Are we doing enough on diversity in Canadian film, television and digital media? OK, we all know that the answer is no because you can look around any production office or an industry event and see that it is not reflective of the audience that the industry is trying to entertain. In other industries there are stats that demonstrate that diverse boards or diverse employees result in higher revenues and larger market penetration. This is likely true for the screen-based industries too but since our purpose is entertainment we have to also ask ourselves how can we reach audiences with our stories when we don’t reflect those audiences?
What is the actual extent of the non-diversity of our Canadian screen-based industries? That’s hard to say because there are no stats that can answer that question. There is no agreement even on how to define diversity. Is it a set of checkboxes pulled from the Employment Equity Act or the broader Charter of Rights or a way of looking at employees and talent to ensure that you are pulling from the largest possible talent pool to get the most creative talent (yeah, I think it’s the latter).
Broadcasters have to track women, visible minorities, disabled and indigenous employees under employment equity legislation and CRTC requirements. Think about the categories that legislation leaves out though like sexual orientation or identity, marital status, religion, age, country of origin, economic status, neurological differences and more. There is no requirement by anyone to track the employees at production companies or on sets. Women in View has published studies of the number of women in key creative positions in film, television and web series but those studies are not a comprehensive look at all job categories nor do they look at other forms of diversity. Lights, Camera, Access! commissioned a report on employment patterns for people with disabilities in the screen-based industries, but again it was a snapshot of the problem rather than a comprehensive statistical analysis.
If we do not know the full extent of the problem then it will be impossible to measure progress. In the absence of stats, but recognizing that something has to be done, Telefilm, CMF and others are now factoring gender parity into their evaluation process. Why are they focused on gender parity rather than full diversity? My theory is that it is significantly easier to measure the existing gender balance and any improvements and it is easier to put in place measures to improve that balance, than to do the same for any other underserved groups. One of the greatest obstacles to measuring diversity is the reluctance of marginalized people to self-identify for fear that the identification will be used against them. With a few exceptions, it is relatively easy to identify gender even if people do not wish to self-identify.
Will a focus on gender parity naturally lead to greater diversity? I have heard this argument made on more than one occasion and I can’t follow it. More women means more women. Even worse, without systemic change it is likely that those additional women will all be white, straight, able-bodied etc. women.
Any systemic change will be more difficult to enact and will take more than a new line on an evaluation form. We need to ask ourselves how we are recruiting talent, where we are looking, are our job descriptions reflecting bias, do we even understand our own biases. We need to educate leaders, managers who do the hiring and even funders on what diversity and inclusion means.
In my opinion it is never a bad thing to try to make a difference so I do applaud everyone who is trying, even if it is only to impact the gender balance. I just ask that we keep working on this problem. Let’s get the stats we need. Let’s train more people on diversity and inclusion. Let’s figure out where to best put our efforts to create long lasting change. As screenwriter Denis McGrath had been known to say, and put on a button, ‘Best Idea Wins’, but the industry needs to be more inclusive and reflective of our audience if it is going to have the best pool of ideas to pick from.
[At Denis McGrath’s Celebration of Life today, Mark Ellis reminded me that I had promised Denis that I would blog more. So, after wiping away the tears, I started planning this post. This is my oh so small effort to ensure that his impact will be long lasting.]