Why diversity is critical to media and entertainment – and how to achieve it

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Cathy Li, Head of Media, Entertainment and Sport Industries, World Economic Forum & Kristen Hines, Managing Director, Accenture


  • Increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the media and entertainment industry is the right thing to do – and can increase profits.
  • A new report from the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Accenture, analyzes progress in the industry.
  • Here’s how companies can increase their efforts and reap the rewards of a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce and audience.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) has recently become one of the most trending topics in the media and entertainment industry. But embracing diversity isn’t only about doing the right thing.

Analysis shows that ethics and profits are two sides of the same coin. There’s financial logic to making sure that content–and those who create it–are authentically and inclusively representative of today’s society.

For example, movies that lack authentic and inclusive representation underperform by around 20% of their budget at the opening weekend box office. In advertising, 64% of consumers in a Google survey said that they had considered buying or had made a purchase after seeing an ad that they considered diverse or inclusive. Similarly, other sectors have sizable untapped opportunities from increased diversity and inclusion.

A new report from the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Accenture, “Reflecting Society: The State of Diverse Representation in Media and Entertainment” shows where the industry is making progress and what more needs to be done. The scope of this wide-ranging report, the first to look across industry sectors and identities, is international although it is worth noting that much of the existing research and data available today comes out of the US.

Opening new markets

By better addressing these underrepresented consumers, media businesses should be able to open new markets.

In gaming, for example,only 11% of titles that were nominated for an award in 2020 had significant LGBTQ+ storylines. This is a missed opportunity: research shows that LGBTQ+ consumers are more likely to have a gaming system and also spend more on games. Similarly, only 3% of titles have a primary character of color, just 23% allowed players to choose their character’s ethnicity, and only 18% of games launched in 2020 featured female characters.

Or take the world of sports. Nearly half (47%) of the world’s most ardent fans across 13 major sports are women. But women’s sport gets only 4% of sport media attention today.

In news and publishing, little progress has been made towards greater racial diversity, with non-white publishers increasing in number by only 3% since 2015. Despite this, 34% of news executives disagree that women and people of color face barriers to career progression.

Embracing greater racial diversity could also translate into a broader audience. For example, P&G’s celebrated advertisement “The Talk” featured Black mothers of the bias they and their children faced in the US. It was viewed 7 million times online, as well as airing on TV.

Increasing diversity across industries
Increasing diversity across industries Image: “Reflecting Society: The State of Diverse Representation in Media and Entertainment”

Attracting and inspiring new talent

A greater emphasis on DE&I not only lands well with consumers, but also increases the diversity of talent, which can lead to more representative storytelling.

Increasing the diversity of those working in these industries is especially important because the entertainment and media industry is influential from an early age. Young people take their cues and develop their worldviews from what they see and read. But a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that less than 4% of books for young people have significant LGBTQ+ content, and representation of diverse content or characters was only 11% African-American, 1.5% Native American, 9% Asian/Pacific and 7% Latinx.

Not only do certain groups not see themselves reflected in the content that’s available, but they also don’t see a path for themselves into a career creating that content. Career opportunities are not evenly distributed, for example, in access to apprenticeships in TV and film.

To address these issues, many brands and advertisers are seeking greater diversity in their workforce and are looking to their agencies to provide it, with clear policies to support that goal. These initiatives create a virtuous circle where diverse content attracts diverse creators who, in turn, create more diverse content. For example, when Beenox and Raven Software added more gender options to their “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” game, they reported an increase in the gender diversity of applicants for creative roles.

In sports, efforts to encourage greater participation among young people can lead to a more diverse fanbase, pool of athletes and commentators in later life. To address this, the Australian government recently released Sport 2030, a comprehensive plan to increase youth sports participation of people with disabilities, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and low-medium income households.

Average age at entry into organized or team sports
Average age at entry into organized or team sports Image: “Reflecting Society: The State of Diverse Representation in Media and Entertainment”

In film, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added 819 new members in 2020; 45% were women and 35% were from historically underrepresented groups. The Oscar 2021 shortlist was the most diverse ever, although time will tell if progress is sustained.

Meanwhile, behind the camera, initiatives by organizations such as the Los Angeles Urban League address lack of diversity in film and TV production by offering apprenticeships to those from under-represented communities. In much the same way, Verizon’s Ad Fellows program helps encourage diversity at ad agencies and has a 94% job placement rate for those attending the program.

Elsewhere, UK broadcaster ITV created ‘Step Up 60’ to help accelerate the career progression of more than 60 underrepresented employees by enabling them to temporarily ‘step up’ to senior roles. Global ad group Edelman achieved its goal of having 50% of leadership positions filled by women by 2020, and has pledged to have a racial/ethnic workplace diversity ratio of 30% in the US by 2022 – a target that it is on track to achieve.

Achieving real progress

In order to drive change and make real progress, organizations must have data and measurement tools that enable them to understand where they are and where they need to go. These tools must address both content and content creators and ensure transparency and accountability.

For example, Netflix has worked with USC Annenberg to analyze its scripted series and films. NBC Universal and the Geena Davis Institute tested an AI tool “Spellcheck for Bias” to measure representation in front of and behind the camera. And Twitter launched an internal dashboard to give employees a transparent view of its organization-wide demographic data.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The Platform produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

These issues are at the heart of the World Economic Forum’s newly convened Power of Media Taskforce on DE&I. The taskforce brings together companies, industry bodies, and leading non-profits in DE&I advocacy to drive transparency and action and build community. It will initially focus on three key areas:

  • Measurement – creating data-driven benchmarks and metrics to formalize measurement of progress and goal setting;
  • Accountability – creating greater transparency and accountability in initiatives and results;
  • Community and collaboration – building peer communities across the industry and providing a safe space for exploring sensitive and new topics in DE&I and sharing best practices.

The taskforce will highlight DE&I progress through the voice of the audience and will be driven by its members to adopt leading practices and new cross-industry initiatives for content and creative production. Together, we can ensure that content and storytellers are representative of the stories being told, and take meaningful actions and investments that advance equitable representation in society.

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