The company’s response was encouraging, but more change is still needed.
Over the last few months, actress, director and author Amber Tamblyn has emerged as a prominent voice in the movement against sexual misconduct and discrimination. In September, she wrote an open letter to actor James Woods, calling him out after he denied trying to pick up her and her friend when they were teenagers. “Since you’ve now called me a liar, I will now call you a silencer,” Tamblyn wrote. “I see your gaslight and now will raise you a scorched earth.”
She has also penned several thoughtful op-eds for The New York Times, tackling subjects from women wearing black on the red carpet to whether it’s too soon to talk about “the redemption of men”, and has joined the hundreds of women supporting the Time’s Up initiative.
Now, Tamblyn has called on the Walt Disney Company to add more women of colour to its board. It was recently announced that two members of Disney’s board of directors – Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey – will not stand for re-election to the board in March, meaning there are two slots that need to be filled.
Sharing an article about the board changes on Twitter, Tamblyn addressed Disney and the company’s chairman and CEO Robert Iger directly.
“It looks like you’re about to have two seats open on your board of directors,” she wrote. “We call on you to choose women of colour for these seats. Be a shining example for your fellow studios. We’re watching.”
Hi @Disney and @RobertIger . It looks like you’re about to have two seats open on your board of directors. We call on you to choose women of color for these seats. Be a shining example for your fellow studios. We’re watching. #TIMESUP https://t.co/N6aQiaZrA0— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) January 14, 2018
Disney responded to Tamblyn with a tweet explaining that the company is already “leading the way” in terms of diversity. “Seventy percent of the seats on Disney’s board of directors are held by women and minority business leaders.”
Disney is leading the way. Seventy percent of the seats on Disney's board of directors are held by women and minority business leaders.— Walt Disney Company (@WaltDisneyCo) January 15, 2018
This is true. However, it is also worth noting that currently only one of the four women on Disney’s 12-strong board of directors is a woman of colour: Maria Elena Lagomasino, a Cuban-American businesswoman who previously served as CEO and director of companies including Coca-Cola.
Many people responded to Tamblyn’s tweet by saying that a person’s gender or skin colour should make no difference to whether they are given a job. However, this argument ignores the fact that black, Asian and Latin American women are often prevented from reaching the top of their respective industries by a complex range of socioeconomic and cultural factors.
Data released in 2016 by Sheryl Sandberg’s organisation LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co found that women of colour were the most underrepresented group in the senior and upper tiers of US companies. This wasn’t for a lack of ambition: women from ethnic minority groups were actually more eager to reach high-level positions than white women. And yet many reported feeling as though their efforts at work were not recognised.
These findings are backed up by research by non-profit organisation Center for Talent Innovation, which showed that black women were treated as virtually invisible in the US workplace when it came to applying for leadership roles – even when they had the right “qualifications, track record, drive and commitment”. Black women also tended to lack sponsors and mentors who would advise, advocate for and promote them in the workplace.
“The problem is leadership isn’t seeing them – those qualified, well-educated black women who are vying for leadership but are being overlooked,” Tai Wingfield, one of the report’s authors, told HuffPost.
All this suggests that corporations need to pay close attention to their hiring practices, and think about who they might not be noticing when considering candidates for a role.
Tamblyn later responded to Disney’s tweet with a positive message of her own.
Thank you for your thoughtful response, @Disney . Yes this is true and we encourage other companies to follow in your footsteps. Companies like 21st Century Fox which you now own a majority of. We’re rooting for you and companies like you! #TIMESUP https://t.co/Ngk2T19jiT— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) January 15, 2018
Throughout 2018, Stylist will be raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present – and empowering future generations to follow their lead – with our Visible Women initiative. Find out more about the campaign here.
Images: Rex Features