Tag Archives: diversity inclusion

What Can Diversity and Inclusion Mean For You – Taking the Next Steps in Canadian Screen-based Media

I wrote this blog post last week before the article “Why is Canadian Television So White?” by Kathleen Newman-Brebang was posted.  For everyone who responded that yes, Canadian television has a problem and wondering what they as an individual can do about it – well here are some ideas.  Now seems the right time to post this.  Also – because racial credentials have to be laid out on the table these days – I am a white passing multi-racial Canadian.  I acknowledge my privilege and my responsibility and I try to act on it.

Most of the time we look at Diversity and Inclusion from an industry perspective.  How can we make the film/tv/IDM industry more diverse and ensure that a wide range of people with differing perspectives and backgrounds can maintain careers in these industries.  We look at telling stories from underserved communities and advancing casting that reflects our reality.  As with other big societal shifts like the climate crisis, people may think that they as one individual cannot make a difference.  Just like recycling, you too can impact the world around you and help make our screen industries more diverse and inclusive through taking little steps each day.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Are you in a position to hire employees or freelancers?  Extend your search beyond your usual network.  Let people know that you are looking for candidates from underserved communities/trying to diversify your team.  Take a risk on promising but less experienced people who may be having a hard time getting their foot in the door. Take a risk on experienced people who you don’t know.  I’ll say it again – extend your search beyond your usual network.
  2. Mentor people from underserved communities. How can you find them?  One way is to talk to friends who teach.  Colleges are always looking for industry advisors and mentors.  Last year I was one of three industry people who sat in on children’s web series marketing plan presentations and two of the students approached me about mentoring.  One (a black woman) is still in touch.  It takes minimal time to give feedback and insights when asked.
  3. Amplify voices from underserved communities. Depending on what you do and where you are you can do this in many different ways.  You can follow talent from underserved communities on social media and RT them, favourite them, engage with them and help them build a network and a place in the larger community.  Champion their creative work, give notes so that their work can improve and let them know about opportunities.  As an audience member you can read books, watch movies and tv shows and web series from emerging talent and share them to your network.
  4. Champion projects that you think are doing a good or great job when it comes to diversity and inclusion. I love “Coroner” not just because it is good story telling but because the world that the (diverse) creative team has created reflects the Toronto that I see around me every day. (Just one example from the first season – white, black, Asian and south Asian characters are eating dim sum on a picnic table in Kensington and all are eating with chopsticks and that’s not part of the story).  It doesn’t have a check box feel to it like some prime time dramas do.  So I tell people why I love it.  Like right now.
  5. Read articles and tweets about representation, diversity, inclusion and equity.  Check out my blog post if you’re not up on the meaning of those terms and how they differ. Follow both experts and fans.  For example, I learned that there is a hashtag #SWRepresentation for discussions about Star Wars representation in the stories across the different platforms.  One of the most effective things that I’ve done to better understand Indigenous issues on an ongoing basis was to follow the “Indian Horse” #Next150 challenge to “Diversify Your News” by following Indigenous journalists on Twitter.  Get outside your bubble and hear different perspectives.
  6. Explore the creative material (tv, films, books, games) from other cultures and voices from backgrounds different from your own. Then follow your favourites on social media.  I love the writing of Nnedi Okorafor.  Following her on Twitter led me to N.K. Jemesin, which then led me to Tomi Adeyemi and I am now a huge fan of black female scifi/fantasy writers.
  7. Let these new voices filter into your perspective. Without even trying it will happen.  Then one day you’ll find yourself reviewing a script and wondering why all the speaking parts have been described as white people.  Or that all the nominees for an award are white.  Then it’s your job to speak out and make change.

REACH – Equity Screening for Content Creators

I recently read a blog post that offered a set of questions that a content creator should ask themselves when creating content to prevent unconsciously recreating stereotypes.  The intended audience is for blog writers and other authors but screen-based creators may also find this useful.  The author calls it their REACH system:  Representation, Experience, Accessibility, Compensation and Harm Reduction.

I encourage you to read the short post but I offer a couple of questions that film, tv and digital media creators can ask themselves under these headings (and I thank the speakers at the recent iLunch Representation in Interactive Digital Media that I moderated for some of these ideas – Megan Byrne, Rob Elsworthy, Winnie Jong and Miriam Verburg).


  • How does the story you’re telling impact people from different backgrounds.  Take a look at the list in the blog post and see the description of diversity.  It is much more than skin colour or sexual orientation and also includes age, educational background, family composition, location and more.  If we move away from tick boxes it will be easier to be truly representative. [Yes, tick boxes are a necessary evil when measuring progress but shouldn’t be anywhere near the creative process IMHO]


  • I’m not going to suggest that creators should be limited in the stories that they can tell but I will suggest that you ask yourself if you’re the best person to tell a particular story. Ask yourself if the story might be more authentic if you included people with different lived experience in the creative process either as consultants or co-creators.  When you do research don’t limit yourself to books and articles but talk to people. Rob Elsworthy told the story at the iLunch of creating a game with a black woman as the main character.  As a black man he realized he couldn’t effectively portray a black woman until he spoke to several.


  • Have you made your content accessible to a wide audience.  This means considering more than described video and closed captioning.  It’s considering where colour-blindness might have an impact (e.g. is an important clue to the mystery dependent on the colour of the fabric found).  Do characters speak at the right pace for the captions to follow or do they talk too fast?  Is there too much background noise.  If it’s a game are the controls customizable? Do a little research and you’ll find all sorts of accessibility guides.


  • These questions try to get creators to consider whether they are benefitting financially from other people’s stories and suggest that perhaps creators should find a way to compensate the owners of the stories.  I’ve blogged before about ImagineNative’s excellent “Indigenous Protocols and Pathways” guide to working with Indigenous communities for screen-based creators.  It has suggestions for how to give back to communities even when working with what we would consider ‘public domain’ stories.

Harm Reduction:

  • Do a pass on your creative material and consider whether you have unintentionally reinforced any stereotypes.  Production can also insert stereotypes without thinking (or intentionally) so sometimes it is out of your hands as a content creator. You will be farther ahead though if you think about it before delivering that draft.

Improving representation and being more authentic in story telling is a process.  Guides like this one do a great job in translating the issues for content creators so that we can all be better.



Diversity and Inclusion Reporting – A Cautionary Tale from the BBC

This morning I read this tweet and I want to talk about it.

First, BAME is a term used in the UK in diversity discussions and means Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.  After conducting the comparative review of diversity and inclusion programs in screen-based media (to be released in 2020) for the the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, I have become a fan of the UK broadcasting system and its work in diversity and inclusion from the BBC to BFI to Ofcom to ScreenSkills to the broadcasters Creative Diversity Network.  They feel a generation ahead of the Canadian media sector in terms of measuring diversity and creating programs to improve diversity and inclusion.  I think we can learn a lot from what they are doing.  And their missteps.

This tweet and the blog post that it links to suggests a misstep.  In an attempt to sell a good news story (and I can understand why the BBC would want to do that) they appear to have undermined the good work that they have done by not identifying where their stats have not improved or in fact fallen.  Their reporting of underrepresented groups has worsened the feeling of inclusion for the members of those groups, leading the writer to coin the very unfortunate phrase #DiversityGaslighting.

This is a cautionary tale for the Canadian media sector.  We are just making our first steps towards better data collection (without which we cannot create programs or measure progress so it is the first necessary step).  It would be great if the sector could work together to have consistent definitions and talk the same language.  But in the meantime, as organizations report on diversity it is incredibly important that they avoid spin to try to make the situation look better.  If it sucks – own it and tell people how you plan to improve it.  I believe that if you do that you will engage members of underrepresented groups and encourage them to work with you and not try to bypass you.

Imperialism Explained

I was thinking about the British Empire and how, if you were there and you were the viceroy of India, you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India. Or similar, if you were in French Africa, you would think, ‘I’m educating them, I’m bringing their resources to the world, and I’m helping them. There was a time when cultural imperialism was absolutely accepted.” Catherine Tait at Prime Time in Ottawa conference, January 31, 2019

By now most of you have read or heard Catherine Tait’s comment comparing Netflix to imperial Britain and France in their ‘cultural imperialism’.  I was immediately shocked but then surprised that there wasn’t much of a reaction in the room to the comment. Then I saw a growing reaction to it on my twitter feed and then in mainstream media.  It became a topic of conversation in the halls for the rest of Prime Time with some people admitting to having been speechless in shock while others, well, didn’t understand or think it was that bad. So for the benefit of the confused, this why her statement didn’t go over very well for some of us.

Imperialism in India and Africa killed a lot of people.  A lot. Here’s are a few examples. In 1943 approximately 3 million people died in Bengal from famine caused by British imperial policies and exacerbated by British war time policies that prioritized sending relief to Europe over India. From 500,000 to 1 million Algerians were killed or died from famine when France conquered Algeria from 1830s to 1860s. In 1898 the Voulet-Chanoine Mission was mandated to conquer the area now known as Chad to bring it under French control.  They did it by looting, raping, killing and burning entire villages as they marched.

These are just a few examples of the impact of imperialism in India and Africa. I did a bit of googling to make sure that I had the numbers right but it wasn’t hard to find this info.  Many, many books have been written about it. Imperialism’s goal was the economic success of the Empire in question, in disregard of the life and liberty of the local residents. Millions died as a result.  You can’t separate ‘cultural imperialism’ from actual imperialism as the Empires never did. The valuing of the Empire’s culture over that of the local culture was just one of the tools used to subjugate the local population and maintain control.  

So, in my mind, to compare policies that resulted in the deaths of millions to an OTT service that wants to offer Canadians another choice for the delivery of content and to provide Canadian content with a pathway to a global audience trivializes those deaths.  Yes there are (very good) arguments to be made for Netflix to contribute into the system that it participates in and to ensure that it is spending a portion of its money on Canadian production (and not just production in Canada) but is talk like this helpful or disturbing.  For me, it is disturbing.

I write this not to slam Ms. Tait but to try to use this as a teachable moment for anyone in a public position, those who advise those in public positions and well, everyone else who was confused by the reaction.  We can do better.


Diversity and Inclusion – Terminology

UPDATE (November 23, 2020): I’ve noticed that this post gets regular traffic since I wrote it January 2019. Society, and my own thinking, has evolved so I’m giving it an update. A few tweaks and new terms.

Lately I’ve been having a lot of talks with organizations and individuals about diversity and inclusion (as a reminder, last year I bolstered my interest in the topic with a certificate in Leadership and Inclusion from Centennial College so I’m having more consultant conversations) and I find that everyone is using different terminology and struggling to get on the same page.  It feels the same as when digital media was evolving and everyone was using different buzzwords (i.e. information superhighway!) until some of the crazier ones dropped off and now it is all pretty much digital media.

So, I thought I would help the conversation by exploring some of these terms.  These are not fixed definitions but more how I have come to understand them or other people have explained them to me.  It might help.

Diversity: First let’s talk about what diversity is not.  It is not synonymous with gender parity or people of colour.  Diversity means a range of perspectives, backgrounds, viewpoints and more. It should include everyone including straight white able-bodied men (also in some circles known as SWAM – there’s an acronym for everything). If you had a team completely made up of people of colour it would not be diverse because there would be no white people on the team.  And if they were all straight and able-bodied it would not be diverse.  In some cases you can have a team that looks diverse but if they all graduated from Ryerson’s RTA School of Media, for example, they would not be diverse.

[I recognize that I set up the Bell Media Diverse Screenwriters Workshop while I was at the WGC but that was before I understood the proper use of the word diverse. Sorry!]

Inclusion: Inclusion is about creating an environment where a diversity of people feel comfortable working.  You can hire a wide range of individuals but if your work environment does not make them feel welcome, they will not stay or they will not work to the best of their ability.  Inclusion is about creating an environment where they can do their best work. If an environment is inclusive, then there is little need to worry about harassment.  Rather than having to find solutions to respond to harassment, the conditions would not occur for it to exist. Inclusion is often harder for organizations than hiring for diversity as this is where they need to change work culture.

Consider this example. In your team meetings do the loudest voices dominate the conversation?  A young Chinese woman once told me that in situations like that she would never say anything as she had been raised to give deference to authority, so the team thought she agreed with everything and had nothing to add.   When she moved to another job where the leadership style was to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to be heard, she was able to contribute. In the second job she felt that she finally was able to do her best work.

Equity:  There is a school of thought that rather than focusing on diversity and inclusion, we should be looking at equity.  Equity refers to ensuring that everyone has what they need to succeed and takes into consideration the fact that some people may need more help to succeed than others.  The goal in equity is ensuring that everyone ends up in the same place – being the best that they can be.  Note that equity is often contrasted with equality, which is treating everyone the same.  You can treat two employees the same but is it fair if one is at a disadvantage.  For example, if one is dyslexic and the other is not, is it fair to give both a written test with a time limit and assess them the same? Equity would be giving the one with dyslexia a longer time limit.

Representation: In media we often talk about representation rather than diversity or inclusion.  Are stories from a variety of people being told? Can everyone see themselves on screen? Are the creators, funders and decision makers representative of the audience that they are trying to reach.  For me, representation is the end goal of diversity and inclusion strategies rather than another way of describing them.

Underserved: When trying to describe communities that are not being represented, people struggle to find an umbrella word. I have heard the word disadvantaged used but that has the connotation that unrepresented people or communities are low income and that is very much not the case. Non-mainstream is used but that assumes a definition of mainstream that we are in the middle of trying to change. Or people just list off a checklist of who they are trying to target: POC, indigenous, LGBTQ, women, disabled, newcomers, etc. Checklists unfortunately are essential if you are trying to measure progress, particularly if you are a government agency or government funded, but inevitably someone feels left out or given intersectionality unable to pick just one box to tick. I like to use the phrase ‘underserved communities’ as an umbrella term. It is easy to understand and doesn’t make judgments about the people in those communities or attempt to define who is in or not in the community.

Intersectionality: In the last definition I used the word intersectionality.  While it has been around for a while it seems to have been one of the buzzwords of 2018 as a lot of people clued in to it for the first time.  Intersectionality is the idea that people are not part of just one community but often multiples, with different experiences based on each one.  For example, a gay person of colour will have a different life experience than a straight person of colour or a white gay person. Inclusion strategies should keep in mind that people are rarely one thing. Any kind of measurement should take into account that people may want to tick off more than one box.

POC: In some circles POC, the acronym for People of Colour, is thought to be synonymous with black or African/Caribbean.  POC is an inclusive term that generally refers to all non-white people including Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, Asian and South Asian. This is a difficult concept for my mother who looks at skin tone and says ‘looks white to me’ (the irony being that my mother thinks of herself as white but her skin tone is brown since she is Anglo-Indian).  POC is about ethnicity and culture and not skin tone. And, as evidenced by my mother, self-identification.

BIPOC/IBPOC: I have seen this acronym spelled both ways but it means the same thing, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.  The choice to put Indigenous first is a conscious statement because Indigenous were in this country first.  The I is sometimes removed leaving BPOC if Indigenous are being represented separately or the jurisdiction is one where there are no Indigenous peoples. However, BIPOC is easier to say. It is usually an attempt to bring together different communities and reflect or encompass intersectionality.  In Canadian film and tv, BIPOC TV & Film is an example.

Racialized: Racialized or racialization is a term that is being used by some to mean non-white.  It started as a sociology phrase to identify racial groups but has become a replacement for racial minority or Visible Minority.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission says that race is a social construct to create differences based on people’s characteristics and the process of that social construction is Racialization.  While federal legislation uses the term Visible Minority, many groups prefer Racialized because in many parts of Canada, non-white people are not the minority and that is only going to grow. However, Racialized technically refers to all people as it is a social construct for all.  Usage may be changing the technical meaning of the word.

Visible Minority:  While in many ways this is an outmoded word, since in many parts of Canada those who are non-white are not the minority and this is only going to grow, it is still an often-used term because it is embedded in federal and provincial legislation like the Employment Equity Act. It also doesn’t reflect the fact that many people who would consider themselves non-white, may not be ‘visible’.  As with many problematic terms, it is also one coined from the perspective of the white person rather than from the identity of the non-white person.

Privilege: Privilege has become a very loaded word. It should not be.  Privilege at its most basic means rights or advantages based upon being part of a group. There is a great exercise that asks people to stand in a row and then take steps backward and forward depending on whether they have had certain life experiences.  Do they have a post-secondary education? Are they white? Are they female? Do they have a student loan? Are they gay? It is a great visual representation of the different forms of privilege and reminds us all that some aspect of our life is privileged and gives us advantages that other people do not have.  For example, an updated version of the exercise would have to ask: Do you have access to high speed broadband at an affordable price?

Decolonization: I will admit that this term was not on my radar when I first wrote this post in early 2019.  Strictly speaking it means the undoing of the process of colonization. It was originally coined to refer to the dismantling of imperial colonialism which started after WWI. It has now been expanded to go beyond independent statehood to the idea of dismantling colonial ideas that made the colonized feel inferior. In a Canadian context, it can be about self-determination but also reclaiming Indigenous cultural practices and world views and for non-Indigenous Canadians, including government, businesses, funders and broadcasters, to recognize and accept Canada’s colonial history and to work to undo the damage it caused.

Anti-Racism: Being anti-racist is taking concrete action to provide equitable opportunities to all people and specifically address the systemic racism inherent in many of our institutions.  Anti-racism can be actions taken to dismantle systemic racism or responses to individual actions of racism.

Marginalized: Marginalized people are those who have been pushed aside and prevented from fully participating in society. They may have been marginalized for many different reasons including race, gender, sexual orientation or ability so the term should not be used as a synonym for non-white or POC.

So there are ten [now fourteen] terms that I find myself dealing with on an almost daily basis.  Have I left anything out?  Do you agree or disagree with any of my explanations?

UPDATE:  At a conference on the weekend a speaker said that my fave word ‘underserved’ should be replaced by ‘excluded’.  It made me think about the two words.  Underserved means that a community is getting some service (i.e. opportunities) but not parity with other communities.  Excluded means that it is or they are completely excluded from any of those opportunities.  It’s not for me (or you) to decide if a community or a member of it feels excluded rather than underserved but I do think that parity is a continuum and not an in or out situation.  For me this is an example of how we need to continually think about the words that we use and check in with the audience to see if we are using words that they are comfortable with.

The Diversity Issue – Are We Doing Enough?

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.]

Best Idea Wins button