Diversity, Inclusion, Core Values Carry Weight At Tech-Heavy SMPTE Confab
Krystle Penhall
Research shows that a broader based workplace culture yields innovation, bottom-line success
  • --

In the midst of technological breakthroughs and assorted presentations on equipment and software innovation, a non-tech session was regarded by some as being among the most relevant events at last week’s SMPTE 2018 Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition held last week in downtown L.A.

Titled “Innovating People: Management, Culture and Inclusion,” the session--chaired by John McCoskey of Eagle Hill Consulting and Kylee Peña of Netflix--delved into subjects such as workplace integrity, and promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion in the media, entertainment and tech sectors. McCoskey contended that these subjects are “important to all the work we’re doing in every other session (at the SMPTE confab).”

McCoskey and Krystle Penhall, editor and visual effects coordinator at WeMat Studios, were featured speakers/presenters at the “Innovating People” session. Penhall’s presentation was titled “Where are the Women? The importance of visibility in achieving inclusivity,” while McCoskey’s talk carried the handle, “The corporate Integrity Implosion: Strategies for technology, media & entertainment organizations.”

McCoskey, industry lead executive for technology, media and entertainment at Eagle Hill Consulting, noted that the issue of integrity is in the news with sexual harassment and/or questionable ethics linked to the likes of such companies as Facebook, CBS, Viacom, Miramax and Uber, all of which have incurred reputational and financial damage as a result.

In a McCoskey-cited poll of 1,500 Americans, 75 percent saw declining integrity in government, 70 percent thought it was prevalent in overall society, and 54 percent perceived it as being part of corporate America. Research shows that Fortune 500 media and entertainment companies have been even “less likely to talk about integrity” and to have integrity or morals specified as part of their core corporate values. McCoskey quoted business guru Warren Buffett as saying that essential to success is having people in place with “integrity, intelligence and energy...And if you don’t have the first (integrity), the other two (intelligence and energy) will kill you.”

Unethical behavior in the workplace has its consequences, hurting morale, performance and retention of valuable people, with a number of qualified potential new hires shying away from such organizations. Thus the impact on innovation and the financial bottom line can be profoundly negative. 

McCoskey noted that dealing with scandals brought on by integrity issues also can divert a company’s braintrust from marketplace dynamics which require constant attention such as the competition, mergers and acquisitions, how to best deploy social media, and an ever evolving, disruptive business landscape. The latter is inherent in the tech industry, said McCoskey, observing that technology is changing at an accelerating pace, creating unpredictable disruption across all levels of an operation. These disruptions are welcomed, he said, because they “keep us all working” in the tech sector--and not being able to pay full attention to those developments could prove harmful to a company’s viability.

McCoskey cited research which found that companies with strong, ethical, focused workplace cultures outperform others in the stock market by threefold. He added that companies in the top quartile with great workplace cultures are 22 percent more profitable than those businesses lacking in this key area. 

McCoskey dispelled the myth that culture is created from the top down, noting instead that management has to engage its staff to build a successful culture. In the media and entertainment arena, he suggested four priorities: Integrity; Quality; Innovation; and Focus on the Customer. To create a productive esprit de corps, McCoskey recommended: “showcasing your common cause,” which is to give workers a perspective on the business as a whole rather than just their slice or cog-in-the-engine POV; “learning about the other team” in order to combat the siloed effect where teams are kept separate and don’t fully understand what the other groups do--this can lead to collectively figuring out “how to do things better”; and swapping the idea of “jobs” with that of “roles.” While a job can change five years from now, the skillset entailed in roles can remain consistent, helping the company to better value core competencies. 

A moral compass, valuing one’s people, having a diversity among those people, and sharing a cause or mission can go a long way to making a successful workplace culture, McCoskey affirmed.

McCoskey also recommended that conference attendees read the research findings of fellow session chair Peña which appear in the latest edition of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. Peña--a postproduction workflow expert who’s part of Netflix’s Creative Technologies and Infrastructure Team--presented the study at last year’s SMPTE confab. The SMPTE Journal article was authored by Peña, film and TV post professional Katie Hinsen, and two-time primetime Emmy-nominated editor Meaghan Wilbur. Among their recommendations were:

  • Stop pushing diversity programs. Instead focus on changing the workplace culture. It’s counterproductive to place female and minority talent in environments where they cannot succeed.
  • Make an effort to focus from the bottom up, looking to open up opportunities at the entry level rather than trying to open up access to the director’s chair right out of the gate.
  • Put a stop to unpaid internships. “I had parents to subsidize me,” said Pena, noting that many others, including people of color, do not have that advantage. Thus unpaid internships don’t represent a viable option for them; often they have to work an income-producing job just to make ends meet. She affirmed that internships should be paid positions, showing that employers “value” those they bring into the industry. 
  • Empower hiring managers with the tools and insights they need to make a difference, opening up more opportunities for deserving talent.
  • And companies looking to make a positive difference need to embrace the ALOHA principle. ALOHA stands for Ask-Listen-Offer-Help-Ask For Feedback. The underrepresented who are diversity/inclusion program participants need a voice, the opportunity to provide feedback. This feedback can prove valuable, helping to make approaches to promote diversity and inclusion more effective.

“Where are the Women?”
Session presenter Penhall led off her presentation with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media mantra, “If she can see it, she can be it,” as being most applicable to women considering careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). She said research shows that when women don’t see representations of people who look like them, they are less likely to pursue or even seriously contemplate becoming part of that given field, in this case STEM. This can skew the career ambitions of girls at a very young age.

This is a problem not only in terms of gender inequality but also as it exacerbates the lack of talented people in STEM. By being more inclusive of women and people of color, STEM can tap into a larger talent pool to bring the best and the brightest into the workplace, sparking greater innovation and profitability. While visibility can’t change systemic marginalization overnight, it can chip away at the sometimes hostile and unfair work environments that women encounter, said Penhall who cited a study by 21st Century Fox, the Geena Davis Institute and J. Walter Thompson Intelligence which examined “The Scully Effect,” a reference to Dana Scully, the character portrayed by Gillian Anderson in The X-Files television series. Scully is an FBI agent and forensic pathologist investigating unsolved mysteries involving alleged paranormal phenomena. Scully’s impact in the real world is as a motivating factor encouraging women to work in STEM fields. Of women surveyed, 63 percent said Scully boosted their confidence that they could excel in a male-dominated profession.

The Scully example, noted Penhall, is akin to the impact of The Hunger Games in 2012 when the character Katniss Everdeen (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence) prompted a dramatic surge in archery participation among girls, filling waiting lists for bow-and-arrow lessons nationwide.

Women face uphill battles because of a masculine culture in STEM that’s promoted by negative stereotypes and furthered by the lack of female role models, continued Penhall. And even those women who’ve achieved much in science faced discrimination in the workplace; a prime example being Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist known for her breakthrough discoveries in radioactivity. Curie would not have received her first Nobel Peace Prize if not for the intervention of her husband and a judging committee member.

Penhall shared that while women account for 47 percent of all jobs in the general marketplace, they represent just 24 percent of STEM roles. The figures for women of color are even lower, which also applies to the attainment of STEM educational degrees (4.8 percent of such degrees are attained by Asian women, 3.6 percent by Latin women, and 2.9 percent by African-American women). 

Some 48 percent of women who work in STEM fields say that gender has made it harder for them to succeed at work. Women are often treated as if they’re not competent and subjected to small slights at work. They typically receive less support from sr. leaders than a man doing the same job while earning less than their male counterparts. Many women leave STEM in mid-career due to these factors as well as the process of erosion--fatigued over years of being in a hostile work environment, which is particularly evident in the gaming field where female programmers are subjected to misogynistic behavior.

Still, there are STEM cultures where women have been able to advance. Penhall cited as examples IBM and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Women gained a foothold at JPL dating back to the 1940s, in part because rocket science back then wasn’t a highly coveted field. As a result, women got opportunities there that they didn’t receive in what were considered more desirable STEM sectors at that time. Penhall added that IBM was named the best company for multicultural women in 2018--the fourth year that the company has earned such distinction.

Companies like IBM and JPL realize, said Penhall, that women are good for business and integral to success in STEM. She quoted Katherine W. Phillips, sr. vice dean at Columbia Business School, who assessed, “Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations.”

Penhall concluded with an observation from Verna Myers, inclusion strategist and VP of inclusion strategy at Netflix, which distinguished between diversity and inclusion, underscoring the importance of both. Myers said, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Overall SMPTE strategy
SMPTE held its annual general membership during the conference with leadership announcing the completion of a three-year strategic business plan that will guide the Society in becoming an even more valuable resource for individuals and organizations within the media and entertainment industry.

The plan was introduced by SMPTE president-elect Patrick Griffis. As put forth in the plan, SMPTE’s guiding principles emphasize the Society’s role as a global organization and stress its ongoing commitment to being both inclusive and objective.

A refreshed SMPTE mission statement focuses on facilitating industry interoperability by setting industry standards, providing relevant education, and fostering an engaged membership community. The strategic plan further includes the Society’s first formal vision statement: SMPTE enables the technical framework and global professional community that makes motion-picture, television, and professional media available for all humanity to enjoy for artistic, educational, and social purposes.

SMPTE has tied its goals to the Society’s three pillars: standards, education, and membership. Moving forward, SMPTE will apply these values, vision, and mission statements to specific goals to better serve the global motion-picture, television, and professional media industry.

Within its standards work, the Society will create a Knowledge Network environment that enables state-of-the-art standards-development processes while improving how content is discovered, accessed, and monetized.

Within its education work, the Society will continue to enhance its offerings to become the comprehensive resource for industry-relevant professional development. SMPTE will continue providing education on emerging technologies that professionals must understand for continued career success.

In continuing to build SMPTE membership around the world, the Society will focus on extending its presence at the local Section level and on ensuring high levels of volunteer engagement, including recognition of service, to create a more robust and diverse global community for its members.

The SMPTE Board of Governors will be responsible for overseeing the Society’s new strategic business plan. Following recent elections for 2019-2020, the executive committee of the Board of Governors will include Griffis, VP of technology at Dolby Laboratories; EVP Hans Hoffmann, senior manager, media production technologies, for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) Technology and Innovation department; Education VP Sara Kudrle, product marketing manager at Imagine Communications; secretary/treasurer John E. Ferder; and past president Matthew Goldman, SVP of technology at MediaKind. Officers continuing in their current terms include SMPTE Standards VP Bruce Devlin of Mr MXF; and SMPTE Membership VP Peter Wharton, president of Happy Robotz.

In addition to the officers and governors that were previously elected by the membership and announced earlier this month, SMPTE executive director Barbara Lange announced that the Board of Governors has appointed Patricia Keighley of IMAX as finance VP, Thomas Mauro of Arvato as New York regional governor, as well as two governors-at-large: Hollywood Professional Association (HPA) president Seth Hallen and Brian Claypool of Christie Digital System.

SMPTE past president Wendy Aylsworth, the Society’s first woman president, was recognized during the meeting for earning the prestigious Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to her last week at the Television Academy’s Engineering Emmy® Awards ceremony.

HPA unveils 2019 YEP class 
During the SMPTE conference, the HPA announced the 2019 class of Young Entertainment Professionals (YEP). Sponsored by HPA, YEP was developed to provide talented individuals early in their careers in the media content industry with connection, mentoring and opportunities for engagement. The class was chosen by the YEP advisory committee from a group of passionate and driven applicants motivated to develop lasting relationships with industry leaders and other young professionals.  

The YEP program provides a unique framework for young professionals to network and learn from peers and mentors.  YEP mentors, who volunteer their time and expertise, are industry leaders who bring extensive knowledge to their mentees. Over the course of the year, YEP class members participate in a variety of events including the HPA Tech Retreat, HPA Awards, exclusive mentoring events and a number of YEP peer–driven events. 

The 2019 YEP Class consists of:

  • Zach Beggs, 3Ball Entertainment
  • Daniel Brown, Premiere Digital Services
  • Michelle Diaz, Pixelogic
  • Caroline Gilmore, ABC Studios
  • Bonnie Gross, Encore Hollywood
  • Jordan Hunter, Disney
  • Claire Iannelli, FotoKem
  • Dominic Koponen, Panavision LightIron
  • Daniel Larsh, DoctorPedia
  • Kimberly Martinez, ABC Studios
  • Elizabeth Peterson, Johnny Anarchy
  • Zoe Pinczower, Netflix
  • Clare Runciman, Home Los Angeles
  • Karen Singer, Viacom
  • Harmeet Singh, Dolby Laboratories
  • Colette Speer, New Media Hollywood
  • Jessica Wan, Pixar Animation Studios
  • Zachary Witherspoon, LightIron
  • Iris Wu, Ambidio
  • Katherine Yo, Disney

Loren Nielsen, co-chair of the YEP committee, noted, “Witnessing YEP’s evolution has been nothing short of inspiring for the committee. The level of engagement has grown and the events have taken on their own energy from the talented YEPs organizing them. Each year, our applicants have been outstanding. We have been delighted to see our talented 2017 and 2018 YEP classes step up as industry participants and leaders in their own right.”


MySHOOT Company Profiles