Why The Oscars’ Diversity Issue Matters to All Employers


Last night was the 88th broadcast of Academy Awards.  And, even if you didn’t watch it, then you know that not one person of color was nominated for an Oscar in the categories of best actor or actress in either a primary or supporting role. 

The host was Chris Rock. And, with humor and perspective, he nailed it…effectively by reframing it.

The absence of award nominations for actors of color was less about the nominations themselves and more about the absence of acting opportunities for actors of color. If you don’t have access to the opportunities, then it goes without saying you cannot win.

To quote Chris Rock:

"What I’m trying to say is it’s not about boycotting or anything. It’s just we want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it. And not just once. Leo gets a great part every year. All these guys get great parts all the time. But what about the black actors?"

Rock’s comments apply not only to black actors but also to Asian American and Hispanic American actors.  Why are there not more roles for actors who are Asian American or Hispanic American?

Now, you may be tempted to say: who cares about Hollywood!  Avoid that temptation; access issues are not limited to the entertainment industry.

Outside of Hollywood, we see a glaring absence of diversity in many senior leadership teams. And, there also is a clear gender pay gap in many organizations, even if people debate the degree of the gap.

I would suggest that, in many situations, what we see is the symptom of the underlying problem: the absence of meaningful access to assignments and opportunities that create the credentials for promotions and higher pay.   How do we address the access problem?

Well, that goes beyond the scope of this brief blog. But the first step is acknowledging the root of the problem so that we can focus our corrective action there.

Yes, this is about fairness. Fairness always matters. 

But there also is the business imperative. Diverse leadership teams are more successful, and you cannot get to the top unless you have had equal opportunity to access along the way.

Last night, Chris Rock rocked it with his root cause analysis. The success of our own organizations will depend, in part, on how we respond to the clarion call to focus on equal access opportunity.   


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Excellent assessment, Jonathan. I did watch the Awards. I, too, was impressed with Chris Rock's reframing so that we begin to look at the core of the problem - access; not just the symptom of not getting an award.
Years ago, when we began implementing Affirmative Action, Exec. Order 11246, there was a great deal of backlash because many companies didn't understand the "core" meaning of Affirmative Action. Often companies really did promote "token" minorities who didn't have the qualifications, just to get their "numbers" up - instead of opening up opportunities widely and regularly seeking out qualified minorities to apply for them. I believe equal and REGULAR access to opportunities is the key to Diversity - in Hollywood, in Education, in Health Care, in Companies, and across the country. Thanks for passing on your comments to those who may not have seen - or, perhaps,, understood, Chris's comments.

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