Should Netflix Be Celebrating Its Equity Accomplishments?

Netflix equity
Netflix Equity and Inclusion. Credit: Stock Catalog.

Netflix released its employee demographics data for the 2021 calendar year and celebrated its change in demographics through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

But what have they actually accomplished?

Netflix’s Year Of Equity

Vernā Myers, Netflix’s Vice President of Inclusion Strategy, trumpeted the company’s achievements in racial and gender-based quotas on the company site. On the surface, Our Progress on Inclusion: 2021 Update seems to address many issues of inequality perceived to plague businesses across the western world. 

For the first time since 2017, over half of Netflix’s worldwide employees are now women (51.7%).

In addition, women occupying director titles or higher hierarchical positions are up to 51.1%, and women working in creative and corporate fields are 59.5%. 

In the technical departments, women are still a minority (37%), although they noted women have increased their share of representation across all categories within the company.

Regarding race and ethnicity, the report boasts that half of their U.S. workforce is now made up of employees from “one or more historically excluded ethnic and/or racial backgrounds… That’s up from 46.8% in 2020.” 

An Equity Arms Race?

Several trade papers and entertainment publications like The Hollywood Reporter (owned by MRC with close ties to Netflix) made a specific effort to point out aspects of the company’s demographics. THR made special mention of the fact that “white employees still [occupied] the plurality [of Netflix’s workforce](42.8%, down from 44.3% the year before).”

In other words, lighter-pigmented employees are still the most prominent Netflix employee demographic overall. THR failed to elaborate whether this was a morally negative or positive statistic.

But the article did compare Netflix equity numbers to the racial demographics of their two biggest competitors, WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS. People of color comprise 39% and 37.7% respectively of WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS US workforce.

Inclusion Statistics

Our Progress on Inclusion: 2021 Update included a number of other notable facts about the thousand—exactly a thousand—new employees at Netflix:

  • The number of Black employees at the streaming company had the greatest demographic share increase, going from 8.6% to 10.7%. 
  • The “Latino/a/x” demographic only increased 0.7%, despite being a more significant proportion of the overall American demographic (18.5% compared to Black or African descent at 13.4%).
  • The percentage of Black employees hired into leadership positions over the last year was twenty-four times the percentage of Latino members hired over the same period.
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Indigenous inclusion stayed unchanged at 0.5% and 0.3%, respectively.
  • Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) (0.8% to 1.3%) and multiracial demographics had slight increases (4.8% to 5.6%).
  • Interestingly, “Asian” representation, which is the second-largest demographic at Netflix next to white employees, dipped slightly (24% to 23.5%), continuing a trend that began in 2017 at which point “Asians” accounted for 25.9%.

The Trope Of Black-Asian Tensions On The Rise

The racial trope of Black-Asian tensions has recently resurfaced in the media, coinciding with the sudden rise of attacks on Asian Americas over the last year.

Comedian Dave Chappelle, in his final Netflix concert event, The Closer, addressed the rise of attacks on Asians during his set.

“I was stressed because I kept watching these videos of my beloved black people beating up on my beloved Asian people, and being so cruel.” 

-Dave Chappelle in The Closer

Last year, a group of employees at Netflix staged a walkout to protest Dave Chappelle’s jokes about transgender people.

The demands of the protest group included measures be put in place to “avoid future instances of platforming transphobia and hate speech.” They also demanded the streaming company “account for the harm [they] have caused and will continue to cause until the below measures are put in place.”

However, the protest organizer, Ashlee Marie Preston, was lambasted for having tweeted out violent, racist posts against Asians just a few years before. Even though Preston was not an employee of Netflix, employees still marched beside her. 

Both Vernā Myers and Netflix CMO, Bozoma Saint Johnare ethnically Black and promoted in the same inclusion report posted on Netflix’s website.

There’s no way to accurately assess what sort of racial tensions or resentment these facts might cause within the ranks of the streaming company. It’s also not clear how these changes might impact the quality of programming or the company’s bottom line.

Netflix Equity Admits Shortcomings

Netflix’s 2021 Inclusion Update did include a statement about the shortcomings of their progress, saying they had “a lot more work to do,” in particular regarding recruiting more “Latino/a/x, Indigenous, and other historically excluded talent.”

Meyers also added that the company was looking to improve representation regarding “gender identities, disabilities, veteran status,” and “sexual orientation” inside the U.S. operations and abroad. 

The statement did not include any plans to combat intolerance regarding age-ism, height differentials, economic backgrounds, possible nepotism, religion, intelligence, body-fat/ body-positivity/ body-shaming, or other categories, including competence or experience in their respective fields.

The report, instead, almost exclusively focused on race and gender. 

But not very well focused, it seems.

Catch-All Racial Terms Means Equity?

The category of “Asians” is presumably a catch-all word to encompass the 48 different countries in the continent, as well as the countless ethnicities and sub-ethnicities that make up the largest demographic of the human experience.

Likewise, “Latino/a/x” likely represents the ethnicities of over 12 different nations equalling over 660,000,000 people.

Africa itself has over 3,000 different ethnic groups speaking more than 2,100 different languages. None of these categories were addressed in the report or indicated they would be in the future. 

To assume that each of these historically and ethnically unique cultures are somehow interchangeable—Korea and Japan, for example, are both Asian countries but distinct culturally— or that they can be lumped into a pile with others just because of similar skin pigmentation or colonial geographical designations is an affront to anyone attempting to pursue equality.

The Gender Consideration

As for gender, the number of “women” indicated in the report’s data did not specify if these included any male-born-female-identifying employees or if it is strictly comprised of cis women.

It also fails to address whether the number of female-born-male-identifying applicants to Netflix have been excluded and are now considered part of a less desirable “male” demographic. 

A Sign Of Things To Come

In January of 2022, voting members of Broadway’s Tony Awards were surprised to receive an email dictating that every member was to undergo “Unconscious Bias Training” or forfeit their voting rights in all categories. 

“Commencing with the 2021-2022 season, all Tony voters will be required to complete Unconscious Bias Training to participate in voting for the Tony Awards.”

– Official email sent to all Tony Awards eligible voters

The training program is run by none other than the Netflix equity guru Vernā Myers.

However, from her Diversity and Inclusion company’s bio page, it is unclear if Myers has undergone the same type of Unconscious Bias Training she’s been employed to teach, either from her own program or from an unaffiliated third party. 

Leave a Reply