Sameer Gardezi_Rosemary Palacios

Inclusion industry: Finding diverse talent

Sesame Workshop’s Rosemary Palacios and Break the Room’s Sameer Gardezi explore how prodcos can build more inclusive casts and crews.
June 21, 2021

The past year has seen many industries reckon with their shortcomings when it comes to addressing race and racism. 

Continued demands for justice—and for better representation in all aspects of culture, including entertainment—has galvanized many kids media companies to examine their inadequacies and invest real time and effort into creating lasting change. Broadcasters, producers and toymakers have worked over the last 12 months to make improvements to their diversity and inclusion efforts on screen, behind the scenes and on shelves in order to more effectively serve all families.

Kicking off our Inclusion industry series, we asked D&I experts about what needs to change behind the scenes to address the talent issues. 

A lack of diverse job candidates has long been touted as one of the biggest obstacles to creating a more inclusive industry. But that excuse has worn thin.

“To say that the talent doesn’t exist is absolute insanity,” says Sameer Gardezi (pictured left), CEO of writers room development company Break the Room. There is a disconnect, he says, between talent pipelines and certain historically excluded communities. “We have to really think about where the industry can make effective leaps to reach out to the talent that historically hasn’t had the same opportunities or access.”

In an effort to address this problem, a number of broadcasters have implemented new diversity and inclusion requirements for their production partners. ABC Australia, for one, released guidelines that require productions to include historically excluded groups (such as Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community) both on and off screen. This means at least one person representing a historically excluded community needs to be part of the project’s core creative team, and at least half of the key creative team and crew must be female or gender-diverse.

Disney’s ABC network announced a set of standards in September 2020 that require inclusion both on screen and behind the scenes. Among other requirements, this means that 50% or more of regular and recurring written characters, episodic directors and overall crew or  project staff must come from underrepresented groups. ABC is providing training and resources in an effort to support these goals.

In the UK, BBC Studios Production introduced an inclusion rider at  the end of 2020 requiring that diverse talent make up at least 20% of on- screen talent and the production team for every new series. At least one  senior role on scripted and unscripted production teams also needs to be held by someone who either comes from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background; has a lived experience with disability; or comes from a low-income background.

But these guidelines, policies and riders will have to evolve in order to be effective, Gardezi says.

“When we talk about incubating these outreach and diversity pro- grams, what is the end [goal]?” he asks. “What tends to happen is that  there are plenty of entry-level positions, but there are no upstream opportunities. And that really comes into play when we talk about how this underrepresented talent is struggling to climb the ladder.”

Rosemary Palacios (pictured right), Sesame Workshop’s director of talent outreach, inclusion and content development, agrees that companies need to address their own internal policies, as well as set out new guidelines for production partners.

“Hiring a token minority just so you can check a box and fulfill that requirement isn’t going to really help if you’re not giving them what they need for success,” she says. “I’m just hoping to see more people take the time to make sure it’s sustainable.”

Moving forward, Palacios hopes to see broadcasters and producers  commit time and money to ensuring that all new talent has the necessary training, and that diverse talent have opportunities to network  and develop industry relationships.

Palacios also hopes broadcasters and producers will continue to expand their definition of diverse.

“Even when those programs are put in place, they don’t always take into consideration just how wide that spectrum of experience can be,” she says.

“We need to consider diversity beyond what we can see. It’s really about the different lived experiences and perspectives that people are coming to the table with. Whether that’s racial diversity, physical disability, neurodiversity or socio-economic background—it all counts towards this broader scope of stories that we have not been able to tell [when those communities were excluded].”

This is part one in a four-part series focusing on the Inclusion Industry. Tune in tomorrow for a look at what execs from kidcos, including LEGO and Sesame Workshop are doing to make more inclusive companies. 

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