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Once Again the Oscars Offer a Study in (Lack of) Diversity

Despite decades of progress, women continue to lag behind men in representation in numerous industries as well as high-level and leadership positions in general, across most industries. This representation gap is most prominent, of course, in high-profile areas, because they are more frequently discussed, seen and reported on. Three examples of such high-profile areas include business, politics and entertainment. They represent the achievement of money, power and influence in our society.

While disparities in representation on corporate boards and the halls of government arguably carry more tangible clout than entertainment, one cannot disregard the influence entertainers have on our culture and their position as role models and mouth pieces for civil society.

Do Men Really Represent the Best of the Best?

Perhaps that's why, in the midst of discussion over the lack of diversity in the last Democratic presidential debate, many have also been highlighting the lack of diversity in recent high-profile entertainment recognition events: the Academy Award nominations and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee announcement.

Issa Rae, the writer/director/producer/actress and star of HBO's "Insecure" punctuated the announcement for the (all male) best director nominations for the 92nd Oscars with the quip, "Congratulations to those men." And in a November, 2019 guest op-ed for Billboard titled "It's Time For the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Address Its Gender and Racial Imbalances," Evelyn McDonnell noted that only three out of 72 individuals (4.17 percent) nominated to the Hall of Fame this cycle were women. When the inductees were announced in mid-January, Whitney Houston was the only female represented.

The controversy over a lack of gender diversity in these awards programs raises an interesting question and one we hope will encourage some thoughtful discussion: to what extent should diversity be a goal in the selection of such award recipients?

Diversity—A Goal, or Part of the Process?

While the immediate reaction may be to emphatically argue that it should most certainly be a goal, consider the distinction between representation in decision-making institutions and representation among recipients of awards.

In 2016, after intense backlash over the "whiteness" of recent Academy Award nominees, the Academy announced major steps to increase the diversity of the Academy itself, the institution that nominates and selects award winners. The idea was that a more diverse body would select more diverse nominees and award winners—not because a more diverse group would automatically pick people who looked like them, but because they would have a better awareness of and appreciation for a more diverse pool of potential nominees. The goal, however, would still be to select the "best" films, actors, directors, etc., for each award category.

An Important Question to Ponder

On the surface, though, it would seem that this strategy is failing to achieve desired results. Should media awards strive for diversity and inclusion in the results, or is diversity and inclusion in the process sufficient? And, let’s take this a step further and apply the same question in the corporate environment—is it enough to establish a diverse hiring team when selecting board members, senior leaders and others?

Or—and this is an important “or”—are there other steps in the process before and between pulling together a selection team and making a selection—whether for Oscar nominees, board members and senior leaders—that must also be considered? We know what we think. What do you think?

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Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has strategic consulting, leadership development and

inclusion learning solutions and that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.

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