As we approach the 88th Academy Awards celebration, we are also reminded that, for the second year in a row, none of the 20 Oscar-nominated actors are people of color.
It's tempting to dismiss the Academy's performance as a tempest in Tinseltown. But what's going on behind the scenes at the Motion Picture Academy reflects the challenges every business grapples with as it attempts to adjust and appeal to a rapidly changing market.
Leaders have long recognized that an inherently diverse workforce -- that is, one that's inclusive of all talent -- confers a competitive edge in terms of selling products or services to diverse end users. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) on Innovation, Diversity and Market Growth finds that when teams have one or more members who represent the gender, ethnicity, culture, generation, or sexual orientation of the team's target consumer, the entire team is as much as 158 percent more likely to understand that consumer.
How diverse is the Academy? According to a New York Times article, not very. The article analyzed the composition of the 1,100-plus members comprising the actors' branch of the Academy, which controls acting nominations for the Oscars -- and the results are telling: Roughly 87 percent are white. About 58 percent are male. As many as two-thirds are at least 60 years old.
In other words, these are voters whose ideal of "best actor" is epitomized more by Paul Newman or Robert Redford than David Oyelowo or Zoe Saldana.
Now imagine that these voters represented the employees of a growing business. Would they be able to identify new markets or address overlooked opportunities?
CTI research shows that when leadership lacks diversity, fewer ideas make it to the market. Ideas from women, people of color, LGBT employees, and Gen-Ys are less likely to win the endorsement they need to go forward because, according to 56 percent of respondents, senior leaders don't value ideas they don't personally see a need for -- a veritable choke point when an organization's leaders are predominantly Caucasian, male, and heterosexual, and come from similar educational and socio-economic backgrounds.
In short, the data strongly suggest that homogeneity stifles innovation.
Yet that's the script the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences continues to follow. For now, the decision-makers among the actors' branch are voting for comfort and conformity. But how comfortable will the industry be if the effect of this voting trend is to alienate talented actors of all backgrounds and to dismiss the importance of an increasingly diverse audience or fair representation of that audience on-screen? How can an organization maintain its clout if an Academy Award for "best actor" becomes a euphemism for "best white actor," and the boost in ticket sales for a film with an Oscar-winning star is limited to an increasingly narrow market?
No leader likes to watch their company's products become outdated or irrelevant. Gaining market share and expanding into new markets hinges on winning over new consumers by identifying unmet needs and developing new products, services, and systems to satisfy them. The most consistent and reliable way to do that is by encouraging a proliferation of perspectives.
That's a script that deserves an award.