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Oscar Controversy Embodies Our Concept of Key Employee Demographics Required for Growth

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In response to recent controversy over this year’s Oscar nominees — celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee have both declared their intention to boycott an Oscar ceremony they see as too white. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the organization that presents the annual Oscar awards — recently announced that she was planning on taking action to address what she sees as a lack of diversity in the Academy, which nominates and votes on the Oscars.

While applauding the achievements of this year’s nominees, Boone Isaacs wrote that she is “both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion” in the Academy membership and Oscar nominee pool. Isaacs — the first African-American Academy president — has promised “dramatic steps” to address this lack of diversity.

This is an issue that has received criticism in the past.

The membership of the Academy is a closely guarded secret; however, the Los Angeles Times has reported that the membership is strikingly homogeneous, with 94 percent of members Caucasian and 77 percent male. African-Americans and Latinos each made up roughly 2 percent of the membership, according to the Times, and only 14 percent of the membership was under 50 years old.

While it would be overly simplistic to conclude that it is impossible for an Academy composed largely of older white men to be able to evaluate the contributions of a diverse pool of potential applicants, we’ve repeatedly advocated the proposition that a diverse organization encourages a greater understanding and appreciation of the contributions and character of a diverse population. This is just as true when it comes to the types of cultural achievements celebrated by the Academy as it is of analyzing a market for product or service offerings or making hiring decisions.

The explicit mission of the Academy is “to recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures.” In order to connect the world through the medium of motion pictures, it seems appropriate to foster greater diversity within the membership of the Academy as Boone Isaacs has committed to doing.

It’s a concept we’ve been proposing for quite some time – key employee demographics required for growth – the idea that a business (or an organization such as the Academy of Arts and Sciences) can never adequately meet the needs of its constituents if its leaders do not reflect the faces of those constituents.

The good news is that Isaacs “gets it” – she recently announced some significant steps that will, hopefully, lead to more inclusiveness. 

We can all learn a lot from the controversy surrounding the Oscar nominations this year. Be inclusive!

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