Mentorship Is The Key To Diversifying Hollywood

Today I tweeted about mentorship being one of the greatest barriers to entry for young women in the business. So I wanted to expand on these thoughts a bit.

Whereas men hire men that remind them of themselves, women are rarely in the position to offer them the same level of mentorship. Frankly, it needn’t be the case that women exclusively mentor women. The prevailing power structure in Hollywood, white men, need to do more to mentor women.

I briefly had a white male mentor. He was and still is a producer. I’ve no explanation for why he no longer speaks to me. I can’t think of anything I did. He hasn’t worked in a few years, perhaps it is that. All that aside, I know how much it meant to have his advice and feedback. I very much wish I still had it.

Unfortunately, White men still get most of the opportunities in this business. This is a statistical fact supported by numerous studies. Regardless of talent, the pattern of white men hiring other white men and mentoring other white men leads to an industry full of white men.

Before it seems like I am blaming my former mentor for contributing to these numbers, I am not. A Google search will reveal past assistants of his that were female, including a woman of color who now owns her own indie production company. Sadly few of his peers have a similar track record in hiring diversely.

One thing is clear, when women are given mentorship opportunities, they do better than those without the same opportunities. All of his former female assistants are still in the business in varying capacities.

If we want to assure that more women are given chances as writers, actors, development execs, directors or producers — white men need to hire them and groom them the same way they would with men. If women cannot even stick a foot in the door without such mentorship then all the money thrown at diversity will fail to change the makeup of the industry because women are not given the help they need at the outset of their careers. Currently the same women are hired over and over again. What needs to happen is the industry must do more to recruit, mentor and hire young women.

Diversity needs to be more than a buzzword. If Hollywood studios and production companies truly want to “read more women” or see more films directed and staring women, they need to turn their focus to the outset of the process. The PAs, the young woman with internships and experience looking to take the next step, the female writer who placed in a contest or shows ability young. You know, the young men with the same abilities and experience that get pulled up the ladder first. If you’re a white man it stands to reason that promoting the next female talent could also be a very lucrative effort if you take the studios at their word — that they want to hire diverse talent.

While I think it’s important to continue to gear diversity efforts towards women with experience, such as those already qualified to direct and write features, too much is already geared toward such efforts. The next step in the diversity conversation must be about mentorship and recruiting young talent. Nobody in this business has made it alone. Somewhere along the line they had a mentor, a friend, an ally in the business that gave them a chance. Without that initial chance women’s numbers will not increase. If that is a key part of the diversity initiative, we must acknowledge what must come first not just what comes ten steps down the line.

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