Diversity, inclusion and equity have been a topic of conversation booming through the media sector for years, but at long last initiatives intended to address racial equity have begun taking shape.
During a panel session titled “How to make your team diverse and why it matters” at the 2021 Realscreen Summit, industry executives discussed what transforming your company into a truly diverse and inclusive (D&I) organization means in a practical sense. The session was moderated by Bree L. Frank, VP of physical production for unscripted at Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, and founder and president of Hue You Know.
Ensuring your company’s efforts aren’t merely performative is crucial when it comes to D&I and businesses looking to step into the future can do so by developing real actionable goals and measuring them with real metrics, said Lisa Williams-Fauntroy, SVP of business and legal affairs at Discovery.
“Actionable goals first require looking in the mirror to see where you need to establish your goals; seeing where there are gaps,” she noted. “Especially in companies that are large, it’s important to take a moment and see where do we need to improve.”
Another place where the executive branch can establish accountability is by putting programs in place, measured by those very metrics, that allow organizations to see how they’re doing over time.
“We’ve recently launched a supplier diversity program and we’re going to look at it quarterly to see how much are we getting in terms of diverse production companies, diverse support from all kinds of vendors in the tech industry,” Williams-Fauntroy said. “Those are some of the things you can look to: transparency and accountability.”
If you ask Julie Sweets, CEO of multinational professional services company Accenture, diversity must be a priority and it’s one that begins at the top and works its way down. “It starts with the belief that diversity is not only the right thing to do, but a business imperative that is treated the same as any other strategic priority,” she said in a statement.
When Tyler Mitchell, in tandem with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, decided to spin-off Imagine Impact to launch content accelerator Impact Creative Systems, its mission was to democratize access to opportunity for media executives from across the globe.
“For writers trying to break into Hollywood, it’s incredibly difficult to break into the industry in LA, let alone anywhere else in the world,” Mitchell explained. “We designed a system that worked very hard to remove conscious and unconscious bias from the [hiring] process.
“Our belief was that if you go out and look for the most talented people in the world, they’re going to look like the world,” he continued. “We were incredibly happy with the fact that the by-product of the system we created was this incredibly diverse population of people who got into our programs.”
Mitchell then took that same model and decided to apply it to the internal hiring systems already in place at Impact Creative Systems.
“By creating and applying this system, it ended up yielding our company being majority BIPOC,” he said. “The effort was applied to how we recruit, what networks we go to and really going to exhaustive searches to ensure we’re seeing enough candidates, across different groups, before we make a decision.”
Organizations looking to make their diversity efforts a business priority should be mindful that these endeavors need to be properly funded as well, noted Williams-Fauntroy.
“A lot of times good will and volunteering is not enough. Your money has to be put where your mouth is,” the Discovery exec stated. “Most people have good will to improve the diverse environments that we want to work in, but you have to fund those things, you have to make sure that the companies know programs will not just sprout from the ground easily.”
“It doesn’t happen overnight. I think people will try things once, with one individual, and if it hasn’t worked then entire demographics are sidelined or considered to be unsuitable for their business,” warned Deborah Williams, executive director of the UK’s Creative Diversity Network.
When it comes to ensuring that programming geared towards diverse audiences is created and produced by diverse crews, it’s easier said than done.
Studios and networks alike can fall victim to underestimating the importance of real representation in front of and behind the camera; results can often miss the mark when voices that should be part of the development process simply aren’t there.
“When you look at these shows breaking out, authentic storytelling is something audiences are incredibly in tune with,” Impact’s Mitchell said. “If you don’t have authentic creatives driving those stories forward – and environments both in front of and behind the camera that really feel connected to that narrative, then I don’t think your show or narrative will be that good, honestly, because it won’t connect with audiences.”
Business leaders, he says, are meant to seek out “talented storytellers with stories that deserve to be told” in order to provide them with the resources any movie or series would receive and “trust that the audiences will respond to it.”
In the Q&A portion of the panel, a viewer asked the panelists what advice they would have in “attracting or retaining talent before they move” to either New York or Los Angeles.
Jonathan Murray, founder and executive consultant at Bunim/Murray Productions, took the helm by providing an example of how the Glendale, California-based studio managed to solve a similar problem with a helpful anecdote about an internship program launched recently by the Television Academy focused specifically on the youth of Southern California in estate and community colleges.
“One of the issues we’d identified was an economic one,” said Murray. “A lot of our interns were coming from private schools – Syracuse University or Ithaca College; they were white, middle-class kids whose parents could afford to subsidize not only their internship but their first two years in LA.
“By focusing on the local kids, and by working with them, one of the things we found in the first two years of the internship was that a lot of these young people don’t feel empowered to raise their voices, whereas others from private universities had no trouble speaking up in a meeting.
“We found a bunch of interesting aspects of how to take these local young people, bring them into the pipeline and then mentor them, and work with them so that within five years they can be our showrunners,” Murray concluded.