#AssociationsSoWhite: A Cautionary Tale for Our Times

This Washington Post analysis of the lack of diversity within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could easily be about many other dominant associations in their profession or industry, right down to the quotes by industry leaders. Read the story replacing academy with your association’s name.

First, there’s the data showing a “staggering lack of diversity among Hollywood’s top ranks: About 96 percent of the more than 450 members in the executives branch are white and 87 percent are men… The average member is retirement age, just over 65.”  

Who is holding senior positions of influence in your association or industry? The old guard or the face of a changing world?

The academy now has a major initiative to turn this situation around in the face of intense public exposure related to the #OscarsSoWhite social media movement. Even if this isn’t the academy’s first diversity initiative, it is obviously too little, too late, as the story explains, to turn the situation around at current recruitment rates. 

The academy membership reflects the industry’s demographics. It is difficult for women and people of color to break through institutional and economic barriers in the business. “The heart of the problem is how the industry works…” one woman observer explains. 

So how does your industry work to welcome people who might be different from those now in power? 

Again, the quotes are telling, right down to the defensive counterargument against any affirmative effort to recruit more diverse academy members unless they are qualified. Check out how the story opens: several influential elders are explaining their lack of awareness or interest in viewing “Straight Outta Compton”. Different people come with different priorities and life experiences and they put their efforts into the stories, issues and programs that interest them. “It’s not overt…It’s people you love, people you work with or grew up with, who aren’t aware of the way they’re biased about the material, about other cultures,” another person explains.

This situation is more than a risk to the academy’s public reputation.  A social justice boycott of the Oscars ceremony and declining viewership could undercut the $100 million in advertising and sponsorship revenue the Academy relies on for its operations.

For associations dragging their feet on diversity and inclusion, or think that their current efforts are enough, this analysis of another’s association’s membership and industry influence should be read as a cautionary tale. Our social demographics are changing much faster than our professions and industries. Associations that fail to act on this future fact could find themselves starring in their own version of scrutiny and public backlash.