Diversity guru tells studios how to mix it up

It's a good time for aspiring job seekers, top recruiter sez

“Crash” notwithstanding, Hollywood has a lot to learn about diversity.

At the end of the 1990s, several damning reports painted a negative picture about the number of minorities and women in entertainment. In 1999, NAACP chairman Kweisi Mfume issued a wake-up call to the industry after threatening to boycott the major networks for the lack of nonwhite characters in primetime.

Now “diversity” is the first word on the lips of the hiring departments of every studio in town, all of which have execs specifically assigned to increasing diversity.

“Companies realized they had to get with it,” says Fred Clayton, one of the top diversity recruiters studios call when trying to create a more inclusive work environment. Clayton has found execs for companies including Disney, Universal, Sony and Fox.

Although both boardrooms and cast lists might still have a ways to go, Clayton says, “It’s a good time for aspiring job seekers,” particularly for women and people of color, as the leadership in many companies is aging and management is starting to look for successors.

Clayton launched his own executive search company 12 years ago after feeling embarrassed by the overwhelmingly Caucasian staff of headhunters at his previous firm.

Yes, Clayton is white, but he decided that building a diverse staff and making diversity recruiting a specialty would be his top priorities at his new company, Berkhemer/Clayton.

“At first we called the company Diversity Search Partners,” he says. “We thought people would realize that we represented a diverse selection of candidates, but people thought we only represented minorities.”

CEO Clayton, a USC business grad, points out that although there are minority-owned search firms, they tend to specialize in candidates of just one ethnic group and thus can’t provide a broad search. And he and prexy Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire have recruited a staff of their own that reflect diverse backgrounds.

“There’s been a huge change” in the way companies think about hiring, he says. “We were kind of early. In recent years, there’s been a tsunami of interest in improving diversity in the entertainment industry.”

But finding candidates who meet diversity criteria isn’t just a matter of posting a position on Monster.com. A company that gets in touch with a headhunter has already exhausted its own contacts, or it needs a larger choice of candidates, or it has a difficult position to fill, Clayton points out.

When his firm goes to work looking for candidates, the recruiters strike out on a wide-ranging search process. The first step is to comb through Berkhemer/Clayton’s database and then look for the very best people with the specified qualifications — not just people who are already looking for jobs. Clayton also goes to organizations with diverse members, such as Inroads, a college internship program he’s involved with. “We network with the board members (and) alumni of the organization,” he says.

Clayton has a few pointers for those looking to take the next step in their careers:

  • Candidates for upper-level positions should be able to pass the Google test — if a candidate’s name is Googled, the results should show the person has a public profile through speeches and conferences. “If you’re visible, and you’re capable, you will be hunted,” he asserts.

  • It’s a common refrain, but mentors are important — and yet mentors should be diverse, too. “If you’re a Latino, it’s not enough to reach out to other Latinos who have made it,” says Clayton. Employees should have mentors both inside and outside the company, and those mentors should have different perspectives.

  • Looking to the future, Clayton thinks international experience will become increasingly important as the entertainment biz relies more heavily on foreign revenue. Candidates willing to work abroad bring another facet of experience to the notion of “diversity.”

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