Everyone claims to care about diversity; it’s written into every piece of HR paperwork that any organization could have. But for all the lip service that’s paid to diversity and multiculturalism these days, there are precious few organizations who do it well, and most don’t do it nearly as well as they think they do. So how good is your organization, TV show, or church at diversity? Here are a few benchmarks you can use.
Level 0: You have no people of color, women, or LGBT people.
This speaks for itself. If any or all of these groups are missing… something is awry.
Girls (especially season 1)
Doesn’t cut it. (Also, you live in New York City and you run into, like, one minor character of color per episode? Highly unlikely.)
Congressional panel on reproductive health, February 2012
Nope. A panel on reproductive health with not a single woman on it? Nope. Absolutely not.
Level 1: You have people of color, women, and LGBT people present.
If you have some people from the aforementioned groups on your staff, in your cast, or in your congregation, that’s a good thing. You’re doing something right. Having some is infinitely better than having none.
Parks and Recreation
Orange is the New Black
Oh, this is good.
The problem with too many organizations, TV shows, and churches at this level is that they think that this is all there is to diversity. If they have some quantity, they think they’re done. But this is far from true.
Level 2: You have people of color, women, and LGBT people in leadership.
It’s one thing to have people from these groups in the organization, in the pews, in the cast. But you aren’t really taking diversity seriously until you make them stakeholders. If you stop at level 1, you’re implying that these folks are welcome to be here, but you’re still going to do things the way they’ve always been done. Until you give them a real voice and a real say in how things are run, all you’re doing is filling a quota.
So what does this look like?
Not just having a diverse cast, but making a woman of color the lead in your show? Well played, Shonda Rhimes. (The showrunner recently received a diversity award from the Directors Guild of America and wryly stated, “We’re a little pissed off because there still needs to be an award. Like, there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.” Preach.) The fact that Scandal is one of TV’s top-rated (and most-tweeted) shows indicates that this kind of diversity isn’t just a good values decision — it’s a good economic decision, because a cast like this attracts viewers of all races, and that means money in the bank for ABC.
The Mindy Project
Mindy Kaling isn’t only the star of this show, she’s also the creator, executive producer, and showrunner. In other words, Mindy Kaling is a badass.
The need for female leaders, leaders of color, and LGBT leaders extends behind the scenes as well — to directors, producers, writers, studio heads. Because ultimately, these are the real power players, the ones who determine which stories will be told. All groups need to be represented in these positions, or else certain stories will never make it to the screen.
In an organization, level 2 means having women, people of color, and LGBT people who are not only middle managers but also senior managers, trustees, and board members. In a church, this means having not only lay leaders, elders, and pastors from these groups but also associate pastors, worship leaders, senior pastors. And it’s not a matter of having these folks in leadership just for the sake of having them — without these voices on your leadership team, important perspectives will go missing and pieces of your constituency will be neglected. (I don’t care how feminist any of the members of the aforementioned congressional panel were; there are simply things that you cannot understand about women’s reproductive health unless you experience them firsthand.) So unless you empower members of these groups and give them a real say in how things are done, you’re not only selling them short, you’re handicapping your entire organization.
Level 3: You understand power dynamics and you go out of your way to address them.
Having women, people of color, and LGBT people in an organization and in leadership is nothing to sneeze at. But once you have these folks in place, you also need to recognize that diversity doesn’t just work its magic by itself; you have to be cognizant of how power dynamics play out in an organization.
For example: This means understanding that women, people of color, and LGBT people are often not given a seat at the table and thus may be unaccustomed to voicing their opinions, so you make an extra effort to solicit their input if you’re not hearing it.
This means understanding that women, people of color, and LGBT people have historically been excluded from leadership, both formally and informally, so extra efforts need to be made to develop leaders from these groups through mentorship, recruitment, and training opportunities.
This means recognizing that your social location — your sex, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, age, religion, physical ability, and more — plays into every interaction you have and being aware of how differences between you and others can impact these interactions. It means being aware that if you’re straight, white, male, and/or a member of any other majority group, you may take for granted the fact that your opinion is welcomed and valued, assume that other people feel equally free to share theirs, and fail to recognize that people from other groups are often socialized to defer to you.
This means acknowledging these issues and openly discussing them instead of sweeping them under the rug and pretending they don’t exist.
Sounds like a lot to think about? It is. Getting an organization, a TV show, or a church fully on board with diversity is no easy task. But the more people who are aware of what it takes to create a genuinely diverse organization, the more likely we can make that a reality — and the closer we get to creating a society that’s truly equal for everyone.