Simply having a conversation about diversity is a solid first step. That being said, these conversations are often missing key ingredients. If we don’t identify what we’re leaving out of diversity discussions, meaningful change will come at a very slow pace. Like many others, the creative industry may be overlooking some of these gaps. To some extent, these oversights are inevitable. After all, diversity discussions are wide-ranging, and they need to take into account every minority and subset of the population that might be overlooked, no matter how small they might be. Everyone needs to have a voice in diversity discussions, and that’s why it’s important that we constantly evaluate who might be missing from the conversation.
Industries Still Have a Tendency to Ignore Women of Color
Even while many companies celebrate more diverse workforces than ever before, women of color have a tendency to be overlooked. The Harvard Business Review reported in 2019 on an illuminating situation at General Motors back in 1976. African-American women were trying to sue the company for discrimination, but they failed to do so because neither white females nor black men had experienced the same kind of ill-treatment. The legal framework in place seemed to completely disregard the possibility that women of color could experience discrimination that was unique to their demographic¹.
So are the same issues happening today? We need only look at the statistics to find out. While women hold 21% of all C-Suite positions, women of color only hold 1%. These women of color are often not taken seriously on the pure basis of their appearance or manner of dress. One survey found that half of all Latina and black scientists were mistaken for janitorial staff. Something as simple as a black woman’s natural hair can have a profound effect on their ability to rise through the ranks of their chosen industry. Clearly, more work needs to be done in order to address these issues.
It’s easy to overlook women of color when you consider just how much progress women, overall, have made in the past few years. CNBC reported in 2020 that there were 37 women leading Fortune 500 firms, a record-high number². At first glance, this might seem like a major victory for diversity and inclusion – and to a large extent, it is. On the other hand, just three of these 37 women are women of color. None are Black or Latina. Clearly, something is missing here.
Social Class in General Is Missing From The Diversity Conversation
In addition to gender, social class is often missing from the discussion about an equitable work landscape. This is something that goes beyond gender and race. While the specifics of diversity are important – along the lines of ethnicity – sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the larger picture. Figures such as Columbia Business School Professor Paul Ingram have argued that numerous aspects of social class are overlooked in typical diversity discussions³. These include social capital (access to beneficial relationships) and cultural capital (knowing how to succeed within established institutions).
In next month’s series: Created in Color will take a micro-view of social class and explore its role in creating a genuinely diverse creative industry.