HR Intel: Hollywood Leads the Workplace Diversity Charge

Colored paint splashes on white backgroundA round up of workplace developments and legal trends to help keep HR ahead of the curve

Now that the #Oscarsowhite controversy is in the rearview mirror, elite Hollywood actors and talent agencies are leading the charge for more diversity in casting and production. Part of the renewed interest in diversity is undoubtedly a response to the black eye the industry suffered in connection with its most widely recognized awards show, but the other major motivation is – you guessed it – money.

Specifically, the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA indicates that film and television shows that accurately depict and reflect American diversity are more likely to draw higher ratings and to return higher box office performance.

That sentiment – that diversity produces results – is something the industry has struggled to accept despite the overwhelming evidence supporting it. The latest UCLA report reiterates that diverse movies have surpassed median worldwide box office performance and that the films that were in the lowest diversity interval performed poorly relative to their more diverse counterparts.

Increasingly, as the American population becomes more diverse itself – across age, race, gender and national origin in particular – it wants to see its increasing diversity reflected in entertainment vehicles. After all, suspending your disbelief is hard enough when you’re watching superheroes and aliens. It shouldn’t be made even more difficult by an unrealistically monochromatic cast.

Beyond the UCLA report, J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Studios is partnering with the Creative Artists Agency to deliver a policy on diversity hiring that promises to keep casts and production teams diverse while delivering strong box office performance. At the very least, Bad Robot will require diversity in writers, actors and directors being considered for projects that falls in line with the demographic makeup of the American population (approximately 50% women, 12% African American, 18% Hispanic and 6% Asian).

Of course, many employers in the private sector have known this for quite some time and have striven toward creating a diverse workforce with tremendous fervor.  Industry analytical leaders like McKinsey and Company have advocated for more diversity in their client companies as a means to drive more revenue growth and the message has been received loud and clear. It’s time for art to (better) imitate life and for Hollywood to finally catch up with the times.

As if the diversity issue wasn’t enough of an industry embarrassment, pop star Ke$ha is embroiled in a legal battle over the enforceability of her recording contract in light of harassment allegations against her producer. In an at-will world, Ke$ha could simply walk away from her job or her employer could fire her for misconduct, but her recording contract treats her more like a contractor than an at-will employee.

It seems ludicrous to HR professionals that an alleged victim of sexual harassment should have to continue working with her accused tormenter, but the nature of recording contracts requires a tremendous showing of proof by the artist to void the contract. Perhaps Hollywood can tackle the issue of artist exploitation once it has diversity wrapped up.

Overseas overexposure

Sticking with the entertainment theme, Chinese-owned mega theater chain AMC is acquiring domestic theater chain Carmike to create the largest chain of movie theaters in the world. However, the proposed deal has attracted attention from Department of Justice as part of an antitrust probe and comes immediately after the same holding company that owns AMC acquired a controlling stake in Hollywood film studio Legendary Entertainment for $3.4 billion.

American telecom company Qualcomm has been accused of nepotism in violation of anti-bribery laws covering its Chinese-based hiring practices between 2002 and 2012. Bribery is a particular area of exposure and concern for global employers and in this case, Qualcomm was accused of hiring the relatives of Chinese officials when the company tried to make inroads into the Chinese market.  The SEC pursued the case against Qualcomm and the company has agreed to pay a fine of $7.5 million in response to the charges, but without admitting any fault or wrongdoing.

Not to be outdone, medical device producer Olympus has been fined $646 million after admitting to a pattern of bribery and kickbacks paid to doctors and hospitals in the U.S., Central and South America. This is the largest-ever bribery fine of its kind. Whistleblower and former Olympus compliance officer John Slowik will collect $51 million in rewards after…ahemblowing the whistle on the scheme , something which Slowik alleged resulted in harassment that made him physically ill.

HR grab bag

“Owl-themed” Hooters is no stranger to sexual harassment claims, but this time there’s a twist: the complaining employees are men. Two former male employees of a Los Angeles-area Hooters chain claim that their male boss sexually harassed them over a period of years. The suit includes allegations of “simulated sodomy” in the parking lot of the restaurant and plenty of unwanted tushy-touching, culminating in the termination of the two employees after they complained. Hooters national, addressing joint employer liability issues, was quick to explain that the allegations are limited to a franchise and that the parent company had no “independent knowledge of the facts.”

The NFL is going through its annual months-long job interview process ahead of the April 2016 NFL Draft. This time, however, the league is making news not only due to the rigorous nature of the interview process, but also because of the questionable nature of the inquiries made of players. In particular, Eli Apple, a promising cornerback prospect out of Ohio State, accused an Atlanta Falcons coach of asking him if he “liked men” during an interview held at the “Combine” in Indianapolis. Put that one on the list of inappropriate interview questions if you hadn’t already.

Along those lines, here are 21 “crazy” interview questions that NFL teams are using to measure an athlete’s psyche (and creativity?). My personal favorite is: “If you were a kitchen appliance, which would you be and why?” Obviously the answer is Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer due to its versatility, good looks and the fact that it makes my wife very happy. Anyone who disagrees is clearly crazy and not deserving of a spot on the team. Duh.

Beleaguered mammal park Seaworld fought the scourge of negative attention around its killer whale exhibits by… spying on PETA? Yup, apparently, Seaworld thought the best way to protect its employees from prying PETA eyes was to send some of those very same employees – disguised as animal rights activists – into PETA’s evil lair (or wherever they do business). Seaworld has since ended the undercover underwater operation, though it placed the ringleader on administrative leave for his (not so) bright idea. The ever-quotable PETA says that Seaworld knows the public is rejecting its “cruel Orca prisons” and became so desperate to stem the flow of negative press that it created a corporate espionage campaign rather than focus on animal cruelty and safety for its employees.

How is this song related to HR?

In the last edition of HR Intel, we asked you how “Hello” by Adelle is relevant to HR. Contrary to popular belief, “Hello” is not about a painful breakup. Instead, the sultry soul singer has announced that the song is a means of reintroducing herself to the world after a bout of depression and isolation that followed the birth of her child. For HR professionals, “Hello” is a reminder that it’s never too late to rekindle failed or neglected workplace relationships or to reinvent yourself as a means to get better results for your strategic initiatives. HR is nothing if not agile and creative when it comes to problem solving and “Hello” is an anthem for anyone who wants another crack at it.

We leave you with “Patience” by Guns n’ Roses.

Tell us how you think this song is related to HR in the comments section below.

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