November 15, 2021 | By Juanita Chavarro Arias, IAAPA
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Monday’s “A Seat at the Table: Diversity and Inclusion in Themed Entertainment” session at IAAPA Expo brought together a panel of entertainment professionals to share insights on recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, uncovering and confronting unconscious bias, and justice in the workplace.
Niyia Mack, creative producer at Meow Wolf, spoke on how microaggressions (everyday instances of racism, homophobia, sexism, and more that come across in an errant gesture or comment) can negatively impact mental health and comfortability in the office.
“Calling it ‘micro’ doesn’t fully explain the impact that those microaggressions can have,” she said. “Sometimes those situations really can affect you in such a way that it doesn’t feel like you’re part of the team. It doesn’t feel like you should just continue to show up and do your job well because then nobody is taking into account that you are actually struggling.”
Before trying to recruit new talent, Monai Rooney, executive director of Big Break Foundation, recommends first evaluating the current work environment to ensure it is a safe, inclusive, and equitable place for employees to thrive in—even bringing in a third-party to conduct a review.
“Your experience may be fantastic, while another person within your organization is suffering at the hands of the organization,” she said. “And then when it comes to recruiting, look at other ways to recruit—not just Indeed or LinkedIn. … There are a lot of marginalized communities and students who aren’t on LinkedIn. You can’t just have one way and think that you’re going to get everyone.”
Rooney also said it’s important for job descriptions to be as inclusive as possible by using language that is not gender specific and keeping the focus on the necessary skills to succeed in the role.
With experience casting for theater and entertainment roles, Monica Miklas, co-founder of Capital W, suggested having an expansive vision of who the characters can be in a story and who can play them in a production, asking the audience to consider: “Can you create those roles in a way that does not marginalize or exclude certain sections of the population?”
Moreover, the panel expanded diversity, equity, and inclusion to include justice, forming the acronym JEDI.
“The justice part, to me, has so much to do with breaking down barriers,” Mack said. “If the D, E, and I put in place the overarching themes or goals, then justice is the everyday work of how systems, rules, or processes actually work for everybody. And do they work for everybody? Because if they don’t, then that is how the justice part comes into play.”
Moderator Nick Taylor, principal designer at Masterminds Studios, said he started his company to provide an area where people who are in marginalized communities can work in themed entertainment.
“I love this industry, and I only recently found out about it,” he said. “Now that I have, I want to be in it and see people who look like me and, to an extent, think like me but also think differently.”