Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mr. Oscars Now on Track With Diversity


Like some of you, this week I watched and read the news with interest as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy (“The Oscars”) dealt with the question of diversity - - specifically the lack of black actors being nominated for this year's awards presentation.

The question of inclusion is not an easy one to handle. For example, I don't believe that every member of any constituency group merits an award or recognition in every event or competition. This also applies in a business setting.

I’d like to think that awards, jobs and promotions (with a new title, say to vice president) will go to the people best qualified for each position.

Just because awards are being handed out, doesn't mean that an organization has to give an award to every nationality or constituency group member – – for example, people with disabilities, Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, LGBT, Native American, and White men – – I could go on and on.

What the Academy did to solve this problem was spot on – – they decided to ensure that voting members of the Academy, as well as the leadership, have the right amount of “diversity of thought” among its members to ensure that decisions are not skewed by one particular group, gender or skin color, for example.

Ms. C. Boone, web

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”
According to Ms. Boone, in a unanimous vote, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences approved a sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse.

The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.

Here are some of the details:
  • Each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade.
  • Members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award.
  • The Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.
  • To immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.

I believe this is a good start. With most homogeneous groups, in my experience, there is always a danger of “unconscious bias” rearing its ugly head when it comes to
Oscar Statuettes
evaluating people who are different. I make no excuses for this, but it happens. So, I think the Academy is on track to start to get their arms around this issue.

The Academy is not new or alone in facing this dilemma. Companies throughout the United States have been thinking about their diversity strategies for several decades now. When I worked at IBM, our diversity team acknowledged that the more diverse the workforce is, the greater the innovation the company could yield both in the workplace and for customers.

We also learned that homogeneous groups initially work together better than one that is diverse. A diverse group, however, would be more innovative, but take longer to come up with a solution to the task before them. In addition, we learned that diverse groups take a little more time to get to know and understand each other, as they figure out how to best work together. Here is where the Academy will see some frustration and require patience.

Once the Academy gets reorganized, and has time to work and deliberate as a diverse team, I think they will get the results they hope for.

As a “card carrying” member of the disabled community, I don't want to be given a job or an award just because I am disabled. I want to compete on merit, based on my skills and results.

Unfortunately, when you are in the “minority” or “constituency” group, fairness is not guaranteed. And, sometimes, you hit the glass ceiling. Although you're qualified for a position, the position is denied to you.

My advice to the Academy is not to let one or two people have the final decision regarding any constituency member, group or award. Use a diverse group of people to make decisions. Nothing is perfect or ideal, but training and education will help improve the process.


One final note, "American Sniper” was last year's top grossing movie in 2015 ($547 million worldwide, $350 million in the US), however, it only won one award for “sound editing” at last year's Oscar’s presentation.

That fact had me scratching my head, wondering why such an obvious achievement in terms of revenue, which spoke to a large audience who liked the movie, couldn't get any other  major category recognition at all.

I chalk that one up to political correctness. Either way, the paradigms and parochialism we experience in our progressive society are hurtful to all of us, whether we are a member of a constituency group or not.

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