In the past month, something notable and disturbing has occurred in the entertainment industry across the United States. Several women of colour in DEI leadership positions have all quite suddenly left their high-profile roles. These departures encompass prominent studios like Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Jeanell English, Karen Horne, Latondra Newton, and Verna Myers are all moving on, either stepping down or being laid off.
In 2018, the average tenure of the Chief Diversity Officer was 3.1 years in the US, today it’s 1.8 years, according to the Financial Times.
This exodus of women of colour in leadership roles from major American studios comes at a critical time when the issue of inclusion is facing intense scrutiny. The recent decision by the Supreme Court to strike down affirmative action on June 29th has placed pressure on businesses everywhere to ponder over their DEI initiatives.
From my recent experience of working on DEI with American leaders, I have witnessed some strong and innovative initiatives which have been well resourced but not always well sponsored from the very top of the company. The ones that have made the biggest sustainable transformations, all had the CEO firmly behind all the DEI programs.
What is of real concern is that as the political pressure and challenges of the ‘culture wars’ stemming from the upcoming presidential campaign start to mount, corporate America needs to stay resolute and robust around the continued investment in DEI. Now is not the time to shy away from doing what’s both right and long overdue, even in the face of extreme political influence.
Yet recent news of some cheering the exit of Latondra Newton from Disney (who blame her for the casting of Black actress Halle Bailey for The Little Mermaid) and the removal of LGBTQ-themed products and decorations from Starbucks and Target are cautions. State legislation and some strident hawks in the media are playing their part.
Is this growing political influence on DEI in businesses solely an American problem? Or has it begun to impact Britain as well? Our Home Secretary has been pushing an anti-diversity agenda for some time now. I suspect businesses will have to stand firm and do what they feel is right and just.
DEI professionals are already seeing budgets and resources under scrutiny because of the dismal macro-economic environment. With the concerted push against everything ‘woke’, they are now bracing themselves for the added anti-woke brigade narrative, which is gathering pace on our own political landscape, especially within the Home Office. Senior figures in DEI require much greater support, especially from the CEO and the executive teams.
As these events are unfolding in corporate America, the implications for businesses here are clear. Many have experienced the power of embracing our differences and when we come together, we can achieve amazing things. This is a time to stay together.
When times get rough: Tough it out.
In order to progress there have always been struggles to overcome, and we must all come together, as there are no innocent bystanders anymore.
If you are not bold, you will fail.
Top Tips for Becoming an A Player:
- Courage is not the absence of fear.
- No business can succeed if it’s homogenous.
- If you forget inclusion, you are on the road to being excluded.
- Unity is power.
- Inclusion begins at home.