“Spark”ing conversations about diversity

Julie Ann Crommett wants to raise awareness about the lack of women and minorities both in front of and behind the camera.

Crommett tells a sad story: across the entertainment industry, women and minorities are being under-represented. Yet, she says, there’s hope.

“A lot of times, we’re defaulting to stereotypes or to the easiest shortcut for our brain around who’s the leader or who’s the most talented person,” says Crommett, a long-time employee of entertainment giants such as Google and Disney. “We need to be aware, so people can take action.”

Crommett plans to help bring this awareness to Vancouver in a talk given for SPARK Animation 2017’s Business Symposium, held at VIFF Vancity Theatre on October 27. Her talk, Unconscious Bias, which starts at 4:30 p.m., will explore the reasons why being aware of how we think will play a crucial role in helping more women and minorities become part of the entertainment industry.

Unconscious bias

It’s people’s unconscious, rather than overt racism or sexism, Crommett points to as a major obstacle in the hiring of women and minority ethnic groups.

“[Unconscious bias is] the result of shortcuts that our brain takes because of the amount of data we have to process at any given moment,” Crommett clarifies.

She adds that in order to cope with the overwhelming amount of information, our brains process most of the data unconsciously.

Julie Ann Crommett works at diversifying the field of computer science | Photo courtesy of Julie Ann Crommett

By knowing about these biases and understanding how they influence our choices, people can create change. Crommett cites the example of Orchestra Philharmonic, which altered their audition process to make sure women were given an equal chance.

“[The Philharmonic] had the bright idea of putting carpet down on the stage. It was the sound of people’s shoes that had unconsciously triggered the judges,” says Crommett. “Then it was about 50-50 hiring. And that is now the standard practice at all Philharmonic Orchestras around the world.”

Crommett emphasizes that now is a great time to combat these types of biases.

As more women are graduating from art and animation school than men, Crommett wants to ensure that these female graduates have a fair chance in the industry.

“Do they feel like they have a shot, first of all? I want to make sure that they feel that way, that they are welcome,” says Crommett. “And secondly, are we considering the same criteria all the way around? As we’re thinking about their presence and about the work that, for me, is a great opportunity for every industry.”

Lifelong interest

This talk comes as a result of Crommett’s career in the entertainment industry, in which she has continually explored the challenges faced by women and minorities.

Spark Disney. | Photo courtesy of Julie Ann Crommett

“I’m Puerto Rican and Cuban and Latino [living] in the United States. I grew up in the American South, in Georgia, [so] I’ve always had experience with [being a minority]. So that’s one thing. But it wasn’t until I started working in the entertainment business, that I realized that this was a goal, a role you could take on in the industry,” says Crommett.

Crommett, now Disney’s vice president of Multicultural Audience Engagement, previously worked for Google Entertainment where she was educator-in-chief. There, she was involved in the hiring of international writers and directors.

“I’ve worked with every type of content creator or every type of content,” Crommett states. “Looking at the consumer around the world − this is a multicultural consumer.”

Crommett’s work led to her belief that awareness of industry hiring practices is key in helping combat prejudice.

“The great thing about this work is that you can work with people and hopefully get them jobs, and that we can supply the storytelling that is out there,” says Crommett. “That’s when I realized that this is my calling: working with larger organizations and helping them to make change.”

For more information, please visit www.sparkfx.ca.