Since being introduced to the public in the late 1920s, television has been a mirror to societal shifts. TV has provided an outlet for society to take a step forward, implement change and alter the course of events.
In fact, the first person of color debuted on television in 1939 in self-titled The Ethel Water’s Show. As time went on people of color began to show up more often in television broadcasts until it was normalized in the 1960’s. Later on in TV history, the first gay character on primetime television debuted in 1971 for one episode of a very traditional show called All in the Family. These major milestone in viewing history paved the way to further representation of minority groups on our screens today.
Diversity in television has skyrocketed in recent years, and 2018 marked a turning point in the growing adaptation of TV networks to finally fully embrace a more down to earth display of an array of characters, and a more authentic representation of American society.
Casts have become more dynamic and we’re seeing more actors and actresses from underrepresented backgrounds by the hundreds.
With powerhouse directors like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy dominating content that shouts at social issues and minority injustice, there’s never been a better time to “Netflix and Chill.” With all this inspiring content hitting the screen, we got to thinking, can television and streaming services be a catalyst for workplace diversity?
We’ve compiled a binge-worthy list of shows to give you all the inspiration you need to get a better understanding of diversity in the workplace (and maybe even something to stream on your lunch break.)
So, grab the remote, and let’s get into it.
Nine glorious seasons of this thrilling show built around practicing law in New York City. Harvard University graduates compete for their clients to maintain their reputations. In an industry dominated by male Partners grossing 27% more than female Partners, it’s great to see a firm led by Jessica Pearson, an accomplished African-American woman who serves as Managing Partner. This show is dramatic, enticing and shows a black woman from a position of strength. To build a story around a practice where females account for 23% of partner level positions nationwide, Suits is a refreshing look at the industry.
A show about the lives of a model and lawyer getting intertwined and twisted after a crazy car crash, medical emergency and touch of universal fate. Fighting against being stuck in the 20% of women equity partners in the field of law, Debbie or rather “Jane,” has to continuously prove she is one of the best lawyers her firm has, and that there’s always room for a little flair. Reiterating the struggles in the law industry, women are held to ridiculous standards and many times are encouraged to choose their careers over family. The story in Drop Dead Diva, shows Jane or “Debbie” taking a bite out of life, while still excelling in her career. If you’re looking for female empowerment to drive the forces in your office, take a note or two from this cheeky and inspiring show.
A contemporary showcase of the modern-day experience of a colored woman. Struggling to find support at work, two young professionals, Molly and Issa fumble through life trying to take on everyday hurdles. This comical show explores what it’s like living and working in a world where the black woman’s judgement is questioned 40% more than the average male. Occasionally crude, and shockingly funny, Insecure provides a peek through the looking glass into the day-to-day workplace struggles of the modern black woman.
Arguably Shonda Rhimes’ most popular series, Grey’s Anatomy has been a staple in homes over the past 14 years. It’s long history on television and streaming platforms has made it a titan in the fight for workplace diversity. With the healthcare industry dominated by 98% caucasian leadership, this show portrays a diverse group of healthcare professionals who are busy saving lives. As our population climbs closer to being represented by 50% minorities, Grey’s Anatomy broadcasts equality in the workplace and the message that anyone can make a place for themselves in the workforce.
With only one in three hispanic women working in high-risk fields, this show is a spotlight for the hispanic community. Betty Suarez isn’t the most fashionable person that comes to mind, but somehow still lands a job at a fashion magazine. This show follows Betty’s transition from ‘Ugly Betty’ to beautiful fashionista swan. As the American workforce is expected to grow by 7.4 million hispanics by 2028, Ugly Betty is another great television broadcast that showcased the minority female experience in the workplace. Although the series has been discontinued, it’s one that gives motivation to young women to chase their dreams and to never let their differences hold them back.
The Tawainese-American dream, Fresh Off The Boat is a series inspired by the life of Eddie Huang, a restaurateur who immigrated to the United States to build a successful career. As the first television show to feature an Asian-American family in over 20 years, Fresh Off the Boat gives a voice to the Asian community that was severely lacking. With Asian minorities struggling just as hard for a seat at the table, this show serves as an inspiration to this underrepresented group in America and drives diversity to the front lines of sitcom history.
With African-American homeownership on decline and 39% of blacks being rejected for financing, Black-ish provides a light-hearted view of the modern day struggles of a black family. . The series highlights the parenting tactics and lifestyles of an Advertising powerhouse and Doctor raising a family in a predominantly white neighborhood. Packed with comedy and diverse perspective, Black-ish showcases what minority families are up against in the workplace, in their neighborhoods and even in education. For anyone interested in gaining a better perspective around a more modern black experience in America, this is the show to watch.
If you’re not a fan of Tina Fey and the many stances she’s taken for equality and women’s rights during her career, give 30 Rock a chance and that’s sure to change. The show follows the corporate structure of NBC which is later acquired by General Electric. The series projects the struggles of women in corporate America, however Fey puts a comical spin on a daunting problem that we’re all too aware of. In addition to some of the others mentioned here, spend some time watching 30 Rock for more female empowerment and relatable content.
Another award-winning Shonda Rhimes original, follows the exciting, troublesome and shockingly complicated life of Olivia Pope. In Scandal, Olivia is a subtle but powerful Whitehouse Communications Director turned Crisis Management mogul tasked with solving the problems of everyone around her. With 127 women and only ⅓ from underrepresented minorities currently representing the House and Senate, this drama gives all women, especially those aspiring to political careers a show to appreciate.
4. The Mindy Project
A show about a successful female OB/GYN, Mindy Lahiri, strives to evolve her life into one filled with structure. Representing the Indian community, The Mindy Project serves a message to women that there are no limits. Women get held back far more than men with and expectation of fulfilling certain gender roles. Many times, the commitment to these roles ends up stalling women’s careers or placing them in positions where they have higher bars set to achieve and are up against double standards. The Mindy Project encourages women especially from underrepresented communities to reach for Lean In and defy the status quo over women in the workforce.
A show built around the professional life of TV News Anchor Mary Jane Paul, Being Mary Jane focuses on the hurdles that many female broadcasters experience in the workplace. Centered around love and work, this show gives African-Amercian women someone to look up to, and a role model to build their professional careers around. Mary Jane fights to keep her life in order together while being a single black female chasing everything society tells her she’s supposed to
A show close to our hearts as a tech company chasing success. Silicon Valley was a show we weren’t sure if we’d include, but this outlines a very important perspective over the tech industry as a whole. Silicon Valley tells the story of five entrepreneurs who are the founders of their own startup operating in Silicon Valley. This show isn’t the most ideal show for diversity, but it does give a comical swing to an industry that is consistently struggling to battle diversity problems. The tech industry is notorious for a lack of diversity and this show gives validity to that fact.
Based on the 1980’s, GLOW or rather the ‘Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling’ is definitely off the course of traditional diversity, however it does give some insight into the struggle women experienced in that time. GLOW spotlights a group of diverse actresses hired to perform as offensive female wrestlers. This touching story line of being a female actress or producer in the 80s and the struggle to be taken serious will open your eyes to just how far women’s rights and equality have come. What’s worse, it showcases what’s still left to be done.
Making your workplace more diverse can be a hurdle, but these shows can help us all demand a better, more inclusive workplace that gives everyone a seat at the table. With continuing advancements and fearless leadership producing the content we’re all consuming, here at Joonko, we’re optimistic about the future of workplace diversity as it becomes more normalized on our television screens.
What can recruiters learn about D&I efforts from these diverse shows and the milestones they reached?
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