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Lack of diversity in media and entertainment

Lack of diversity in media and entertainment hurts business – WEF report

Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the media and entertainment industry is the right thing to do – but it can also prove profitable. A new report from the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Accenture, shows that ethics and profits are two sides of the same coin.

The Reflecting Society: The State of Diverse Representation in Media and Entertainment report assesses the state of diversity across content and creative production in five key sectors: gaming, TV and film, news and publishing, advertising, and sport and sport media. It draws on research, interviews and insights from heads of content, diversity, equity and inclusion leaders, institutes and organizations, and analyses progress in the industry.

Despite modest improvements across disparate areas, under-representation persists across certain groups in the industry. Below are the key findings of the report.


Progress in the film industry - but gaming lags

The report found that gaming, news and publishing lag in terms of DE&I, while advertising, TV and video have seen some progress.

In the gaming industry, for example, although recent studies indicate an increase in games featuring playable women characters (up by 189% in the past decade), only 18% of games launched in 2020 featured women characters. Game covers predominantly feature men; only 4.2% of games analysed by TechTalk in a study of women and gaming feature a woman as the focal point on the front cover.

The same study shows that only 3% of video games had a primary character of colour and only 23% of games allowed players to choose their character’s ethnicity.

On the other hand, according to UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report, women accounted for 48% of film lead actors in 2020, up from 44% in 2019 and nearly double 2011 levels. People of colour accounted for 40% of film lead actors in 2020, up from 28% in 2019 and nearly quadrupled their 2011 share (11%).

In December 2020, Nielson reported that streaming services are relatively more inclusive platforms. While data for 2020 is not yet available, Netflix’s report from 2019 shows that its content is more diverse than that of the sector as a whole. From 2018 to 2019, 52% of Netflix films and series had females in leading roles, and 36% of all Netflix leads came from under-represented groups, compared with 28% in the top 100 grossing theatrical films.

When looking at gender diversity in publications, a study by the journal Politics & Gender reveals that, while 75% of total published articles were authored by women, male authors cited women’s work at a 14% lower rate than women peers.


Corporations that prioritise diversity can reap financial benefits

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of WEF’s report is that lack of diversity and representation in the media and entertainment industry can hurt business. “Organizations not only have a social responsibility to represent the consumers of their content, but by doing so also stand to gain significant financial benefits,” WEF notes.

In the film industry, for example, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have found that movies without authentic representation underperform at the box office and large-budget movies that rank below average in inclusive representation underperform by around 20% of their budget at opening box office weekend.

“It became clear in our work with the Forum that the relationship between audience diversity and business performance is strong, that the people who work in the industry shape the stories that get told – and that more diverse stories attract more diverse creators,” said Kristen Hines, Managing Director at Accenture.

“That change, however, will require transparency and honest reflection, real commitment to results and accountability of leaders to improve diversity and inclusion from top to bottom, and particularly in senior roles.”

movie tickets

Organizations not only have a social responsibility to represent the consumers of their content, but by doing so also stand to gain significant financial benefits.


How to achieve real progress

WEF suggests that in order to drive change and make real progress, organisations must have data and measurement tools that enable them to understand where they are and where they need to go. These tools must address both content and content creators and ensure transparency and accountability.

For example, Netflix has worked with USC Annenberg to analyse its scripted series and films. NBC Universal and the Geena Davis Institute tested an AI tool “Spellcheck for Bias” to measure representation in front of and behind the camera, and Twitter launched an internal dashboard to give employees a transparent view of its organisation-wide demographic data.

These issues are at the heart of the World Economic Forum’s newly convened Power of Media Taskforce on DE&I. The taskforce brings together companies, industry bodies, and leading non-profits in DE&I advocacy to drive transparency and action and build community. It will initially focus on three key areas:

  • Measurement – creating data-driven benchmarks and metrics to formalize measurement of progress and goal setting;
  • Accountability – creating greater transparency and accountability in initiatives and results;
  • Community and collaboration – building peer communities across the industry and providing a safe space for exploring sensitive and new topics in DE&I and sharing best practices.

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