4 ways media and entertainment could be more equitable and diverse

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Hesham Zafar, Community Curator, Media, Entertainment, and Information Industries, World Economic Forum


  • There are examples of media, entertainment and sports brands that are bringing their diversity commitments to life.
  • Others can learn from their successes to implement their own programmes and raise the bar for the industry.
  • The World Economic Forum’s work to bring together companies, industry bodies, academia and leading non-profits in DE&I advocacy to drive transparency and collective action is addressing these challenges.

Media and entertainment companies are increasingly recognizing the challenge of closing the gap between intention and action on fostering diversity and inclusion.

In the aftermath of civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd last year, businesses were criticized for failing to act appropriately or failing to act at all, even with the best intentions. What became clear is that words don’t speak louder than actions, but hope emerged that the show of solidarity and empathy from business leaders would be a precursor to real change.

A recent McKinsey study shows that inequity is ‘deeply entrenched’ across film and TV, highlighting that “by addressing the persistent racial inequities, the industry could reap an additional $10 billion in annual revenues—about 7% more than the assessed baseline of $148 billion”. The study concludes that “fewer Black-led stories get told, and when they are, these projects have been consistently underfunded and undervalued, despite often earning higher relative returns than other properties.”

The World Economic Forum-Accenture paper on the The State of Diverse Representation in Media and Entertainment reinforces this view, asserting, “Organizations not only have a social responsibility to represent the consumers of their content, but by doing so also stand to gain significant financial benefits.”

Black representation in film and TV: The challenges and impact of increasing diversity Image: McKinsey & Company

The challenge is real but the incentives are compelling. Despite persistent inequity, tangible progress is being made by some brands. We asked leaders in media and entertainment, who are championing the shift, how they’re doing it. Four lessons emerged in specific areas where senior-level commitments are translating intention into results.

1. Diversify decision-making

Diverse leaders and decision-makers are essential for telling diverse stories. However, existing studies point to a lack of diverse creative leadership in the industry.

There is a pyramid problem; diversity in hiring falters at more senior levels. Hearst’s 2020 diversity report shows that, while 36% of new hires are people of colour, only around 20% are in management and leadership positions.

Retention and promotion among middle management is a priority area identified by leaders in the industry, focusing on targeting mid-level talent with development, skills-creation and promotion opportunities.

Identifying and eliminating some of the remaining systemic barriers to entry

—Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, NBCUniversal

“NBCUniversal has been a longtime leader in delivering broad diversity in our content, both in front of and behind the camera, with decades of ‘firsts’ in the industry for historically underrepresented groups: the first LGBTQ+ sitcom, the first black morning show host, the first female commentator for the FIFA Men’s World Cup and the first live video description for the visual impaired, among others.

“Ongoing progress will depend on identifying and eliminating some of the remaining systemic barriers to entry for talented creators, whether they be socioeconomic, geographic, or a lack of access to get their ideas to the right people. And we will continue to be transparent on where we are getting it right and where we need to do better.”

2. Embed industry metrics and accountability

Demands for greater transparency have led to the creation of new initiatives, tools and metrics. Existing data largely skews towards visible forms of diversity and visual media (for example gender and race/ethnicity in film and TV and corporate diversity solutions) and less towards industry-wide commitments, metrics or initiatives.

Hold leaders accountable for their contributions

—Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources officer for Accenture

“Once goals are in place, a critical next step can be determining how to hold leaders accountable for their contributions — an essential step on any road to change. We have adopted a scorecard that measures our top 500 leaders globally on a range of activity, including: sales, revenue and profitability, and the extent to which they advance our inclusion and diversity goals. Putting people metrics on par with financial metrics can be a game changer to accelerate progress toward your goals.”

Embedding diversity and inclusion frameworks… in our creative and production processes

—Raashi Sikka, Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion for Ubisoft

“Played by billions around the world, video games are an increasingly influential part of our culture. At Ubisoft, we recognize the power and the responsibility that we have as a leading publisher and developer to create games that reflect the diversity of our players. By embedding diversity and inclusion frameworks in our creative and production processes, we ensure it is a priority our worldwide teams work toward together.

“To accelerate these efforts, we are building an Inclusive Games and Content team responsible for ensuring that diversity and inclusion are at the centre of our games. This team will help to include diverse perspectives at all stages of the development process and support employee led initiatives such as the diversity and inclusion global content review group. As we push forward, we know we must continue to engage in conversations with our teams, players and communities to keep learning and growing.”

3. Enable discourse and learning

The media and entertainment industry has often been reactive to social issues and has rarely pooled common resources and capabilities. But the reach and influence of the industry creates a unique opportunity to educate audiences, create content that challenges the status quo and bring social issues to the forefront of public consciousness.

Not only resonating with our consumers, but also empowering all of our employees

—Alexandra Wallace, Head, Media and Content for Yahoo

“Yahoo has a steadfast commitment to accurately reflect our diverse global audience of nearly 900 million people. Diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamental to Yahoo’s success in not only resonating with our consumers, but also empowering all of our employees. For example, we founded the Mind Together coalition to deliver education, awareness and learning on mental health to our workforce as well as our partner companies’ employees. Our tremendous growth has been a result of our efforts on creating an inclusive and safe environment for our employees and consumers, and we will strive to remain a leading internet destination for diverse audiences.”

4. Promote accurate portrayals

The industry should get ahead of social issues and proactively inform the public, advance the topics and shape the dialogue. Audiences demand authenticity and accurate portrayals. As companies are making efforts to remove stereotypes from their content, unstereotypical marketing is no longer a choice – it is the number one priority for marketers globally.

Re-wire the way we approach marketing

—Aline Santos, Chief Brand Officer and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Unilever

“Last year, we launched Act 2 Unstereotype our commitment and action plan to re-wire the way we approach marketing. We take a forensic approach to ensure ED&I is embedded at every point of the end-to-end marketing journey. This is our roadmap to help dismantle the societal ‘isms’ (sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, etc) that negatively impact our industry, our employees, our consumers and our communities.

“Championing inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it also drives real business results. We’ve known for some time the link between Brand Power and breaking stereotypical gender portrayals in advertising. Since the launch of Unstereotype in 2016, we have been measuring our progress and have seen that progressive portrayals of people in ads delivers 74% brand power as well as an increase in purchase intent and brand credibility.”

Categories of diversity
Categories of diversity Image: World Economic Forum-Accenture, Reflecting Society: The State of Diverse Representation in Media and Entertainment

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.

Thanks to the global reach of their platforms, the organizations in the media ecosystem are uniquely positioned to drive inclusive change through more intentional investments in their content and creative production.

The Power of Media Taskforce will incrementally seek to establish sustainable change in the media ecosystem through better accountability, transparency, and awareness to advance voices of underrepresented groups and help break down systemic barriers.

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