The Directors Guild of America's recent report on the continued lack of representation of minorities and women within the television industry's creative ranks is distressing but predictable. The report found that, among 860 episodes of the top 40 prime time network comedies and dramas (2002-03), only 11% were directed by women and 8% were directed by African Americans, Latinos or Asian Americans.
Despite efforts of civil rights advocates, trade press and the DGA itself to heighten awareness, the situation remains relatively unchanged. Diversity-minded TV executives should apply a few lessons from any business textbook:
Lesson 1: Perform a thorough situation analysis.
There are real
barriers that prevent talented people of color from breaking into the mainstream creative as well as corporate arenas. Entities like the DGA have taken steps to bridge the gap by creating networking opportunities between minority talent and industry decision-makers. Since this hasn't worked, perhaps we need to go beyond statistics, revisit benchmarks of success, and craft some new strategies to incorporate minorities into the existing hiring system as well as create new platforms to accommodate fresh talent.
Lesson 2: Examine past successes and failures.
In the late '70s and early '80s, a select number of media companies, recognizing their lack of diversity, created opportunities to train and advance qualified minority candidates with internships and management-training programs. Some of these efforts provided career guidance and even matched employees with a company mentor. The result? A small but significant number of minority employees were sprinkled throughout the network landscape in entry-level business and creative positions. Where the effort failed was in the follow-through. By the mid '80s, these programs were all but gone, the diversity imperative downgraded.
Lesson 3: Adopt a winning strategy.
For years, the financial, medical and legal communities grappled with developing an inclusive workforce. They all achieved some measure of success by employing creative
strategies as divergent as creating unique relationships with historically black colleges and universities to setting up apprenticeships with professional organizations. More than likely, the concerned parties disagreed on the "right" approach, but, at some point, they all agreed that conventional methods were ineffective. Perhaps our industry is at that crossroads.
Lesson 4: Top management sets the tone and the agenda. I would venture that the diversity initiative works better when the top decision-maker is actively involved in setting guidelines, monitoring results and rewarding positive behavior. In 1979, then CBS Television Network President Jim Rosenfield hired me and three other African-Americans into a CBS management-trainee program. His vision helped launch our careers in the business.
Lesson 5: Failure is not an option. I hope you agree.