Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How 'seeing ourselves' on screen or on the page can effect cultural change

Representation, media, screen

Targeted action on representation among specific identity groups can have an impact on the media & entertainment industries. Image: Unsplash / @vanillabearfilms

Cathy Li
Head, AI, Data and Metaverse; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum Geneva
Blair Taylor
North America Lead Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, Talent and Organisation, Accenture
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  • Businesses in the media and entertainment industries must understand the potential impact of diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) in terms of both content and coporate inclusion initiatives.
  • The Audience Representation Index 2022 was created to help measure and improve the state of DE&I in the content audiences consume.
  • Efforts to boost representation are increasing across these industries but the index shows there is still room for improvement on representation.
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The media and entertainment industry has a strong influence on society and the power to shape worldviews. Articulating precisely where and how that power and influence manifests can be a challenge, however. This is particularly true for issues around representation and, more specifically, how audiences feel – and what they care about – when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the content they consume.

While this issue is often hard to define, it is extremely important for businesses to understand the potential impact of DE&I. New research from the World Economic Forum and Accenture shows that 59% of people who identify with a racial and ethnic minority tend to engage with brands more frequently if they are inclusive of diverse perspectives. Just over half (51%) of women are more likely to trust brands that represent a diverse range of people.

In order to create a common standard to benchmark and address gaps in representation, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Accenture, has published Benchmarking Diversity and Inclusion in Media and Entertainment: The Audience Representation Index 2022. This is a cross-sector report and index that provides a framework for measuring audience perception of in-content diversity and corporate inclusion initiatives.

It enables companies to measure their performance in DE&I against a benchmark of how well consumers of media and entertainment content see themselves represented in the four media sectors of film and TV, gaming, news and magazines, and sports. It shows whether those companies are contributing to community and society (see figure 1).

Representation in media and entertainment
Figure 1: A maturity framework for measuring audience perception of in-content diversity and corporate inclusion initiatives. Image: Benchmarking Diversity and Inclusion in Media and Entertainment: The Audience Representation Index 2022

Measuring and rewarding good representation

The framework is a result of the World Economic Forum’s Power of Media Taskforce on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Media, which identified audience behaviours and sentiment as critical arbiters of progress on DE&I. Over 7,000 respondents were polled from audiences in the US, the UK and France across gender, race and ethnicity, heritage, ability, sexual orientation and age, as well as the intersections between these.

Participants across all sectors and geographies ranked societal impact as the most important of the four dimensions, underscoring that brand behaviour matters. The industry has both a powerful mandate to do better and significant opportunities to gain from doing so.

With no media sector displaying leading maturity (defined as scoring between 75 –100 on a 100-point scale), there is significant scope for improvement across the board. The average composite score across all four of the framework dimensions is 54.6, with the gaming sector lagging the rest of the industry at 49.1 while film & TV leads at 58.5.

Improving these scores can have immense impact. A 10-point increase in the audience representation index makes it 30% more likely that consumers will trust a brand, for example.

Representation matters

The index also reflects the impact that targeted action among specific identity groups can have on these industries. Film and TV’s lead in equitable representation (61.9 score) can be attributed to the significant efforts that this industry has made through more equitable casting policies. More than half (52%) of Netflix films and series from 2018 to 2019 had females in leading roles, and 36% of all leading roles were from under-represented groups. That compares with just 28% of the 100 top-grossing films in the same period.

Representation matters, of course, but the nuance and complexity of how that representation manifests is just as important. Here, news and magazines performed best (56.9 score) in avoiding stereotypes and presenting more complex, nuanced and complete accounts of the individuals they feature.

Inclusion also requires a rethink of how accessible media is to all audiences. Gaming has performed relatively well (scoring 52.7 on societal impact versus an average of 49.0) in designing ways to enable people with disabilities to play. This includes initiatives such as accessible controllers, increasing color-blind options, or having subtitles as the default screen mode.

Representation in media and entertainment
Figure 2: Index scores for media and entertainment across demographics. Image: World Economic Forum, Accenture and Ipsos DE&I in Media and Entertainment Survey 2021; n = 7,201

Leveling up

Progress on the issue of representation is not only possible, it is happening across the industry, according to the report. It’s also clear that there is plenty of room for improvement, however. We recommend taking the following actions to help companies in the industry improve their performance across each of the four dimensions of the index:

  • Build upon the Audience Representation Index 2022 and framework to incorporate audience viewing habits as an additional indication of successful representation.
  • Harness audience perceptions and behaviours to identify shortcomings and set clear representation priorities within the organisation.
  • Take a holistic view of all efforts across content, community, and corporate social responsibility.
  • Connect DE&I to clear business metrics and use these to measure and report progress over time.
  • Work collectively across the industry to develop talent and fund programmes that serve diverse groups.
  • Look thoughtfully and deeply at multiple identity groups and seek to bring all on the journey equitably.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The power of the media industry to shape and influence opinions and perceptions makes acting decisively an imperative. This will help to usher in the kind of society we all want to live in, where everyone is valued.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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