The Realscreen Summit kicked off its first day of its inaugural virtual edition with two sessions exploring the current state of affairs for the non-fiction production industry, and ways to create a more diverse business across sectors.
The latter was the focus of a panel called “Diversity and Inclusion: Tools and Resources for Reaching your Goals”. Moderating was NPACT interim general manager Michelle VanKempen, who is also the founder and executive director of Women in Nonfiction (WiN), a national organization that advocates for and supports the career advancement of women in the non-fiction entertainment business.
The panelists came from a variety of diversity advocacy groups and included Liliana Espinoza, project director, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP); Ri-Karlo Handy, founder and CEO, the Handy Foundation, whose mission is to create opportunity, increase diversity & inclusion within the entertainment industry, and provide the foundational tools necessary in order to make that happen; Stacy Milner, founder and CEO, Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program, a non-profit educational arts workforce development program dedicated to educating, training and recruiting students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); and Daniel Rosenberg, VP business development & strategic alliances for Staff Me Up, a staffing network for film, TV and digital, media and entertainment.
The topic was a timely one given that many companies in the unscripted and non-fiction content industry are looking at making diversity, equity and inclusion more of a focal point within their business strategies. But how does a company begin?
“It has to be intentional and a holistic approach,” said Milner. “Employers need to ask themselves, ‘What does our recruitment look like? What do our job postings look like?’”
She pointed out that often there are barriers for young recruits who come from low-income neighborhoods and who don’t live in Los Angeles or other major centers and can’t afford to move for summer internships. Her organization not only vets candidates from an average of 2.000 applications per year, but it also pays for the housing for the kids. “We create a community by housing them together so when they go home at night they are surrounded by other people who look like them and they can discuss the day’s events,” she adds. “We have a 90% conversation rate from intern to hire. [The interns] build their cohort, their tribe, we just create the space.”
All of the panelists agreed that in order to retain diverse hires, companies and employers and mentors need to build a sense of community within an organization through inviting new hires to networking events, asking to hear their point of view — anything to make people comfortable to share.
For his part, Handy divided the industry into three different buckets: corporate, below the line and producer/showrunner. In all three areas, Handy said companies and employers should look to the next generation and build from there. “You don’t go looking for surgeons, you look for residents to turn into surgeons,” he said. “Crossover experience turns up film school grads with indie projects, but if you just look at their resume you’d never see them. This is how to increase creativity and innovation, not be a cookie cutter.”
“Investing early in talent is key. Companies are often asking for editors and showrunners without investing in initial stages of that talent,” agreed Espinoza. “We pride ourselves in recognizing the potential in people. We’re doing the measuring of what their potential could be. That’s crucial.”
Milner also suggested that employers take a hard look at the criteria they’ve putting down for entry level work, which can eliminate diverse candidates. Instead, companies who want to be inclusive need to consider where potential hires are coming from and be inclusive in hiring practices and recognize other experiences.
Another strategy to become more inclusive in hiring is when you begin the process. “People need to start to think about making changes in their hiring practices earlier on in production,” added Rosenberg. “Often we’re seeing people who have most of their crew but are scrambling for the last five people.”
Once candidates are brought into a company, there still needs to be an environment provided in which they can thrive. Given that many smaller companies might not have a human resources department to address any complaints, VanKempen said NPACT is creating an online hotline as an anonymous place for people to share any issues at work. Following these calls, VanKempen said the organization would then go to the company’s leadership to tell them the situation.
Panelists agreed on a key takeaway from the session — companies should look to partner with organizations that have done the legwork and are ready to help employers and mentors find candidates, establish and reach diversity goals and retain these hires. “Don’t do it alone. Hire someone that is a consultant, they can build a roadmap for the next one to two years and put together metrics for you,” Rosenberg said. “There are a lot out there who can help you out.”
These organizations and consultants can help companies establish baselines and attrition rates, look at pay equity and other areas of concern. Throughout, transparency needs to come from the top.
The Realscreen Summit continues until February 4.