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March 2016

Frederickson Pribula Li

Fixing Diversity: What Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the Academy
Should Have Said (and Done)

A Letter from Valerie:

On Sunday night, Chris Rock took a bold and effective stance in opening the conversation about racism in Hollywood. He asked, "Is the Academy racist?" Then he answered the question himself: "Hell yes." New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik noted that having Rock, who was hired before the diversity flap began, emcee the ceremony "was a lucky pairing of host and subject." His performance was "evenhanded without being wishy-washy" and represented "an example of something the industry is still trying to learn: that you can achieve both inclusion and entertainment by giving the right person just the right opportunity."

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Racism and diversity have been at the forefront of my consciousness since I was a little girl growing up in Berkeley in the 1960s, where my socially active parents not only talked the talk but walked the walk. My dad, the personnel manager for a cooperative grocery-store chain, made a point of hiring and promoting black employees whenever possible, viewing diversity as an important part of his job decades before "Diversity" became euphemism. My mother, a psychologist and professor, spent years coaching Ph.D. candidates of color on her own time to help them pass the psychology board exams. We hung out in black neighborhoods socializing with black families, which certainly wasn’t the norm for white families in the 1960s. In our household, desegregation was both a frequent topic of conversation and a lifestyle choice.

Still, I have until now been reluctant to tackle the issue of race in this forum. That’s not to say I have avoided it professionally, of course—far from it. I have a hard-won reputation for placing diverse human resources executives in our clients’ organizations, and for placing Diversity leaders too. I’ve spoken at Diversity conferences, actively track and manage how many people of color we present on slates, and work hard to run a business that reflects the diversity of our melting-pot nation. But I have refrained from wading into recent controversies in the tech world. For instance, I kept quiet about Twitter’s decision to hire a white guy from Apple who’s more known for his work promoting the inclusion of the LGBT community than for providing opportunities for people of color to run its Diversity & Inclusion program, because I happen to be a huge fan of Skip Schipper, Twitter’s now-former Head of People, and knew that he’d hire the best person to produce results. Similarly, I didn’t weigh in on Asana’s CEO making a big deal of their hiring a black female to lead their Diversity efforts because, although I tend to believe that trumpeting the hiring of a woman or a person of color for a visible position like head of Diversity, head of HR, or head of Marketing is usually the lazy way out of dealing with a problem that actually takes time, patience, and actions to solve, I didn’t have the confidence to come out with both guns blazing. But Chris Rock’s performance on Sunday gave me my voice.

What I liked about Rock’s performance was that he discussed racism openly and repeatedly throughout the evening, not just once at the beginning as if to say, "OK, we brought it up. Now let’s forget about it and look at the gowns." But what really got my juices flowing is what came next. When Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, got up to speak, I had this naïve idea that she’d not only follow in Rock’s footsteps and be honest and direct, but that she’d then take the subject to the next level and talk about what they were going to actually do. Instead, she gave a typical, non-committal PR speech in which she simply tossed out some MLK quotes and said that she hopes everyone will be "more aware." Awareness? Really? That’s all she’s asking for? When you have a 6,000-person organization that is almost entirely made up of old white men, and for the second year in a row they have systematically discriminated against people of color by denying them nominations, you have to do a bit more than ask people to be aware. I wish Ms. Boone Isaacs had said that she was pissed off and that she would help force the Academy to change.

Before I tell AMPAS exactly what they should do to fix this dreadful, embarrassing situation, let me tell you how three other organizations are handling it. First, let’s look at Facebook. The world’s leading social-media platform not only has a brilliant, high-profile woman of color as its head of Diversity, but its white male CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is outspoken about wanting to improve his company’s lackluster diversity statistics. So what does he do? First, he publicly admits to the problem of not hiring enough people of color, and he assembles a team of people to change the system from the inside out. He openly discusses how companies with more diversity make more money and are more productive. Then, when some ignorant and intolerant employees start repeatedly defacing "Black Lives Matter" messages on company whiteboards, Mr. Zuckerberg himself takes them to task, labeling them malicious and instigating investigations because he doesn’t want his brand tarnished by racial prejudices. Now that’s a way for a busy leader to let everyone know that he is serious about diversity and cares about his brand.

Another tech company I work with, this one a large, East Coast-based employer, astounded me recently with the news that women make up fully 50 percent of their executive team (and not just in pink-collar realms like marketing and HR). Even more shocking: 45 percent of their board of directors is female. How did it happen? Simple: The CEO cares about diversity, and his leadership and values trickle down. With more than 50,000 employees and a lot of M&A activity, these folks could easily hide behind being too busy—but they don’t.

Still another high-tech firm I admire is not big enough to hire anyone to work on diversity issues full-time, but they’re showing the rest of us how to make a difference without a big budget or any fanfare. What their VP of HR, a scientist by trade who also runs their worldwide labs, explained to me recently is that they have managed to assemble a diverse workforce by—you’ll never believe this—actually making an effort to interview a diverse pool of job seekers. She insists that for every open requisition, the presented candidate slate is at least 50 percent female and one-third people of color. She also makes sure that people of color and women are represented on every interview team, and has her hiring managers provide written justification for every non-diversity hire. Meanwhile, her company and others in her field have partnered together to fund science scholarships and internship programs for women and minorities. Her approach is quiet, but it’s also damned effective.

So what should the Academy do? Here’s a hint: It’s not about putting black actors in the front row at the Oscars, any more than tech employers can solve their issues simply by hiring a woman (preferably a woman of color so they can get a twofer!) as their head of HR and plastering her on the front page of their website. Nor is it even about tallying up Best Actor wins by African-Americans. For one thing, Hispanics comprise 16 percent of the U.S. population and buy 25 percent of the movie tickets, but land only about 3 percent of Hollywood’s acting roles. For another, only about one-third of one percent of films are directed by black women. So obviously the solution needs to be much more profound and systematic. Here’s what I think they should do:

  • Publish the entire 6,000-person Academy membership list and disclose racial and gender statistics. The most recent disclosures show it to be 94 percent white and 77 percent male, with a median age of 62.
  • Reconstruct the 43-member Board of Directors to represent U.S. demographics. This would mean that, instead of two people of color on it, it should have 16.
  • Look for ways to overhaul the entire 6,000-person membership as well. To be demographically accurate, there should be about 2,220 people of color instead of the current 360, and about 3,000 women instead of the current 1,440.
  • Chart out the 10 most important inflection points that take an individual from, say, a 10-year old student to a 50-year old winning an Oscar, and set up specific interventions at each of these ways. To include:
    • Only fund films where half the characters are girls and women, and 37% of the characters are people of color.
    • Actively recruit girls and especially kids of color to drama schools and offer directing scholarships.
    • Insist that casting agencies’ own staffs of recruiters and agents represent the U.S. and have 37% people of color.
    • Sic the OFCCP (government office that tracks diversity hiring) on themselves. If tech companies have to be held accountable, why not Hollywood?

While we’re at it, let’s make more films that the Academy members won’t like. I’m so sick of seeing films and television shows that pander to white male fantasies of violence and white male domination. If this doesn’t help, then let’s join the Jada Pinkett-Smith, Spike Lee, and other African American leaders in the film industry and boycott next year’s Academy Awards. Frankly, except for Chris Rock and Kevin Hart, it was long and boring—obviously it needs some more diversity to shake it up!

If you’d like to share your ideas with me and our network, feel free to chime in with a comment on my LinkedIn post.

Warm regards,

sig

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Spotlight on...

Valerie will be speaking at the NCHRA's annual HR West conference on the emerging recruiting platforms that are revolutionizing the way companies recruit new talent. Join her and co-presenters: Jessica Gilmartin, COO at Piazza, Rachel Bitte, CPO at Jobvite, Sarah-Beth Anders, Head of Product Marketing at Greenhouse,and Candice Chow-Gamboa, Community Manager at Zugata, next Wednesday, March 9th, at the Oakland Convention Center. Session begins at 11:00am sharp. For more information, contact Ben Taylor

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About FPL Partners

Frederickson Pribula Li (FPL Partners) is the top global HR and strategic People Operations executive search and consulting firm in Silicon Valley. Founded in 1995 and headquartered in Menlo Park, our mission is to help our client’s succeed by elevating their people functions. Our HR executive search and consulting capabilities stretch worldwide with global hubs in San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Seattle, Paris and Hong Kong. Clients range from startups to the Fortune 100 across diverse industries.

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  • Interim HR management during the search process, followed by an assimilation period to ensure a smooth transition

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Diversity Statement

FPL Partners welcomes and encourages all diversity candidates to contact us directly. We highly value the diversity of our FPL Partners team, placement of diverse executives into our client companies and our diverse clients, candidates, and supplier partnerships. We want to help swing the pendulum the other way.

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