Hollywood Agency Pledges 50/50 Gender Parity By 2020, Inspired By Client Shonda Rhimes

It shouldn’t have had to take a movement like #MeToo and the exposure of so many high profile men in the industry abusing their power over women for so many major media companies, networks and organizations to fire predatory men. But yet, here we are, and this moment in our culture was a long time coming.

For the past few years there have been endless articles, initiatives and statements about the need for more gender parity in the workplace, especially in leadership roles at the very top. And the more we read about men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer and countless others, it feels like the right time to double-down on the need for equality judging by what has been allowed to go unnoticed or hidden for too damn long.

So when we read about major Hollywood agency ICM pledging to see 50/50 gender parity in their company, especially at a leadership level, by the year 2020, it feels like we’re starting to see things head in the right direction. Our culture finally sees protecting abusers and continually rewarding predatory behavior as bad for business, rather than “business as usual”. We ain’t mad…

According to The Hollywood Reporter, ICM wants to see women represented by half of the agency’s partnership, department heads, and board of directors, and their managing director Chris Silbermann acknowledges that gender parity in the workplace means at every level of a company.

“It’s not enough to have 50 percent [female] employees. Women have to be equally represented in true positions of leadership and influence throughout the company,” he said.

It’s also interesting to note that ICM was encouraged to make this pledge by one of their A-list clients, TV and new media mogul Shonda Rhimes, well-known for literally revolutionizing the prime time television landscape with shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Scandal’, and ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ and their diverse characters in lead roles.

She made the suggestion during a recent conversation with ICM regarding the numerous stories of sexual misconduct dominating news headlines, giving credit to another mogul who has also spoken a lot about gender parity behind the scenes – ‘Transparent’ creator/writer/director Jill Soloway.

“I said, ‘I think the answer is gender parity.’ Where there’s equity, there’s less harassment and abuse,” she said.

It can’t just be about handing out jobs to women to give the appearance of making change. The real change comes from fostering a culture of inclusiveness, being willing to see and work on mistakes, and a commitment to making parity the norm, not the exception.

“Women have historically been shut out of ways that bonding happens in the workplace. You have to change the way you have team-building and rethink how you’re getting to know people,” said Shonda.

Chris Silbermann added to this point, admitting that in a lot of professional environments, it is a lot easier for men to climb the ladder of success because there are so many of them in powerful positions in the first place.

“There have always been a lot of natural avenues for male bonding, which translates to male mentorship. Mentoring women into leadership positions needs to be a conscious practice, which has been and will continue to be a priority for us,” he said.

We’ve shared a number of articles about female-driven mentoring programs and organizations which seek to fill the gap and encourage the women who happen to be in leadership positions to leverage that power to bring more women into the fold. Mentorship is undoubtedly one of the most effective and influential ways of seeing greater gender parity in a professional setting.

Organizations like membership-based The XX Project (founded by Los Angeles-based ICM agent Michelle Edgar), which holds regular events and networking opportunities for women to be inspired by each other and find ways to empower other women, as well as Women Who Code (founded by Alaina Percival) as a way to encourage more women in the tech industry to pursue leadership positions through panels, workshops and social events.

When it comes to gender parity in Hollywood in particular, we can’t go past the important work of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Not only has this brilliant organization become the go-to name in the film industry in terms of research regarding the lack of parity on screen in particular, GDIGM’s studies and research projects identify and outline practical ways companies can actively work toward seeing gender equality become a reality, and make the workplace a thriving environment for all.

What ICM is doing is leading by example for other agencies, given they are one of the largest in Hollywood. They have 300 agents and executives and 500 employees in New York and Los Angeles. THR reports that 40% of its agents as well as heads of its 15 departments are already female, so they are already on the right track. Their publishing department in New York is also already majority female, and they will only need to add roughly 10 women as partners to reach their gender parity goal.

Chris Silberman points to specific examples of women who have risen through the ranks of ICM through mentorship and a commitment to fostering female talent, and tells THR that this is not about affirmative action but doing their utmost to find the best person for the job, casting as wide net so as to ensure it’s not just men who are seen as the right candidate for a particular role.

“This is us making a commitment to educate and grow people so we have true equity…We’re taking the initiative to do something,. Whatever your version of ’50-50 by 2020′ is, you should just do it,” he said.

After making their announcement, another major agency jumped on board for the same goal – CAA. As THR reports, not only are they committing to the 50/50 by 2020 idea, they also decided to forego spending a lavish amount of money on a Golden Globes party, and instead form a legal fund to combat sexual harassment. CAA was named as one of the companies in the Harvey Weinstein “complicity machine” by The New York Times on December 5, so this move is to send a clear signal to their employees, roster of talent as the rest of the industry they are wanting to make a change.

The gauntlet has been thrown and it’s clear there’s no going back to the “boy’s club” mentality anymore. #MeToo has become a movement not only giving voice to women in a range of professions to speak up about sexual misconduct and injustice that has affected their careers, but it is also a welcome turning point for our culture.


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