Partners in Hollywood’s major talent agencies have not spoken out directly about the recent furor over the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among Academy Award nominees. They declined to discuss the issue or provide demographic breakdowns for their organizations, as Variety focused this week on the ethnic and racial makeup of the entertainment industry.
But each of the big agencies — CAA, WME, UTA and ICM — has called diversity a high priority for their workplaces and industry and described initiatives to bring more minorities and women into the fold.
With the agencies often serving as gatekeepers into the entertainment business, their profile and world view are critical in shaping the films, TV shows, concerts and even online content that Hollywood brings to the world. A look at the diversity initiatives in Hollywood’s major tenpercentaries:
CAA is stepped up minority recruitment, including at historically black colleges and women’s colleges, and even down to the high school level. Fifty-nine percent of interns worldwide in the last five years have been people of color and, among interns promoted to full-time employment, 54% are women and half are from “diverse backgrounds.”
“One of the greatest challenges is — and it’s why we started as we did — there have been a limited number of agents of color in the business to point to when recruiting new employees,” said Ryan Tarpley, the exec spearheading the effort at CAA. “We have looked at how we can expand this and have been creative in identifying those in the industry who are not agents, but have skill sets transferable to the agency world.”
The agency acknowledges it needs to make more progress. It encourages non-whites to be part of its Writers Boot Camp for young writers. Another program, You’re Up, is designed to support diversity among its executive ranks. Guest speakers talk about issues of concern, such as Eva Longoria addressing U.S. immigration policy.
“The issue of diversity and inclusion is a very important one for us,” said Tarpley said. “We believe more diverse voices from diverse backgrounds make our company stronger, with a better quality experience for everyone — our company and clients. It’s good business.”
WME has a diversity recruitment initiative and has veteran agents to mentor assistants as they transition to full agent status. Like other agencies, WME faces a challenge in landing jobs candidates who receive more lucrative offers from other industries. The agency has responded with a “hardship financial supplement” to make entry level salaries more competitive.
It has adopted schools in underprivileged communities in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville and London, mentoring students and introducing them to careers in the entertainment industry. Some mentors have been working with students for more than five years and one from the agency is paying his young charge’s college tuition.
UTA has begun to recruit minority applicants as early as their freshman year of college because of competition with other agencies, studios and companies like Google, Apple and Goldman Sachs.
The agency also has a partnership with University High School in West Los Angeles, mentoring students for the past decade to make them more familiar with the entertainment industry and the agency world.
“A lot of those young kids … don’t even know those opportunities exist and by bringing them in through the mentorship program they see that this does exist,” said Michael Conway, chief administration officer at UTA. “We continue to track them all the way through college so that by the time they make it through the university we have that relationship with them.”
ICM didn’t offer specifics about its minority promotion efforts, but issued a statement on its goals: “ICM Partners has always made a diverse culture a fundamental imperative of the agency. In our constant search to hire and promote the best and brightest, our goal is to provide career opportunities to individuals of all races, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We want our company to reflect the world around us, both in Hollywood and beyond.”