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Diversity – What lessons can we learn from Oscars?

The Academy Awards ceremony - or ‘’Oscars’’ as we more commonly know it – is a night where the entertainment industry honour cinematic achievements. This year, the Oscars has been hit by controversy after a backlash of criticism from actors and spectators in regards to the lack of diversity amongst award nominees. This year marks the 87th anniversary and the usual glitz and glamour, which usually surrounds the awards, seems to have been overshadowed by the ‘OscarsSoWhite’ phenomenon which may lead to a boycott by a number of black artists. On Friday Charlotte Rampling added to the uproar with a very bizarre remark that the row over lack of black Oscar nominees was racist to white people.

There is of course a considerable degree of subjectivity in the selection of the winners and determination of merit – what make a great film/ best actor/ best director etc is never going to be a measureable, black and white (sorry no pun intended) choice. But for the second time in a row, all the nominees are white, with the exemption of one directing nominee who is of Mexican heritage. On the face of it that seem a curiously disproportionate selection, given the multi-culturalism of those who work in and contribute to the making of films. The lack of diversity in the choice of nominees has led to prominent industry figures planning to ‘’sit out’’ of this year’s ceremony because minority actors and directors have not been equally represented.

The Oscar organisation consists of over 6,000 members who aren’t particularly diverse. Currently the organisation demographic stands at 76 percent male, 93 percent white, at an average of 63 years of age. The criticism has led to President of the Academy of Motion Pictures. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, to release a statement proposing to change the makeup of the organisation. Ms Boone said: ‘’In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.’’

In the UK workplace we are bound by the requirements of the anti-discrimination legislation, much of which is found in the Equality Act 2010. Protected characteristics in employment are:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Race (including ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality)
  • Religion or belief (including lack of belief)
  • Gender reassignment
  • Pregnancy and maternity

We are legally required to conduct ourselves in a compliant way so far as equality of opportunity is concerned. It’s also sensible to encourage diversity. Having a mix of racial, educational, social backgrounds unlocks a wealth of potential and promotes inventiveness and innovation. For an organisation, the best starting point is to build a good equality and diversity policy, supported by a definite and achievable plan of action.

Small to medium sized organisations may not have the budget for large development programmes in comparison to those large organisations, but research has shown diversity-driven mentoring programmes, are an effective and inexpensive way to develop a varied workforce. Mentoring schemes usually pair employees with experienced professionals to develop skills, confidence and nurture talent.

As you read this on a January winter morning I hope that your day is going well and you’re not having to deal with all the artistic traumas and tears so often associated with the Oscars, Gyyneth Paltrow being a shocking offender of the weep-and-thank-everyone school of acceptances. Real diversity is more than simply black and white. A diverse workforce comprises different outlooks, abilities, ages, sexual orientation and genders as well as different educational and professional backgrounds.

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