The work of the Diversity and Inclusion department isn’t just about opening minds. It’s also about opening hearts and tapping into your sense of self to fully embrace the power of diversity in American theatre.
That is why I am so proud of the recent events our department has hosted in conjunction with the Equal Employment Opportunity committee. Earlier this summer, the “Crossing the Sea” panel discussion celebrated Caribbean American Heritage in addition to examining conscious and unconscious biases and microaggressions that occur against the Caribbean community, and ways the arts might be able to help eliminate systematic barriers among them. We are planning a talkback to continue the exchange that was created during this event – so stay tuned to find out more.
Additionally, Shane Boy Darling was a one-man musical that raises awareness about prostate cancer and how to cope with such a diagnosis that can impact one’s ability to work. Equity member Kenny Ingram performed the musical and reflected on his career, family history and how his diagnosis has inspired faith and gratitude. We plan to continue presenting more events like this, since this opens doors of communicating and understanding to share experiences about visible and invisible disabilities that may affect us in the workplace.
These events represent one avenue through which this department can raise greater awareness about issues affecting various demographics within our membership. But another avenue involves something I know all of you have access to. Perhaps the most constructive thing that I can ask our members to do is to voluntarily self-identify through the enhanced features in the Member Portal. For the first time, Equity has expanded its demographic features in the Portal to include specific classifications for gender/gender identity, race, sexual orientation, veteran status, and a new format in which members with a disability can self-identify. Members can access this feature at ActorsEquity.org/selfID.
We view this as a call to action. Self-identification isn’t really about just checking a box for general business purposes and loading up more data. Rather, what this will do is enable Actors’ Equity to humanize the needs of you, our members. This can lead to increased and equal work opportunities, as we can use this information to demonstrate to employers the diverse array of valued members that they can hire. Equity’s historic study on hiring bias has generated dozens of conversations with LORT artistic directors as well as with casting agents, directors, producers and members in such cities as Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Boston.
Voluntary self-identification gives the union leverage to persuade employers to be responsive to the systematic challenges and barriers faced by our membership when presented with the data. We also want to ensure that we are equipped to shine a light on hiring practices in our industry; measurable data that puts the spotlight on gaps in hiring practices cannot be refuted. The data will further amplify the issues confirmed in our 2017 empirical study, and will give us a comprehensive view of the demographics of our membership.
This is a compelling call to action and we ask that you help us lead the charge for fostering equal employment opportunities in our industry. It is equally important that you know all of the information provided through self-identification remains strictly confidential. We do not share any personal identifying information with employers. Still, even knowing that, I understand that disclosure is a personal decision and is extremely important to you. Before you decide on whether you choose to self-identify or not, please consider, for example, that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. The data will help us advocate for greater access, representation and services for members with disabilities.
Our organization has always led by example, and by taking the time to self-identify, we will move toward the very important step of creating a more authentic, equitable and fair representation of our membership in professional live theatre. I ask all of you to work in solidarity with us to foster inclusion both on and off the stage. We value you and want to ensure that we have the right resources in place to better serve you.
And don’t forget that you can reach this department at any time using our email address, Diversity@ActorsEquity.org.
Originally published in Equity News, Autumn 2018.