Over the past 21 months, Americans have been demanding changes in everything from policing, to corporate hiring practices, to the stories being told on screen. That racial awakening took on new urgency following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020.
During a panel discussion at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit 2021, entertainment industry insiders discussed how Hollywood is adapting to calls for change.
“We are starting to see teeth being put into the assessment of diversity composition for boards and for other organizations, that’s making it far more transparent,” said Daisy Auger-Dominguez, chief people officer at Vice Media. “I’m also optimistic about the inclusion standards that studios like Disney and others have put in place.”
Disney has a series of programs to amplify underrepresented voices. In May, Lionsgate’s Starz unveiled its #TakeTheLead initiative to develop more content for and about women and underrepresented audiences. And just this week, WarnerMedia Access launched a program to offer training to marginalized performers, particularly people with disabilities, actors of Middle East and North African descent (MENA), and trans communities.
While these programs make headlines, do they really make a difference?
“I was listening to Daisy and she mentioned Disney, and I’m actually on a commission there. They put a sizable investment, not only from the standpoint of their employees and workplace, but also their content,” said Gil Robertson, president and co-founder of the African American Film Critics Association.
“They’ve reached out to organizations that just about represent every possible configuration of a human being imaginable to be an active part of that discussion,” Robertson added about Disney. “I mean, people are moving in the right direction… Are we going to see something tomorrow? Not likely, but will we get there eventually? I certainly hope so.”
Malia Arrington, executive director of the Hollywood Commission, said change can start with the hiring process.
“Hollywood has had a tradition and a history of hiring people that you know, right? So you hire people who look like you. You hire people you’ve worked with before,” she said, before challenging industry insiders to look for new ways to find more diverse job candidates.
“We really have to start thinking about our pipelines far more differently and reevaluate the qualifications that we have had in place to see whether they really are in fact, a qualification for the job that we are seeking people to do. Because in many cases, they’re just sort of holdovers about where we wanted somebody to go to school and not something that is truly required in order to do the job,” Arrington said.
Ivy Kagan Bierman, chair of entertainment labor at Loeb & Loeb LLP agreed.
“You can bring all kinds of people into your workplace, but if it is not an inclusive workplace, you’ve only done half the work and if the people that you’ve brought into your workplace are not going to feel comfortable, you’re probably not going to be able to retain them,” she said.
Bierman admitted even her firm has been forced to adapt to change.
“We had a major client of our firm, as many are now doing, wanting to know who is on the team for some major litigation. And the attorney who was in charge of that litigation really took to heart that he needed to build a very diverse team,” she recalled. “And he built a diverse team of over 20 people and it did entail hiring some new people. And so once he did that, I think it really dispelled this idea that they’re not out there, you can’t find them.”
Auger-Dominguez noted Vice Media has been rethinking some of its corporate practices.
“I joined [Vice] in May of 2020, on May 11th, two weeks before George Floyd was murdered,” she said. “And so, we have spent the last year and a half really deeply listening to our employees, because while listening alone is not going to solve it, it’s really critical to empower employee voices in the work that we do. And so, we’ve done what every company has done from a people process in terms of recruitment, retention, development, promotion, all of those standard processes.”
Robertson reminded the panel diversity can bring rewards.
“We live in the world and the world is made up of many wonderful, different people. And so those voices from a business standpoint should be reflected,” he said. “And by understanding them, you can market appropriately to them, you can message appropriately to them. And thus, that has an impact on your bottom line.”
You can watch the full conversation on diversity and inclusion here.
The Power Women Summit is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The event aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s PWS provided three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe – to promote this year’s theme, “Represent.”