Diversity, equity and inclusion are now, at long last, being recognized as necessary elements for the foundation of any company. In the entertainment industry, particularly, a long-overdue push is underway to ensure that content created and staffing within the organization — and within its suppliers — reflects the audiences watching.
Still, for many organizations it can be a daunting task to dismantle systems and processes that inhibit these efforts. A session held during Digital MIPTV, billed as a “Tribune for Heads of Diversity and Inclusion,” brought together five executives tasked with helping their companies navigate the territory: Latasha Gillespie, head of global diversity, equity and inclusion for Amazon Studios (second from top left); Karen Gray, executive vice president of human resources for A+E Networks (third from top left); Christy Haubegger, EVP, chief enterprise inclusion officer, WarnerMedia (bottom left); Ade Rawcliffe, group director of diversity and inclusion, ITV (second from bottom left, home page thumbnail) and Miranda Wayland, head of creative diversity, BBC (third from bottom left). With Scott Roxborough (top left) from the Hollywood Reporter serving as moderator, the five executives offered practical pointers on how to, in Gillespie’s words, “push past good intentions and put structures in place to make sure that it happens.” Here are five key takeaways from the discussion.
Change needs to be systemic
“This industry has seen a lot of what I would call ‘random acts of diversity,’” said WarnerMedia’s Haubegger, pointing to efforts made in casting, hiring and creation of executive roles dedicated to DEI. “But what I’m most proud of is [that we are] beginning to build systems and processes. If you want to win once, set a goal. If you want to always win, create a system.
“Look at your process,” she added. “What is the pipeline to get talent? I think it’s important to disrupt the systems and processes that are inherently inequitable.”
“You need to figure out what speed bumps you need to put in to disrupt those patterns,” added Gillespie. “For example, if you are not getting people through the interview stage, then you need to ask yourself, what do the interview loops look like? Who are the internal people you’re putting on that interview loop? I have a rule that you shouldn’t have a homogenous interview loop. So all of your interviewers should never be the same race, never be the same gender, and they shouldn’t even be the same function. Otherwise, you’re only going to get groupthink.”
Change takes time
“You can’t change what you don’t measure,” said ITV’s Rawcliffe. “Some solutions will be shorter and will be things you can change quite quickly, some things can be changed medium-term, and some things can be long-term.” Haubegger said that disrupting systems that have been well entrenched for years, decades or even longer won’t happen overnight, as the examination of the policies in place needs to be thorough. “It takes some time to do those kinds of forensics.”
There’s help if you need it
All of the panelists pointed towards efforts their companies are undertaking to create more diverse and inclusive companies and content. Those efforts have included myriad initiatives and establishing DEI-focused departments designed to create the necessary new systems discussed. But not all companies share the same resources — financial, staffing or otherwise — and some may find it more difficult to undertake the necessary steps.
That can be where third party companies such as Staff Me Up, Hue You Know and scores of others can be of service. “If you’re at that spot, getting someone else to come in with clear eyes will be incredibly important,” offered A+E’s Gray. She also stressed the importance of outreach. “When I go to someone from a diverse group and ask them if they know someone, they can give me seven people.”
Be proactive at every step
From the recruiting process to retaining staff and ensuring that the diverse candidates you bring into your company culture feel included, seen and heard, being proactive at every stage is key. The BBC’s Miranda Wayland emphasized the importance of “spending the time to make sure [job] appointments are as open and visible to as many people as possible.” She offered the example of what the BBC calls a “gender decoder” for job postings — a process through which each posting is examined to ensure that it doesn’t contain language that could act as a barrier to potential women applicants. Gillespie also stressed the value in knowing what you’re looking for in terms of addressing inequities in representation. “Be specific,” she said. “Know where your gaps are.”
Wayland also cited the need to look at candidates as multifaceted individuals and not as boxes to tick off. She said that in past years, when companies made concerted efforts to promote women, she noticed more women of “a certain demographic” advancing. “Whenever we look to course correct… it shouldn’t be an ‘either/or,’” she said. “It should always be an ‘and.’”
Build an inclusive culture
The panelists all agreed that while progress is being made in corporate DEI efforts, there is still substantial movement that needs to occur to create truly inclusive environments. That means moving beyond tokenism. Gray remarked that when looking at other companies’ executive rosters, if she sees only one person of color represented, often in a DEI-related role, “That’s a sign and I’m going to look somewhere else.”
“One’s a token, two’s a minority and three’s a good start,” offered Haubegger. “Nobody wants to be the ‘lonely only.’ It takes some meaningful effort to get past that barrier.”
Other panelists sounded the importance of ensuring that the diverse candidates you do bring in are entrusted to make an impact upon the company. “You cannot have diverse representation without agency,” said Gillespie. “You have to give people agency to make decisions.”
And building an inclusive culture comes from the top down — meaning, management needs to be able to manage and celebrate difference. “When we want to have a true representation of our audience [internally] then we should allow people to bring that to work and to be their authentic selves,” said Rawcliffe. “I think some leaders aren’t as experienced at managing difference… We talk about microaggressions but there are also microaffirmations — all of these ways that we can include people.
“Sitting there and waiting for it all to come to us will not bring the change we need to see.”