DEI experts who work in Hollywood say entertainment companies need to invest 'blockbuster' money in equity and stop setting executives of color up to fail

·4-min read
Shaun Harper speaks on stage at an event.
Shaun Harper. Steve Cohn
  • Public backlash has pushed Hollywood to face its legacy of inequality in recent years.

  • Insider asked DEI experts who are advising the entertainment industry how that's changed business.

  • The experts also outlined the areas where entertainment companies still need to do better.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Public backlash has forced Hollywood stakeholders, from the group behind the Golden Globes to the major studios, to address the industry's legacy of inequality in recent years.

But several DEI experts who are advising the industry told Insider said Hollywood is still falling short on many aspects diversity and inclusion.

"People of color continue to be unacceptably underrepresented in just about every aspect of businesses; too many people of color experience racist workplace cultures; and DEI accountability for leaders and just about everyone else remains pathetically low," said Shaun Harper, a DEI strategy advisor and consultant who has worked with organizations including the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Bad Robot, and Hulu.

There have been some strides.

Several of the experts Insider spoke with said their work with entertainment organizations has gone deeper in the past year or so.

Where recruiters were once tapped to simply find diverse staffers, they're now being tasked with filling more senior-level jobs and restructuring organizations to support BIPOC talent.

"It is a critical shift," said Brickson Diamond, CEO of talent search and corporate culture consultancy Big Answers.

Executives are also more willing to have difficult but critical conversations around topics like structural inequality.

"More organizations and their executive leaders are willing to engage with concepts and subject matter that were previously too charged, including tenets of white supremacy, anti-racism, and micro-behaviors," said Robert Raben, the CEO of public-affairs firm the Raben Group.

And studios and networks are thinking more about how to vet their content and where there might be biases they can't see.

"No one wants to be the Golden Globes and no one wants their box office smash tarnished by controversies around racism or a lack of representation," said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, CEO and founder of the diversity and inclusion training firm ReadySet. "These higher expectations and the scrutiny aren't going away."

But there are other areas where the experts said entertainment companies still need to do better:

1. Entertainment companies need to invest 'blockbuster' money to get blockbuster results

One of the biggest missed opportunities the experts highlighted was a lack of investment in diversity and inclusion on the part of major Hollywood organizations.

When it comes to recruiting, entertainment companies are still starting their searches for BIPOC senior talent too late in the game, and offering those candidates too little pay.

"The only thing worse than being late is being short on the money," said Diamond, the recruiter. "Hiring organizations are still bringing matinee money to blockbuster talent negotiations."

2. People of color need access to power in the industry

Beyond representation, people from underrepresented groups need to be empowered within their organizations.

A chief diversity officer is just a figurehead if the role is not given access to the company's CEOs, as well as the staff, resources, and budgets needed to get their jobs done, said Harper, the DEI strategy advisor.

Harper said he's encouraged executives asking whether or not to hire a chief diversity officer to "resist haphazardly creating these positions without role clarity, appropriate resources, infrastructure, support, and executive authority."

"It frustrates me that most of them are talented professionals of color who have been set up to fail," Harper said.

Axelle Bagot, CEO of Leadership Lab International, which is advising the HFPA, also said entertainment companies need to approach DEI work with "a holistic vision that works across all departments."

"This is too much for any DEI officer to handle, and eventually will cost the organization much more in resources and well-being," Bagot said.

3. Hollywood needs to rally around elevating Black voices and voices of other underrepresented groups

While progress has been made on some measures of representation, many groups are still being left behind, as recent research including the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's annual study of inequality in film has shown.

The industry needs to invest more in uplifting underrepresented voices and giving them the creative power to tell their stories.

Advocacy group Color of Change, for example, is working with Michael B. Jordan's Outlier Society to elevate Black voices in Hollywood, and says it's in talks with prominent companies including WME and its sibling Endeavor Content, and BLD PWR to commit to the initiative.

"The industry has purposefully excluded Black talent, silenced Black voices, derailed Black careers, and leveraged the economic power of the industry to prop up police departments in the very real world," said Kristen Marston, culture and entertainment advocacy director at Color of Change. "We must work to change that legacy."

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