Harvey Weinstein Is Gone, but Hollywood Is Still a Man’s World

Weinstein

The entertainment industry has undergone a tectonic shift in the past two years, but many of the most powerful people remain the same.

LOS ANGELES — In Hollywood, director jobs are no longer automatically filled by white men. Television writers’ rooms have made diversity and inclusion top priorities. Human resources departments at major media corporations are more responsive when complaints are filed. Intimacy coordinators, who introduce physical consent considerations into the artistic process, are now normal on productions featuring sexual content.

It has been nearly two and a half years since the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein burst into public view, and much is different in Hollywood.

But the entertainment industry has been doing things a certain way for decades, and not every aspect of it has been quick to change. Even as Mr. Weinstein was found guilty on Monday of two felony sex crimes, Hollywood largely remains a man’s world.

Take the Oscars, moviedom’s ultimate show of power and prestige. For the ninth time in 10 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did not nominate a woman for best director in 2020. Only one of the 20 acting nominations went to a person of color. And with the exception of “Parasite” and “Little Women,” the majority of the films honored by the Academy — “The Irishman,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “Joker” — were portraits of white men directed by prominent white auteurs.

“I hear people saying a lot of things they hadn’t said before: that inclusion matters, that they understand the need for representation, that they believe in diverse people and perspectives being centered,” the writer and director Ava DuVernay said. “But saying it and doing it aren’t parallel tracks.”

One group of high-powered women in town maintains a running list of the white men who keep rising up the executive ladder while the women stay at least one step below. Jennifer Salke, for instance, became the head of Amazon Studios in 2018 after her predecessor, Roy Price, was accused of sexual harassment. But the former Sony executive Mike Hopkins was brought in last month to oversee Amazon’s video entertainment business. Ms. Salke reports to him and he reports to Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder.

 

Jennifer Salke became head of Amazon Studios in 2018, but now reports to the new director of Amazon’s video entertainment business, Mike Hopkins.
Credit…Rozette Rago for The New York Times

It is unlikely that accused harassers like Brett Ratner, James Toback, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer will return to the public eye anytime soon. (Those men, and Mr. Weinstein, have denied any allegations of nonconsensual sex.)

But many in town remain frustrated by those who were accused of improprieties — or who worked closely with those who were — and have been allowed to return to work. Case in point: John Lasseter, who was removed from his position as the creative chief of Pixar after acknowledging misbehavior in 2018, landed a top job at Skydance Animation last year. The former Weinstein Company partners David Glasser and Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s brother, have each formed new production companies. Mr. Glasser raised some $300 million in financing from partners such as Ron Burkle, and has become a fixture on the festival circuit.

“No matter how much things are shifting in the right direction, when you get to the top of these media companies, you will usually find a white dude,” said Nina Jacobson, a veteran producer and the former president of Disney’s Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group. “The power behind the power is still white and male, and in terms of truly passing the torch in corporate life, the torch has not yet been passed.”

On the whole, Hollywood has become a more inclusive place. It has been helped by the rise of streaming services, which have a seemingly insatiable need for more content that appeals to new and diverse audiences. Women and people of color have been finding their voices through organizations like Time’s Up and ReFrame, which have transformed the issues of gender and racial equality from tired buzzwords into vital, concrete paths to addressing the imbalanced power structures that some blame for allowing abusers like Mr. Weinstein to flourish.

“I think that the very small group of people that are waiting for things to even out and go back to the status quo need to realize that’s never going to happen,” said Nina Shaw, an entertainment lawyer and a co-founder of Time’s Up. “But we also need to figure out a way forward.”

Last summer, as the showrunner Melissa Rosenberg began developing a pilot for HBO Max based on the prequel to the 1998 film “Practical Magic,” she noticed stark changes in corporate attitudes.

 

Mr. Weinstein’s brother, Bob, has formed a new production company.
Credit…David Walter Banks for The New York Times

So has David Glasser, a former Weinstein Company partner.

Credit…David Walter Banks for The New York Times

“There were very specific intentions from the studio and the network to have diverse voices in the room,” said Ms. Rosenberg, who created the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” and was an executive producer for “Dexter.” She added that she had been told, “You will not have a room without people of color and diversity of gender and sexual orientation.”

“That was a big change,” Ms. Rosenberg said. “When I was coming up it would be sufficient to have one woman in the room — to represent the female voice — and she was often the lowest-paid writer, too.”

Today’s issue in television is one of supply. Rarely are episodic series staffed with an all-male director slate, unless the show’s creator opts to direct each episode. More frequently, women are landing directing gigs.

With so many shows being produced, there aren’t enough women to fill the demand. “The problem now is a pipeline problem,” Ms. Shaw said.

Mark Gill, who was president of Miramax Los Angeles when Harvey Weinstein ran the company, was the only man to speak out in the New York Times article in 2017 that first chronicled Mr. Weinstein’s abuse. He said then that the company “was a mess” but that Mr. Weinstein’s treatment of women “was the biggest mess of all,” a quote that drew the ire of his male colleagues when it was published.

“I got a ton of blowback,” Mr. Gill said in a recent interview. “It was sort of a violation of the code. Several people actually said to me, ‘You’ve just blown your career.’”

Mr. Gill has since started a production company with $400 million in financing and a staff that is divided equally between genders. “Of course, it turned out to be the exact opposite,” he said of the warnings he received. “It turned out to be a recruiting advantage.”

Credit…Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

Hollywood has marked its intention to adapt with the formation of support organizations. These include Time’s Up, the celebrity-fueled group that in addition to condemning sexual harassment has formed a legal-defense fund to help connect women of various industries to lawyers, and ReFrame, an organization run by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute with the goal of achieving gender parity in the entertainment industry. Women in Film also started an independent help line for anyone who has been harassed or abused to call to be connected with pro bono lawyers or therapists.

“Women have less trepidation about helping each other, networking with each other, being vulnerable with each other,” said the producer Amy Baer, the board president of Women in Film. “I think this is a direct result of #MeToo and women realizing that there’s strength in numbers and in having each other’s backs, much the way the boys’ network has worked for decades.”

The SAG-AFTRA actors’ union has turned the job of intimacy coordinator, a profession that began on theater stages, into a cottage industry inside Hollywood. And it has developed a set of guidelines and protocols for how the coordinators are integrated into sets.

“It’s been an interesting process,” said the actress Gabrielle Carteris, who is president of the union. She worked closely with actors, directors, writers and the coordinators over the past two years to determine the protocol that was released in January.

“When you think about the Harvey period from a few years ago, people felt like they had no control,” Ms. Carteris said. “There was no structure. Now people are saying: ‘I can do this work. This is amazing.’ I think this moment is a step towards cultural change.”

Still, systemic transformation is slow. According to a 2019 study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 17 percent of executive positions in major media companies were held by women, with only four of the women coming from underrepresented groups. Producing stats are equally dismal, with just 18 percent of producers on films between 2016 and 2018 being women. (Only 11 percent of all producers came from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups.) While “Captain Marvel,” “Harley Quinn,” “Wonder Woman” and other female-centered blockbusters have come to the screen with female directors at the helm, most theatrical blockbusters based on well-worn intellectual property — the bread and butter of today’s movie business — still belong to the men.

 

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When Melissa Rosenberg was developing a pilot for HBO Max last year, the corporate desire for more diversity was clear, she said.
Credit…Julian Berman for The New York Times

“Inside, deep inside, I’m not seeing wheels turn beyond surface statements,” Ms. DuVernay said. “I think Time’s Up is effective and still pushing hard. But without a real threat or adverse impact, systems don’t change overnight. As I’m experiencing it now, I’d say it’s at 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Which is significant, seeing it was at a negative 20 before.”

The biggest misconception about diversity and inclusion at work, according to a leader at the No. 1-ranked employer for diversity

Judith Williams

Judith Williams is leading the way in a new era of diversity and inclusion.

After years of trailblazing efforts for diversity and inclusion, often shortened to D&I, at tech giants including Google and Dropbox, Williams joined enterprise software company SAP as head of people sustainability and chief D&I officer in 2018.

SAP, which has been acknowledged for its efforts to recruit and promote a diverse workforce, was recently named by Forbes as the best employer for diversity in 2020.

For Williams, the recognition comes at a critical time when the tide is turning in the world of D&I. First, there was a need for access to data in order to show a lack of diverse representation in the work force, particularly in the tech industry.

“When I think about starting at Google, a lot of what we were doing was getting the attention of leaders,” Williams tells CNBC Make It about her time as Google’s global D&I program manager from 2011 to 2015. “We used to have to say to leaders, ‘Hey, can we show you diversity data? Can we have a conversation about what’s going on in the organization and outside Google?’

“Now, we find the conversation has gone beyond that,” Williams says. “If you’re not considering some questions about diversity and inclusion in your organization, some folks on your team will ask about it, the marketers will ask about it, the analysts will ask about it. It’s become a different kind of conversation.”

The turning point in diversity and inclusion

Today, the conversation is less about proving that lack of representation at work is a concern — more often, the public is holding companies accountable for remedying it.

For example, a 2018 study by the National Urban League found that fewer than 3% of tech workers identify as black at companies such as Uber, Twitter, Google and Facebook. Meanwhile, a majority of today’s young workers say they place great importance on gender and ethnic diversity when considering a potential employer, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Millennial Survey.

Williams’s work involves shifting that conversation from awareness to action. Action doesn’t necessarily mean more programming, however.

“We often get fixated on: Are you launching an unconscious bias training? Are you launching a mentorship program? Are there employee network groups having events celebrating Black History Month?” Williams says. “And all that stuff brings the attention of workers. But once you have that attention, it’s the hard work of having to change culture.”

Changing the culture at a company with 100,330 global employees, just a quarter of whom are based in North America, is no easy feat. For Williams’s part, she tackles the issue like any business problem. And like in other parts of her job, it starts and ends with data. The numbers inform her strategy, set expectations, establish accountability and, ultimately, measure results.

“At the end of the day, I know having a more diverse and inclusive workforce is going to lead to some financial outcomes. So you want to be consistently driving toward those outcomes. Focus on outcomes, not activity,” Williams says.

What an outcomes-based strategy looks like

Williams admits that when joined SAP, the culture was still very much focused on programming. It’s been her job for the last year and a half to shift that conversation to an outcomes-based strategy. That goes for every stage of the talent pipeline, from recruiting to rewarding and promoting.

For example, SAP’s Project Propel is a partnership where the company teaches its software to undergraduate and MBA students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, who can use these learned skills to leverage career opportunities with the company or one of its partners after graduation.

Women hold roughly 26% of management positions at SAP, and the company aims to reach 30% by 2022. To get there, the company is using data to determine where workers, especially women, might be experiencing progression gaps and career stalls. More transparent discussions between workers and leaders can help under-recognized top performers advance more quickly. Ultimately, SAP hopes to achieve the same promotion ratio for men and women.

Williams is especially proud of the work she’s done with SAP’s Autism at Work program, which launched in 2013 and aims to recruit and train workers on the autism spectrum.

About half of professionals who take part in SAP’s six-week pre-employment training program end up with with a paid position at the company. In 2019, the program made the most number of hires from the program in a single year, bringing SAP’s global workforce of employees with autism to more than 175 workers.

“How we think about our Autism at Work program is that there isn’t any specific job that people who come into the program are expected to take on,” Williams says, “but we remove the barrier so they can show their true capabilities to shine in any job.”

Harnessing data to change the world

Williams isn’t daunted by the magnitude of the problems she’s trying to solve. If anything, she’s looking to scale her work beyond the thousands of employees she’s already impacted.

“I want to change the world,” she says. “The reason why I’m interested in diversity and inclusion isn’t because I’m passionate about diversity, but because I’m passionate about fairness and equity and thinking, ‘How can we make the world more fair? What are the ways we can drive that?’

“If we can solve these challenges internally,” Williams adds, “how can we share that with our partners and customers and solve the problems not only within our organization, but for the larger world?”

Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician And An Inspiration For ‘Hidden Figures,’ Dies

katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who was one of NASA’s human “computers” and an unsung hero of the space agency’s early days, died Monday. She calculated the flight path for America’s first space mission and the first moon landing, and she was among the women profiled in the book and movie Hidden Figures. She was 101.

Her death was announced by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“The NASA family will never forget Katherine Johnson’s courage and the milestones we could not have reached without her,” Bridenstine wrote on Twitter. “Her story and her grace continue to inspire the world.”

Johnson was born in West Virginia in 1918. As a young girl, she was fascinated by numbers and it was clear early on she was gifted. She graduated from high school at 14 and finished college with degrees in math and French from historically black West Virginia State College. She initially became a teacher but, in 1953, took a job at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics — the agency that would become NASA. “Everybody there was doing research,” she recalled in later years, “You had a mission and you worked on it.”

She was one of a handful of African American women hired to do computing in the guidance and navigation department at Langley’s Research Center in Virginia. The women battled both racism and sexism. As Johnson told public television station WHRO in 2011, none of it held her back: “I just happened to be working with guys and when they had briefings, I asked permission to go. And they said, ‘Well, the girls don’t usually go.’ and I said, ‘Well, is there a law?’ They said, ‘No.’ So then my boss said, ‘Let her go.’ ”

And she never stopped going, using her extraordinary computing skills to move up the NASA chain. She hand-computed the trajectory of the first manned launch and continued to be important to the astronauts.

Johnson at her desk at NASA Langley Research Center with a globe, or “Celestial Training Device.”

NASA

Before John Glenn flew Friendship 7 in 1962, becoming the first American to orbit Earth, he asked Johnson to double-check the math of the “new electronic” computations. “But when he got ready to go, he said, ‘Call her. And if she says the computer is right, I’ll take it,’ ” she recalled.

Margot Lee Shetterly wrote the book Hidden Figures and said that Glenn considered Johnson’s calculations part of his preflight checklist. “So the astronaut who became a hero looked to this black woman in the still-segregated South at the time as one of the key parts of making sure his mission would be a success,” she told NPR in 2016.

Johnson’s accomplishments continued to be highlighted later in life. She got a standing ovation at the Academy Awards in 2017 and NASA named the Computational Research Facility in her honor.

A filmmaker of color’s secret weapon at Sundance? Diversity lounges

sundance diversity

This year’s Sundance was the blackest in the festival’s 35-year history. Or at least that’s what it felt like, according to countless movie lovers who descended on Park City for the annual gathering of indie film.

The festival had more than 55 movies programmed that were written, directed or led by black talent, including Eugene Ashe’s period romance “Sylvie’s Love” with Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha, Justin Simien’s ’80s horror throwback “Bad Hair” and Janicza Bravo’s “Zola” with a breakout Taylour Paige — almost guaranteeing that Brickson Diamond wouldn’t experience what he had his first few times at Sundance.

“There was a time where if you saw a black person, you stopped them and you wouldn’t let them go,” recalled the cofounder and board chair of the Blackhouse Foundation. “You’d say, ‘Hey, good to see you. What are we doing tonight? I’m not going to let you out of my sight because I’ll never see you again.’”

There weren’t a lot of black people on the mountain, so when they saw each other, looking like a fly in buttermilk, they stuck together. “Now you can give the polite [head] nod when you pass by because you know there will be eight more black people to come,” Diamond added.

Part of the credit for his anecdotal observation goes to the fest’s film slate, which has increasingly made room for more pictures by and about people of color. A nod, however, must also be given to the countless lounges, lodges and houses launched over the years to provide safe spaces for creatives to commune, including the Blackhouse and Macro Lodge. As havens for Sundance’s communities of color, their continued presence is just one answer to ongoing calls for industry inclusion.

Their prototype during the festival was the now-defunct Queer Lounge. Founded by former film executive Ellen Huang, the Queer Lounge launched in the early 2000s as a hospitality and event space for LGBTQ+ people attending the fest. While anyone of any sexual orientation or gender identity was welcome, it uplifted the queer films playing in the festival and provided a gathering place for folks to network, access Wi-Fi and recharge before venturing back out into the snowy Sundance streets.

Diamond found himself in the Queer Lounge during Sundance 2006, along with Ryan Tarpley, the former chief diversity officer at CAA, and the two were approached by noted producer Carol Ann Shine, who has worked on a number of black LGBTQ+ television shows and films, including Patrik-Ian Polk’s “Punks” and “Noah’s Arc.”

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“She was like, ‘We should do this Queer Lounge for black people,’” Diamond said. That September, the trio cofounded the Blackhouse Foundation as a way to address their frustration at seeing so few people of color reflected in the attendance and on the films selected for the festival. That first year, in 2007, as an official partner of the Sundance Institute, they hosted a series of panels, round-table discussions and networking events, with their first big party being for Our Stories Film, the studio founded by BET cofounder Bob Johnson and headed by Tracey Edmonds.

Sylvie’s Love

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha in “Sylvie’s Love,” one of the black-led 55 titles at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
(Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“There was a line around the block,” Diamond said. “We had Eddie Murphy, who was fresh off his Oscar nomination for ‘Dreamgirls.’ Nelly showed up with his tour bus in Park City asking where he could park it. ‘Diddy’ [Sean Combs] came in after him. Three 6 Mafia was there, and they had won their Oscar for ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp’ the year before. Timothy Hutton was there somehow…

“Just this notion of putting out the call and saying, ‘We’re going to create a space’ — [Sundance] was instantly transformed.”

Suddenly, there was not only a hub for all things black at the festival but also a place that over the years has come to assist black creatives with submitting their movies to Sundance, navigating filmmaker labs and learning the financing side of the business, among other skills.

In the 13 years since the Blackhouse has had a presence at the festival — they took off 2009, Diamond said, because of the recession and because “everybody black was in D.C.” for the inauguration of President Obama — a number of other safe spaces for festival attendees of color have sprouted up, perhaps most notably the Macro Lodge.

Sundance 2017

Director Anthony Hemingway, left, producer John Legend, actors Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge, and writer Misha Green speak at WGN America’s “Underground” panel at the Blackhouse Foundation in 2017.
(Gustavo Caballero / Getty Images for WGN AMERICA)

Spearheaded by Charles D. King’s production company of the same name, which celebrated its launch at the Blackhouse at the festival five years ago, the Macro Lodge has become one of the hottest tickets of Sundance for anyone of color. According to Stacey Walker King, the company’s chief brand officer (and King’s wife), the idea grew out of both their mission to be an authoritative media brand representing the voices and perspectives of people of color and wanting a place to grab coffee in between films at the fest.

“I wanted it to be a place where you could come and do all of the things: charge your phone, get warm, meet up with someone you didn’t even know was here,” she said. “I wanted people to be able to have those serendipitous moments [and be a] place for POC creatives, executives, festivalgoers to have that moment on this mountain.”

This year, the Macro Lodge’s third, the company’s fifth anniversary was celebrated with panel discussions, conversations and other events featuring Thompson, Simien, Lena Waithe, Issa Rae, America Ferrera, Daniel Dae Kim, Kenya Barris, Dee Rees, Stella Meghie, the Sundance Institute’s Bird Runningwater and Matthew A. Cherry, director of the Oscar-nominated animated short “Hair Love,” among others — many of which were livestreamed for social media audiences and those who couldn’t make it inside the Lodge because of capacity restrictions.

While the Blackhouse and the Macro Lodge are evidence enough of a diversity sea change at Sundance, so too are other pop-ups catering to marginalized groups. This year marked the first that the LatinX House, created by activist Mónica Ramírez, producer Olga Segura and writer Alex Martinez Kondracke, had a presence at Sundance.

It was also the first time that Outfest, Los Angeles’ leading LGBTQ film festival, sponsored a day-long Outfest House uplifitng queer and trans filmmakers. For the 16th year, the Asian Pacific Filmmakers Experience took place, highlighting Asian Pacific American and Asian international artists.

“What I see that’s different [than when I first started coming to Sundance] is that there’s enough of us here that we can have a packed out panel in our space and I’m able to dip out to Blackhouse and he’s got a packed out room,” Stacey Walker King said. “And then I can pop over to the Latinx House and they’ve got a packed out room too. So I think just sheer numbers have exponentially increased.”

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Cynthia Erivo’s “Harriet” performance made her the sole actor of color nominated for an acting Oscar in 2020.
(Glen Wilson / Focus Features)

Diamond’s eyes remain on the broader industry experience for folks of color. It’s a necessary focus on the heels of continued calls for greater diversity, equity and inclusion writ large after a rebirth of #OscarsSoWhite this year, following a single Academy Award nomination in the acting categories of a person of color (Cynthia Erivo for “Harriet”).

“Don’t get it crooked,” he said. “We are here to create a safe space for creators to build their sustenance and then get out on those streets and dominate this place and this industry. It’s not about us just sitting inside our own rooms. I want you to come to Blackhouse or Macro or Latinx House or wherever and be emboldened and empowered to go out and kill that mountain.

“It’s about strategizing how are we going to go out and get in those other rooms, which is important for not just the culture, but for the health and diversity of the world. The vision is always to get us everywhere in a space, not just in ours.”

Rihanna’s Ally Speech And Other Notable Moments From The 51st NAACP Image Awards That Celebrate Diversifying Hollywood

naacp image awards

Last night, the NAACP held their 51st NAACP Image Awards highlighting Hollywood’s brightest A-list black stars. The historical Pasadena Convention Center was brimming to the rim with black excellence from all different ages and the largest star-studded award show did not disappoint. With six-time NAACP winner and Emmy and Golden Global nominated actor, Anthony Anderson at the helm of the show as the host, multi-hyphenate starlet Rihanna receiving the President’s Award for distinguished service and Lizzo swooping up the entertainer of the year award, the 51st NAACP Image Awards crowned Hollywood’s hottest black stars with reputable accolades making them feel seen in invaluable ways by their industry peers, which the broader Hollywood community has traditionally failed to do at the Emmys, Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.

During her acceptance speech for the prestigious President’s Award, the talented musician, business mogul, and philanthropist, Rihanna, so eloquently directed people of color to tell their friends of different cultural backgrounds to “pull up” to unify communities. With Fenty’s Clara Lionel nonprofit foundation, she aims to fund education and emergency response programs around the world, as she stated, “If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that we can fix this world together. We can’t do it divided. I can’t emphasize that enough.” Fenty also addressed the massive elephant in the room, which was the lack of diversity and inclusion within Hollywood, and encouraged the audience to leverage allies of people of color to champion issues of diversity and inclusion within all verticals to actively try to effect change.

Today In: Leadership

From the inception, the NAACP has been at the forefront of the battle of equality, fighting to ensure fair employment and positive images within the entertainment industry. With the NAACP Image Awards now in its 51st year, the goal is to hold up a mirror to the industry to understand that diversity and inclusion are more than mere buzzwords. Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP national board of directors believes that there must be a systemic commitment to change within Hollywood. As we recently saw with this year’s Oscars and their mainly white and male nominees, Hollywood still has a diversity problem, causing viewing audience members to believe that there are “two different Hollywoods.” UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report states that although the numbers of acting jobs for women and people of color are getting closer to being proportionate with the U.S. population overall; there are still vast diversity and inclusion gaps behind the scenes and camera (screenwriters, directors and executive positions at major Hollywood studios.)

“As of 2019, both women and minorities are within striking distance of proportionate representation when it comes to lead roles and total cast,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA College division of social sciences and the report’s co-author. “But behind the scenes, it’s a very different story. That begs the question: Are we actually seeing systematic change, or is Hollywood just appealing to diverse audiences through casting, but without fundamentally altering the way studios do business behind the camera?”

So what can Hollywood do to improve their diversity initiatives across the board and promote change, systematically? The UCLA “By All M.E.A.N.S Necessary” report has a few suggestions for Hollywood based companies to implement successful strategies for hiring, sponsoring and promoting women and minorities, especially women of color. The report’s title, “By All M.E.A.N.S. Necessary: Essential Practices for Transforming Hollywood Diversity and Inclusion” is extracted from the key elements of each step: modernize, expand, amplify, normalize, and structure.

According to the report, companies can improve diversity and inclusion by following five essential practices:

Modernize their worldviews of the evolving American audience, which is now 40 percent minority and 50 percent female. Businesses can do this by establishing a public statement about their diversity mission, setting specific goals with timelines that support the stated purpose, and teaching employees that change is not only inevitable but beneficial.

Expand hiring searches to include candidates of diverse racial, ethnic, gender, disability, and LGBTQ backgrounds. In part, companies can do this by tapping into databases like Creative Artist Agency’s list of TV writers of color and women in Hollywood’s female filmmakers’ roster, and by expanding outreach to colleges.

Implement a robust strategy to amplify the roles of women, and women of color, in particular, in leadership roles. Previous research has shown that when women occupy leadership roles, projects and work environments are considerably more inclusive.

Normalize compensation packages, especially for entry-level jobs, because minority hires from non-affluent backgrounds often cannot afford to take low-paying jobs despite their high-value networking opportunities.

Structure incentives for decision-makers to prioritize diversity and inclusion at all levels.

Or, Hollywood could also follow Tracee Ellis Ross’ advice, as mentioned at the 51st NAACP Image Awards, when she said, “We have so much good stuff to say. It’s essential to listen to everybody. We live in a world where some reason people have decided that some voices are more important than others. I disagree. I think there is democracy around our voices, and black and brown women’s voices need to be lifted in a balanced way.”

Inaugural Soundwave Comic Xpo puts ‘geek culture’ diversity in the spotlight

comicxpo

Lamar Harris and David Gorden only met in 2017, but the two St. Louis natives grew up with — and still share — a love of superheroes. Like many fans, though, they were often disappointed by the lack of minority representation in the fantastical worlds they loved.

“When I was a kid, you could watch your Saturday morning cartoons, and there would be all these different superheroes,” Harris says, “but none of them really looked like you.”

Harris and Gorden hope to change that with the Soundwave Comic Xpo. The one-day event aims to be a one-stop shop for everything that fans of superheroes, anime and “geek culture” can imagine. Designers, cosplayers and gamers from all walks of life are invited to attend.

SWCX sets itself apart from other such events by focusing on programming about minorities from minorities. The inaugural event, during Black History Month, highlights Afrofuturism creatives.

Superheroes of all skin tones will be featured.

“It’s important to be able to see these — to show that we are out here,” says Harris, a St. Louis musician who also performs as DJ Nune.

He says people often are surprised when African Americans such as himself are interested in geek culture — comic books, anime, even “Game of Thrones.”

But it’s for everyone, he says. He grew up watching Batman and has tubs dedicated to Magneto (a Marvel Comics superhero who has magnetic superpowers) cosplay.

Both characters are white. As a child, Harris’ peers often made fun of him for role-playing as white characters.

Even from their late integration into the comic book worlds, black superheroes have had a limited presence. Black Panther, the first black superhero, didn’t hit shelves until 1966, and Butterfly, the first black female superhero, arrived in 1971.

Today, though, there’s a plethora of content about superheroes of color by minority creators. Many of those creators are in St. Louis, Harris says. At SWCX, those characters and their creators will be featured front and center.

“There are a lot of wonderful creators that don’t always necessarily get to shine on top,” he says.

Gorden is one of those creators. The graphic novelist wrote “Kwame Hightower: And the Man With No Name” and presents the event’s “Hall of Heroes,” which features a variety of African American superhero costumes.

Harris ensured a life-size Wakandan throne, popularized by the 2018 film “Black Panther,” would also be on display.

“Lamar has always had a flair for the theatrical, which I think is probably an understatement,” Gorden says.

Meeting minority creators is just as important as seeing diversity on the page or screen, Gorden says.

“It’s very important for young kids to see us doing work in these industries and seeing that we’re making headway and performing at the highest level of our creativity,” he says.

SWCX also will include a family-friendly pavilion, Kids Super HQ, with theater performances, face painting, a parade, and music and dance sponsored by Metro Theater Company and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

A Microsoft-sponsored gaming tournament and a cosplay contest will determine the champions of the day, and performances by musicians Mark Harris II, Bell Darris and Kimmy Nu will keep the party rolling.

What Soundwave Comic Xpo • When 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday • Where Grand Center venues including .Zack (3224 Locust Street), High Low (3301 Washington Boulevard) and the Sun Theater (3625 Grandel Square) • How much $21 • More info soundwavecomicxpo.com

Diversity And Inclusion: Going Beyond Celebrating

celebrating diversity

If you’re in business in 2020, Black History Month is more than an occasion to celebrate diversity—it’s a vital time to reflect on what “diversity and inclusion” truly means for your company at every level.

Throughout my career in both the public and private sectors, I’ve come to gain a better sense of the immense structural challenges that minority groups face, and I’ve committed my organization to expanding opportunities for all prospective business owners. While my own experiences are vastly different than those of many minority entrepreneurs, I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with and learn from diverse leaders in the franchise space.

In many ways, franchising and entrepreneurship stepped up during the Civil Rights Era as a premier engine of wealth creation in African American communities. Local ownership meant locally kept profits and owners and managers who reflected their neighborhoods, understood and cared about them, and reflected that in their hiring and values. Awareness and celebration of this history is certainly warranted today, but for a business leader, celebration is an inflection point between the recognition of past accomplishment and the drive toward future success.

So how do we look beyond celebrating, so there’s something greater to celebrate a year from now and a decade from now?

1. Start with listening.

The best place to start when thinking about diversity and inclusion is from a place of humility and recognition that your own diversity of experiences and characteristics neither give you all the answers nor a full understanding of the diverse experiences of others. We all have blind spots—as organizations, companies and fundamentally as people.

Between your customers, your suppliers and your employees, however, you have a treasure trove of resources and ideas for how to make your company more diverse and inclusive. Realize that they won’t bring those insights to you on their own; you have to let them know you want to hear them. Beyond that treasure trove, keep an eye on cutting-edge thought leaders and creative competitors so that your learning doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. Make no mistake about it: Your market will only grow in diversity, and your customers and employees will only increase in their expectations that successful companies share and live those values.

Make listening an active part of your leadership and your company’s culture at every level. Change has to be both personal and systemic, so put systems in place for the safe and comfortable sharing of feedback and ideas, even in sensitive areas like recruitment, advancement and vendor selection. Train your managers on how to actively listen and keep an open mind, and encourage decision-makers to think about diversity and business with medium- and long-term visions in mind, not just tomorrow’s bottom line.

2. Identify challenges and opportunities.

Much like celebrating, listening is more meaningful as a prelude to action and as a commitment to not be content with the status quo. Identify challenges both big and small, and see in them the opportunities for improvement and change. Is there a lack of diversity among your interns and entry-level employees? Think about proactively distributing your calls for applicants beyond the mainstream sites, and build relationships with diverse colleges and their career officers and deans. Even small steps like this can make a big impact.

Some challenges in this space are much bigger and require both the courage of bold solutions as well as the practicality of incremental steps. For example, when it comes to minority business ownership, there is both a lack of awareness that these opportunities exist and a reality that access to capital can be more challenging. Working to educate, encourage and mentor prospective entrepreneurs and connecting them with local lenders are two ways we tackle these challenges in franchising, but like you, we, too, are always looking to take things to the next level.

3. Lead with transformative action.

In 2020, neither your company nor your industry can afford not to be a leader in diversity and inclusion. I’ve learned firsthand that diverse voices with differing backgrounds and perspectives are necessary for any organization’s success, and as leaders, we must ensure that all Americans are given an opportunity to succeed.

For example, in franchising, I’ve issued the challenge to make our sector the most diverse and inclusive in the U.S. economy by the year 2030 by launching a declaration other companies can join. What steps can you take to make your sector more diverse and inclusive as a whole?

Whether your industry has or will have a similar community of companies united for change, make 2020 the year you and your team start to lead on this topic. From small steps to very big ones, the transformation you can set in motion can be one that’s truly worth celebrating.

Why Atlanta Is Beating Silicon Valley As A Mecca For African Americans In Tech

atlanta tech

Folks might think Silicon Valley is the space to go for all things tech. However, there is a new mecca for tech, especially for African Americans, and that’s Atlanta, Georgia.

A new feature in the Atlanta Journal Constitution highlights the tech entrepreneurs in the second largest majority Black metro area in the country. Via dozens of interviews, AJC reports the boom of tech in Atlanta is partly due to tech programs at Morehouse College, Spelman College and “tech incubators at corporations.”  These incubators include Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and Fortune 500 companies. Furthermore, Atlanta’s cost of living lends itself to entrepreneurs migrating there to fulfill their tech dreams.

Kunbi Tinuoye, the founder and CEO of UrbanGeekz, a technology industry blog, explained, “Atlanta is truly a hot spot for diverse entrepreneurs to build scalable tech startups, especially if the brand is focused on African American consumers.”

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Likoebe Maruping, a Georgia State University associate professor in the computer information systems department, also added, “If you think about it globally, how much of the world looks like what Silicon Valley looks like? It’s not representative of the world, yet the technology they are building, and its design, is being very much informed by the people they come in contact with.”

Jason Gumbs, a regional senior vice president for Comcast who moved from San Francisco to Atlanta last October, said, “There is diversity in the Bay Area and in California. … But the question is, do you have that sense of community that you have here? I would say that, as someone who has been here for 120 days, there is to me a greater sense of community here.”

It’s not just AJC noticing the thriving tech space in Atlanta. Biz Journals reports Naveen Krishna, Macy’s chief technology officer, said they will open a $14 million U.S. tech hub in Midtown Atlanta because it is the “best location in the South” for tech talent.

In August, a survey released by CB Richard Ellis reported that between 2013 and 2018, Atlanta added almost 32,000 tech jobs, second only to San Francisco.

In 2017, Forbes predicted Atlanta was one of five American cities “to become tomorrow’s tech meccas.”

Sounds like those predictions are coming true.

How to diversify the tech talent pool, according to Revolent’s president

revolent

In Nabila Salem’s role as president of Revolent Group, she is responsible for leading on the creation of talent and delivering the business plan, making sure the right people are in the right places and the right processes are in place. Her focus lies in improving and maintaining the company’s three core pillars of culture, strategy and change.

Below, Salem — who is on the Advisory Board of the Information Age Women in IT Summit in New York on March 25th 2020 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel — discusses why improving levels of diversity tech is important and how organisations can go about diversifying their tech talent pool.

But, first, what is Revolent?

The talent creator

Formally, Revolent operated under various different brands. As part of a transformation programme, Salem brought these various businesses and tech academies under the Revolent brand — “a word that combines revolution and talent, which I think perfectly defines what we do,” she said.

“Revolent is not a recruitment business. It’s a talent creator that specialises in creating talent that can thrive in niche technology markets, like Salesforce and ServiceNow.”

The business model focuses on recruiting, cross-training, developing and placing talent in various technology ecosystems, such as the next generation of certified cloud professionals.

Revolent has placed a big focus on providing talent for Salesforce, because of the company’s huge economic potential.

“By 2024, 4.2 million new Salesforce jobs are expected to be created, with approximately $1.2 trillion in new business revenues for the local economies,” Salem explained.

The importance of diversity in tech

It’s simple: diverse teams perform better.

Pointing to the 2008 recession, Salem said that “companies with more (gender) diversity in their workforce and leadership teams, clearly outperformed those companies that were male dominated.”

She added: “Diversity impacts the bottom line, because how can we expect technology to be suitable for all audiences unless the teams involved in producing these technologies are diverse?

“If you look at AI, for example, the lack of diversity within this technology is causing some serious issues, such as racial bias in facial recognition and so on.”

There are many benefits around diversity; innovation, creativity, flexibility, languages and diversity of thought, for example. But, how can organisations diversify the tech talent pool?

Diversify the tech talent pool through inclusion

According to Salem, to achieve true diversity it takes time and effort to change the culture that exists in organisations. “Even with quotas, if the culture isn’t inclusive, you’ll slowly see that the dial will start to move back to where it was,” she said.

Inclusion is not the same as diversity, it’s much harder to achieve. “If you want diversity, the two go hand-in-hand,” Salem continued.

In order to diversify the tech talent pool, companies need to change the way they recruit, where they recruit from and what they expect from the people that are recruiting, “because we all have unconscious bias.

“Once we actually accept that, recognise that and change the way we do things, then we will begin to attract diversity,” Salem advised.

To do this, companies can showcase role models, introduce mentoring programmes or conduct workshops in schools and promote volunteering efforts. These type of activities will inspire people who may not have a career in tech.

There are lots of things that can be done to diversify the talent pool, but there isn’t one magic recipe. Any diversity drive needs inclusion to be ingrained into the culture of the business.


‘Culture fit’

When hiring an employee, some might ask whether they are a ‘culture fit’ within an organisation, but this is reductive; “if you’re trying to attract diversity, everyone will be different and being a ‘fit’ goes against the very definition of diversity in the first place,” said Salem.

“You don’t want everyone to be the same, you want them to be different. And where I’m at now, we embrace our individual differences — that makes us stronger as a team.”


The role model

As part of a wider diversity and inclusion drive, the presence of diverse role models is hugely important, “because it’s very difficult to be who you can’t see,” said Salem.

Highlighting role models, both internally and externally, is needed to showcase the opportunities that are available regardless of gender, ethnicity and background.

Salem, for example, was the youngest woman to be appointed VP at her former company and she was the only senior leader from an ethnic minority background; “I share those stories purposely, because I believe that role models need to share their stories to inspire others to go beyond,” she stated.

“The opportunities are infinite”

When asked on her advice to women who were considering a career in tech, Salem concluded, “go for it.”

“There’s never been a better time to join the industry as a woman, because everyone actually knows that we’re needed.

“Many companies are facing a diversity crisis and while some talk about it as a buzzword, it means that we don’t have to fight for the positions like we used to, when discrimination was openly acceptable.

“Nowadays, companies are actively calling for more women to join and the opportunities are infinite.”

What Happens When White Women Become The Face Of Diversity

white women diversity

Recently, Goldman Sachs made an announcement that they will only approve an IPO if it has a woman on its board. This raised the question of where would they find these women? And what women exactly? Between 2016 and 2018, there were a total of 230 new board seats within Fortune 500 firms. Across these openings white women obtained 124, black women 32, asian women 17, and hispanic women only 4 seats, according to Catalyst, a research organization. Some worry Goldman’s requirement is another way for white women to benefit, yet again, from diversity efforts. If white women continue to be the face of diversity, then what is diversity?  Is it just about hiring more white women? If it is, then how are other women of color benefiting?

In addition, if a company is not looking for women of a certain color then women of color, are rarely considered to fill the woman “quota”. Platforms like TalVista have emerged to decrease bias in recruiting, but may not be enough to fix what’s already broken. Four diversity experts below share their thoughts on the implications announcements like Goldman Sachs have on women of color.

Like Attracts Like

Neuroscience tells us that our brains unconsciously prefer familiarity. The hiring process is, unfortunately, subject to the influence of these thoughts. Including a gender requirement, is the start of significant progress. However, women of color may be under considered due to intersectionality [or] the cumulation of difference as compared to those who hold the power. The more different you are from the dominants, the more likely you are to experience exclusion.

Given that most dominants on corporate boards are white men, if the choice is between two qualified women, one white and one of color, unconscious bias suggests the hiring committee will favor the white woman because she is less different.—Melissa Majors, executive coach and CEO of Melissa Majors Consulting

Companies have become comfortable rallying behind “women” writ large as a focus of overarching diversity efforts. Unfortunately, broad references to women, coupled with the collapse of diversity representation, can hinder the progress of women of color, as large data sets mask the reality that white women are advancing while leaving women of color behind. Not only would disaggregation expose this reality—it would also show that black talent in particular is the farthest behind and, in some cases, even regressing. Like any other business metric where companies are failing, managers should be held accountable for turning around these results for the company along the entire continuum of recruiting, hiring, developing and advancing diverse talent.” —Valerie Irick Rainford, CEO of Elloree Talent Strategies

History Repeats Itself

White women have benefitted from diversity initiatives since the inception of Affirmative Action Programs. Since the Third Wave of the feminist movement arose from the Civil Rights and Black Power era, white women, who were entering the workforce in droves for the first time, were counted as part of the legislative movement to make corporate society reflect the membership of the larger society. Early quota programs, that often targeted people of color and black men and women specifically, became problematic in the eyes of whites who felt like reverse racism was now being perpetuated on them. Certainly, the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke 1978 case illustrates this point…. Often, women of color, especially black women are racialized before they are even included in the same category of women as white women. Hiring managers can improve their efforts by looking specifically for women of color and seeing them as diverse hires and not racial hires.—Lisa M Gill, Ph.D., university lecturer at the department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University

Selection Process Takes The Brunt

I can say that hope is not lost, but falls in the hands of those involved in the selection process. All involved in the selection process should be responsible for highlighting the implicit biases by taking the following three actions. First, by establishing a shared meaning of diversity, a definition that spreads across experience, age, geography, and other “invisible characteristics.” Secondly, an intentional outline of desired diversity characteristics should be conducted in conjunction with timely metrics for obtaining them. Lastly, all recruiting and interview processes should be updated to mitigate bias and standardized across all candidates. All of these steps also require for a diverse set of decision makers, it is only through increased diversity of decision makers that we will see improvement of diversity across all areas. —Xochitl Ledesma, director of learning and advisory Services at Catalyst

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