The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees announced on Wednesday that it will conduct its first-ever diversity survey, as the entertainment industry faces pressure to become more inclusive in the below-the-line ranks.
The union, which represents 150,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, said it would undertake its first membership census in the spring of 2022. The census will be conducted annually after that.
Many of the details remain to be worked out. The census depends on members’ willingness to participate, and on the cooperation of the international union’s 361 locals.
“It’s historically been on them to collect that data,” said Jonas Loeb, the spokesman for the international union. “Now we’re trying to standardize the process.”
Most IATSE locals in Hollywood have not conducted such a census in the past, with many saying it would violate members’ privacy to ask about their race and ethnicity.
Variety published a study on July 21 of diversity among 21 below-the-line unions based in California, most of which are affiliated with IATSE. The survey examined surnames of more than 51,000 members, finding that 16.1% of the names were Latino and 4.7% were Asian American — well below their numbers in the California population.
IATSE has been under heightened pressure to act on diversity since the George Floyd protests in 2020. Some members called on the union to increase diversity among the leadership and the membership. At the time, the union leadership pledged to “do better.” The international union formed a diversity, equity and inclusion committee, which came up with resolutions to pursue the diversity census.
At its quadrennial convention last week, the union agreed to resolutions that will establish a procedure to conduct the census and to publicize the results.
Other entertainment unions, including the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America, have been doing their own member surveys for years. But among the Hollywood IATSE locals, only the Motion Picture Editors Guild — IATSE Local 700 — has published a diversity survey. Several others told Variety that they have had difficulty getting members to respond.
Loeb said the IATSE census would not use surnames, but would instead rely on self-reporting to collect the data. He said the goal was to reach “100% participation.”
“The point is to be transparent and get as accurate a number as we can,” he said. “We’re going to do this and we’re going to get it right.”
The West Coast unions are currently in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new contract, with talks set to resume in August. Diversity has been one of the topics of discussion in those negotiations.
At the convention, the international union also adopted a new “equity statement,” which states that the union “acknowledges that while we all face barriers to our success, there are those among us who face barriers that are more substantial and entrenched than others. We call upon all to identify, minimize, or erase obstacles that are within our control to make a more equitable pathway to unionism, leadership, and equality.”
The statement continues: “Diverse organization cannot be established unless current systems of access are enhanced. We must build structures to create equitable access for all, and to truly celebrate diversity. This growth will ensure a stronger union, and together, we will rise!”