. People need to know what’s going on and you need to be able to communicate clearly what their goals, deadlines, and expectations are. This is the thing that I’ve seen derail more relationships and projects than anything else. One person thinks of something in their head and the other person doesn’t know it. In the space between those two people is where things could go wrong and it could have been solved if people are conscious about communicating what’s going on and what others need to know.
7. How do you continue to develop and grow as a leader?
I am a mentor and I learn so much from my younger mentees. I think maintaining relationships with the generation that’s coming up behind you is incredibly meaningful. Stay deeply connected to those relationships because their struggles and approaches are different, so the conversations they’re having are very different. I also have a mentor, which is very valuable and I think that every leader should have a mentor as it’s so grounding. Having relationships in both directions makes you a better version of yourself. What you want from your mentor can make you a better mentor. It’s so valuable to be able to talk to someone about particular struggles that you’re facing that they will understand and help you figure out solutions. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being reminded that “you’ve got this” and “you don’t need to worry”. I do tons of professional development such as leadership seminars, workshops, and more. Mostly, what keeps me learning and growing is that I want to. I want to continue to learn and I care about becoming better as a mentor and leader. I read, listen and pay attention because I care. If you’re curious and engaged, you can’t help but continue to grow.
As a bold and empathetic leader, Jaime creates a safe and inclusive environment in the workplace. She emphasizes the impact of engaging with the queer community by paying attention to the conversations and challenges they face today. Thank you, Jaime, for sharing your vulnerability and insights with us.
Lastly, we hope you take note of how you can be a stronger ally and advocate with the LGBTQ+ community and continue to grow and develop as a leader within your community.
About the Author: Tina Chow
Tina Chow is a visionary changemaker, avid traveler, and passionate writer. She empowers leadership, personal growth, and career development through her creative content. Follow her blog for more of her work.