If You’re Angry at the “Lily-white” Oscars – Then Check the Plank in Your Own Eye First

CMP Resolution Blog by Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.

Everyone’s at it – criticising the whiteness of this year’s Oscar nominees for not representing enough black stars. There’s even a boycott of the Awards because of ‘a continued lack of racial diversity in the list of nominees’. It’s so tempting to damn the Oscar panel for their bias and racism – or, at best, excuse them for being a bunch of old, white men who need to wake up to the twenty-first century.

Because the people who put forward the nominations are drawn from the 6000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), an academy primarily composed of working professionals. Of the membership, 94 per cent are white, and 77 per cent are male. Only 2 per cent are black and less than 2 per cent are Latinos. The average age is 62, and only 14 per cent of members younger than 50. Gosh, that really is a gathering of the “stale, pale and male” – and who are they, we might think, to decide who is the best in their business, given that their “users” the film going public, come from a country which is 12 per cent black and 15 per cent Hispanic. Not to mention 50 per cent female. It’s a grim picture: all non-Caucasians in the US film industry take 17 per cent of lead roles, make up 12 per cent of directors, and receive 4.1 per cent of Oscar nominations. Yes, it is shameful. Surely, if 14 per cent of the US film industry is black, shouldn’t the same percentage of nominations be black, too?

But before we managers here in the UK get too critical, and start judging the mote in their eye, let’s take a look at the plank in our own.

Because this is a demographic that would not look out of place in many of today’s Board rooms. And if the Academy members are subject to group think and unconscious bias, then so, dear reader, are we.

This comment, made about the film industry, could just as readily apply to your senior workforce:

“The people who make decisions, who green-light projects, tend to surround themselves with people pretty much like themselves.”[1][1]

Good employers value diversity – individuals perform better when their identity and the difference in contribution that may flow from that, is valued. Diversity is good for business because a range of employees with a range of backgrounds will bring different ideas and enable an employer to appeal to different parts of the marketplace – the film going public, in the case of the Oscars. This contributes to innovation and success.

But in the UK, BME workers are simply not gaining a proportionate share of management or senior level jobs that their population in the UK would justify. Less than 1 in 15 BME workers in the UK hold a management position. So instead of simply criticising the Academy panel, and boycotting their Awards ceremony, let’s try and understand why management in the UK is every bit as distorted in its thinking about excellence, and performance, and just as likely to promote people ‘in their own image’.

[1] Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA


Katherine Graham

Katherine Graham has worked in the field of dispute resolution for over 15 years’ as a mediator and trainer. She has mediated on the BBC Learning Zone and has given keynote speeches on conflict management and mediation for The MOD’s Equal Opportunities Conference, Women in Business Annual conference and “Getting Beyond… MORE >

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