A More Perfect Union

By Nicole Smart
Originally Published in the Spring, 2018 issue of Equity News.

As this issue goes to print, I am nearing my first anniversary as Diversity Director at Actors’ Equity, which gives me an opportunity to reflect on important strides this office has made in the last twelve months. During the year, we have made great progress, establishing a number of firsts in the ongoing promotion of an inclusive and supportive work environment – but by no means have we seen the last of anything. We are just getting started.

I am incredibly proud of one our most recent efforts to advance our #ChangeTheStage initiative – the launch of our employee resource groups in February. Employee resource groups are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve as a catalyst to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. The four that have launched so far – People of Color AEA, SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance), Equity Women+ and Busy Hands: A Skill Building and Community Service Group – mark the first ever in the union’s history.

Employee resource groups are proposed by staff members. During meetings, attendees can share their experiences and ideas in order to engage in mentoring, networking, leadership and professional development opportunities. (These meetings are also open to everyone – allies and advocates are welcome!) They also serve to encourage retention and aid in recruiting diverse talent.

Employee resource groups make good business sense on their own. But launching this initiative is also a sign that Equity is living our values and walking the walk when we talk to our employers about diversity and inclusion.

Actors’ Equity has encouraged staff to propose additional resource groups for historically underrepresented demographics such as people with disabilities, those with veteran status and people of various ages. Equity doesn’t create these groups – they should emerge organically from employee interest – but always provides unwavering guidance and support.

Several recent events demonstrate the commitment Equity’s Equal Employment Opportunity committee has to ensuring increased employment opportunities for our membership regardless of race, culture, age, gender/gender identity, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and veteran status. This winter saw a series of EEO-sponsored events honoring Black History Month and Women’s History Month, and the very first cultural celebration to recognize and raise awareness for the MENASA (Middle Eastern North African South Asian) community.

I also gave a speech to highlight our progress for change and interacted with the honorees at this year’s Spirit Awards: A Celebration of Diversity, including members of the deaf community, with whom I was thrilled to discuss ways in which we can better engage the community.

In April, we held the latest in a series of town halls designed to engineer a dialogue on how we can expand inclusive hiring in our industry. Attendees had the opportunity to engage with our panelists on how we can continue to explore ways in which Equity can #ChangeTheStage and increase opportunities in our industry for our membership.

And what have we learned from this series of meetings? Among the many takeaways from our series is that casting directors want to hear how they can be more inclusive in the audition process and more accommodating for members with disabilities.

And how can we succeed in our efforts to #ChangeTheStage? This depends on how you define the term “success.” I view success as the authentic representation of women, members of color, members with disabilities, gender and gender identity, veteran status, race and age on stage. Success is equal pay for equal work.

So how do we continue to align our words with action? In order to succeed at making our industry truly diverse and inclusive, we will need to continuously engage the entire industry about how we can #ChangeTheStage.We will need to challenge stereotypes and bias and maintain a gender parity mindset as we #PressForProgress to join voices around the world for women in theatre; we call not only for hiring and equal pay, but also for elevating and amplifying women’s stories on stage. It is #Time4Transparency to close the gender wage gap.

I am also aware that not everyone views the term “diversity” in the same way. Some don’t even think it applies to them. I want to make it clear to them that I hear you as well. As our missions move forward, I will continue to educate not just on what we are doing, but also why.

My plea is that you don’t let diversity fatigue deter you from our objectives. We all must work together to create a diverse workforce that makes better business sense not only for monetary reasons, but because that it is the right thing to do. I am always here to discuss any concerns or suggestions you might have. Change will come only if we work together. And it is easier than ever to create a dialogue now that the diversity department has its own email address: diversity@actorsequity.org. I look forward to continuing that conversation.