A Sequel to Inclusion Riders

It’s been all the talk in Hollywood this week, but can a version of it promote corporate diversity efforts?

If it’s true that art imitates life, then could inclusion riders be the next evolution in corporate diversity efforts?

Inclusion riders, which made big news at the Oscars on Sunday when best-actress winner Frances McDormand brought the concept to national attention in her acceptance speech, are provisions actors can build into their contracts mandating that a film’s cast and crew meet certain diversity prerequisites. The concept is just the latest attempt to make Hollywood movies more reflective of societal demographics—and parallels a similar push in the corporate world. 

But that move has come in a far different form, with Wall Street giants calling for more diversity on corporate boards, and organizations recognizing the need to have employees and products that parallel their consumer base. “Inclusion riders as a concept can put current corporate diversity efforts on steroids,” says Andrés Tapia, one of Korn Ferry's Diversity and Inclusion leaders. “They can take something that has been more sporadic and informal and make it more systematic, codified, and universal.”

Movies aren’t real, of course, and translating what Hollywood does to the corporate world isn’t apples-to-apples. Tapia cautions that organizations wouldn’t be able to mandate inclusion riders as they are currently constructed, for instance, because hiring to numbers (i.e., quotas) is illegal in most countries like the United States and highly controversial in those places where it is legal, such as Europe. However, some experts say it may be worth weighing ways to incorporate measures that approximate inclusion riders, such as on specific projects or with suppliers and vendors.

“It’s not about hiring certain people, but about staffing teams that are diverse,” Tapia says. Indeed, organizations already impose metrics such as the ratio of males to females on a team, or targets for ethnic or racial makeup when contracting with lawyers, accountants, consultants, advertisers, and other business partners. “Clients want partners to show them how diverse they are before giving them their business,” says Tapia.

On the talent side, organizations can accelerate the visibility of overlooked groups and level the playing field by employing similar tactics to their talent developments efforts. For instance, if an organization wants to identify 50 people from its workforce as “high potential” and fast-track them for advancement, they can mandate certain diversity and inclusion measures that the talent pipeline must meet. This scenario doesn’t promise or guarantee advancement for anyone, but it also gives historically marginalized workers an opportunity to be noticed and rise to the fullness of their potential.

Inclusion riders and other diversity efforts are gaining traction in part because they provide a safeguard against unconscious bias in hiring. They force organizations and institutions to be conscious of the inherent pitfalls in hiring for cultural fit or other subjective factors that hindered diversity and inclusion efforts for too long. The concept gaining traction at the moment was developed by USC Annenberg professor Stacy Smith, who also proposed an initiative called “Just Add Five,” which posits including five female speaking parts to every film.

As investors and consumers more closely track the social impact of organizations, diversity and inclusion measures will continue to evolve and become more systematic and codified. Tapia says concepts such as inclusion riders can create a virtuous cycle where the skills and experience of diverse talent can be recognized, allowing them to rise or fall on merit instead of bias. So, for now, perhaps Frances McDormand is onto something.