Diversity matters

Not supporting diversity is an unfathomable oversight. Here’s why. 

You could say it’s a regretful “tradition”: every year, a couple of major award shows spark outrage for snubbing a work that deserved the highest of accolades. More often than not, the question of diversity comes up, and over and over, minorities are missing out on what looked like a no-brainer nomination or a win. 

The Academy awards (plagued by its nickname #oscarssowhite) pulled off the impossible in 2019 when Parasite, a universally praised South Korean film, took home the Best Picture award. Great news, but also – did we really have to wait for that until 2019? Then came the Grammys, and The Weeknd didn’t get a nomination for his groundbreaking album After Hours. “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…,” the singer wrote on Twitter. 

A couple of months later, social media was flooded by yet another unforgivable snub: Golden Globes nominated critically panned Emily in Paris, but not the celebrated, astonishingly complex I May Destroy You. In case you missed it: Emily in Paris is a light-hearted comedy show about a white girl hired by a marketing firm in Paris to provide them with an American perspective on things. I May Destroy You is created by Michaela Coen, who also stars as a woman who seeks to rebuild her life after being raped. She, as well as most of the cast, are Black British. 

The last straw? 

Why is this a big deal, you may ask? Why did the Twittersphere and media explode with such rage over an award? Perhaps this time, it was a way too distinct illustration of a much, much bigger picture that goes way beyond the entertainment industry. So much so that Deborah Copaken, the writer of Emily in Paris, publicly called it an “oversight that symbolizes a larger issue”, as I May Destroy You “takes the complicated issue of a rape and infuses it with heart, humor, pathos, and a story constructed so well, [Copaken] had to watch it twice, just to understand how Coel did it.”

“That I May Destroy You did not get one Golden Globe nod is not only wrong; it’s what is wrong with everything. Take every writer’s room in Hollywood. A 2017 report by Color of Change found that 91% of showrunners are white and 80% are male. Take the recent headlines. That a white woman who stormed the Capitol was given permission to go on vacation to Mexico while a nine-year-old Black girl was pepper-sprayed by police, for the crime of asking for her father,” Copaken outlines.

But my fury is not just about race. How anyone can watch I May Destroy You and not call it a brilliant work of art or Michaela Coel a genius is beyond my capacity to understand how these decisions are made,” she adds. 

It’s extraordinary to see so much conversation sparked by this blatant injustice. Still, we’re talking about showbiz, and publicity is a privilege that most other industries don’t have. If this is the tip of the iceberg, is it comprehensible how much inequality looms under the surface, on all levels of everyday life? 

Diversity at work

Last year’s Fortune 500 list included great news: the number of female CEOs hit an all-time record. Progress, indeed, but it still meant that women lead only 37 companies out of Fortune 500, despite numerous studies showing over and over again that diversity makes business sense. Diversity within your teams ensures that market opportunities are better understood, because teams with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences are better equipped to understand the unmet needs of underleveraged markets,” explains Nicos Marcou, HR Council Member at Forbes & HR Futurist, in his talk at Reflect Festival

That goes for all kinds of diversity: be it related to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age – but also factors such as mental health, privilege, socioeconomic status, or disability. One of the shockingly overlooked groups in the workforce is people who are not neurotypical. “Neurodivergent people include those who have autism, ADHD, dyslexia, social anxiety disorder, and other conditions. Many scientists and business leaders including Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson, and James Dyson fall into the category of neurodiverse people who disrupted business and science because of their out-of-the-box thinking,” says Marcou. 

Some companies have already recognized the potential: EY, for example, has opened several Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence and Marcou stresses that it’s not a charity initiative. There’s simply a lot of untapped talent that has been ignored for ages. “Some companies are addressing this issue head-on: Facebook will double their number of black and Latinx employees by 2023 and increase the number of black people in leadership positions by 30 percent. YouTube has invested 100 million dollars in a fund to promote the work of black creators,” he says. 

Legacy of 2020 Black Lives Matter movement

The spreading pandemic couldn’t stop the anger towards racially-motivated police brutality. Back in May, a series of unprecedented protests took place throughout the US and beyond, and for a while, racism finally received the attention it deserves. Skepticism towards lasting change is understandable. However, tangible improvements happened in workplaces as a result. 

“I am not shocked by racial injustice. However, I am shocked by our reaction to it as a business community,” said Bozoma Saint-John, CMO at Netflix, at Cannes Lions. She pointed out that Black Lives Matter didn’t start yesterday, yet it took this long for many companies to look inwards, release statements and donate to the right cases. She hopes that the companies will continue feeling the moral pressure to rectify an unfair system. “We talk about it all the time; we’ve had whitepapers on diversity and inclusion forever. Those are not new papers; they are not new reasons to make sure that your workforce is diverse in order to see benefits in business,” she observed.

Nevertheless, she’s not at all upset at companies that decided to act late and under pressure. act only now, when there’s pressure to do so. “My whole mission right now is to make every company understand what is happening and react to it. That’s going to take some time for sure,” she concluded. 

The legacy of all the outrage seems to be clear: diversity is becoming louder, and our job is to accommodate it. The question is which companies, industries and individuals will be wise enough to lead by example.

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