In 2020, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the nearly 20,000-member group that presents the PRimetime Emmy Awards each fall, was in the midst of a similar reassessment of its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as the other influential organizations in Hollywood. Triggered by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that erupted in 2015 and encouraged by Directors Guild and Cinematographers Society of America programs to hire and train more diverse candidates for industry jobs, the entertainment industry’s reckoning had already begun.
Then came the protests over the murder of George Floyd this summer.
The riots “ignited a massive conversation across the country about racial representation and social injustice, which further solidified our desire to ensure television is doing everything in its power to improve the status of representation, even in the midst of the pandemic,” says Maury McIntyre, President and COO of Television Academy, who credits Frank Scherma, the Chairman and CEO since 2019, for making representation one of the Academy’s top priorities. The Academy hired DEI consultants ReadySet to conduct a DEI-related survey among their members in 2021.
“Representation is important,” says McIntyre. “The more times you see someone like yourself on TV, the more it authenticates who you are. All the more you can say: ‘That could be me too.’ Everyone deserves that, and television helps reinforce that.”
At the Academy’s most public event, the Emmy Awards, that portrayal has often been neglected: A Times analysis of Emmy nominees in major acting categories (leading and supporting actors in comedy and drama series and limited series/television movies) from 2000 found that for more than two decades, white performers received about 84% of Emmy nominations — as much as 97% in some years. McIntyre attributes the lack of diversity in the nominations to a lack of diversity in the roles, citing shows like When They See Us and Lovecraft Country as examples of inclusive programs that produce inclusive nominees.
“Viola Davis said it best when she won the Emmy: You can’t win this award if you don’t get an opportunity to play a role that could earn you this award,” says McIntyre. “I don’t think you can blame the Oscars, I don’t think you can blame the Emmys if the roles aren’t there. But it is our responsibility to ensure that when the roles are in place, we encourage and advocate for our members to see and witness those roles and then judge them.
However, whether the members who vote on the Emmys are themselves representative of the wider population or the entertainment industry cannot be said for certain, as the Academy does not – and will not – ask for the demographics of its members.
“You don’t have to provide this information when you join,” says McIntyre. “We felt like we were reflecting the industry.” However, McIntyre concedes that staying on par is not enough: “If we want to be a leader, we have to actually be a leader of the industry. We shouldn’t be like, ‘Oh great, we look like the industry; We’re done.’ Our goal should be to say, ‘We are representative of the US population.’”
McIntyre acknowledges that the lack of demographic data makes it difficult for an organization to diagnose DEI issues that may be related to its composition. That leaves the 2021 study as the organization’s only indication of its current composition — and an imperfect one at that.
According to ReadySet, 28% of members responded to the 2021 survey, which McIntyre describes as the greatest such response the Academy has ever had. This group provided (mostly) demographic information, although how representative these figures are for the organization as a whole cannot be known even to the Academy leadership. 69% of respondents were white (compared to 64% in the US overall); 51% were male (49.5% national).
Y-Vonne Hutchinson, CEO and Founder of ReadySet says: “Diversity, equity and inclusion are often associated with backlash or resistance. What we want to do is strike a balance between getting enough information where we feel informed and able to validate some conclusions, and forcing people into a particularly awkward situation, or triggering people who may not want to reveal private information. “
“[Self-]Choice will always be an issue. We got over 4,000 responses, which is a pretty decent number to examine patterns in the data,” said Lily Jampol, Head of People Science at ReadySet. “But I also want to emphasize that it’s not just about the quantitative data. We are talk also to people. That is where wealth comes from.”
73% of TV Academy members surveyed report positive “overall satisfaction and engagement” with the organization and believe the organization can be a “game changing influencer.” But ReadySet also identified a number of areas for improvement in its DEI profile, including the diversity of the academy’s leadership, the board’s “transparency, accountability, and communication,” and a perception that its DEI efforts are not substantive.
The study’s authors are blunt in their analysis: “There seems to be a deep-seated resistance in the academy’s culture to moving forward, changing the way things have always been done, and a new future for television to accomplish.”
One of the most striking findings is the composition of the Academy’s Board of Governors in place at the time of the study 60 elected members, two from each of the organization’s 30 peer groups. (There are now 31 peer groups, and by the time of the next election there will be 62 governors.) Of the governors surveyed, only 14% identify as black. “Members felt that there was insufficient diverse representation in membership and leadership, leading to feelings of exclusion and marginalization because of their out-group identity,” the study says authors write. “There was significant under-representation of disabled perspectives and no representation of Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native American, Indigenous or veteran identities on the board.”
As a result, according to the study, members feel the Academy “does not adequately understand and support its more diverse membership.”
Indeed, while 92% of white male respondents said they were positive about the academy’s diversity, only 46% of black women did. On Belonging & Inclusion, white men scored 93% positive, black women 46%; in “leadership” white men scored 96% positive, black women 39%; and in Language & Communication, white men scored 97% positive, black women 36%.
The study also found that the organization’s DEI efforts “were perceived by underrepresented members as performative and reactive, rather than creating the lasting, structural change expected of a thought leader and industry influencer.”
McIntyre understands that these gaps in members’ own assessment of the Academy are central to how the organization has fallen short of DEI – and how it can improve. “It’s not just about who your members are, but do they actually feel welcome?” he says. “Because if they don’t feel welcome, how are you going to attract more diverse members? You want to feel like you’re seated at the table; To sit at the table you have to feel included.”
Television Academy is far from alone in facing these challenges, says Hutchinson: “A lot of the issues that we see at Television Academy, or that were raised in the report, we honestly see in many other settings. We live in a society with a shared history and a shared struggle.”
And she is confident that the commitment to change – both within the academy and across the industry – is real.
“There are organizations out there that are treating this like a fad,” says Hutchinson. “‘Let’s launch a campaign, let’s do something and bam, bam, boom, we’re done.’ One of the things we really value about our partnership is the intent, the long-term vision that we see now.”
However, as both McIntyre and Hutchinson point out, all too often, recognizing and discussing DEI failures is the endpoint for an organization rather than the beginning of meaningful change.
“It’s a concern we all have: are we actually pursuing initiatives that make a difference? Or is it just talk?” says McIntyre. “We’ve done quite a bit in the past, we’ve done a lot of panels. Panels are great. What happens after a panel? How do we translate that into substantive initiatives?”
Among the initiatives McIntyre cites is the academy’s intern program, which he describes as “a pipeline to industry focused on underrepresented and underserved communities”: “We cycle through 60 to 65 interns a year, the majority of whom, almost 75%, comes from BIPOC communities, many of which are first-generation college students,” he says. In response to the findings of the study, the Academy also hired a senior membership officer to oversee member outreach and engagement.
Other goals remain just that: goals. Including McIntyre’s stated goal for the Academy to make DEI a core value.
“Our mission statement needs to say that inclusion and equity are a fundamental principle for us to move forward,” he said, citing a leadership group that now meets monthly to discuss DEI issues. “I think by the end of the year you’ll see us come out with, ‘This is how we put our feet in the fire.'”
In the meantime, he, Scherma and the ReadySet employees must overcome the “deep-seated resistance” to change that the 2021 study found in corporate culture.
“Moving forward comes with some resistance, and there will be concerns, if you will, with any ruling party about losing some of that power,” McIntyre concedes. “The changes we are looking at are not a zero-sum game. It’s not “I want to diversify my membership, which means I will invite only Black or Hispanic professionals.” We are an open door. … We want to make sure we reach out and educate the underrepresented communities so they know they can participate as long as they have the qualifications.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-09-08/2022-emmys-awards-nominations-television-academy-diversity Diversity study finds ‘resistance’ to change in Emmys group