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November 30, 2023
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Survey From CAPE, TAAF Spotlights Barriers To Advancement For Asian American Creative Execs

Survey From CAPE, TAAF Spotlights Barriers To Advancement For Asian American Creative Execs

Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and The Asian American Foundation on Wednesday unveiled the results of their collaborative study “Red Light, Green Light: Overcoming Roadblocks to Asian American Creative Executive Success in the Entertainment Industry.”

Topics explored in the survey included barriers to entry and promotions, day-to-day challenges, and factors that contribute to attrition and industry pivots for those working at entry, mid, and senior levels. The report also shares recommendations on how to improve the experiences of Asian American creatives in the industry and foster an environment that will allow Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander creative executives to thrive.

Key findings from the survey were as follows:

  • Respondents felt that their Asian American identity is a double-edged sword.
    • Creative executives of Asian descent brought diversity and unique insights, but were also tokenized and seen as diversity hires.
    • Asian American creative executives grappled with the expectations of fitting into Western norms or meeting high standards of Asian culture knowledge.
  • Asian American women faced challenges in regards to the intersection of gender and ethnicity. 
    • This includes sexism, age-related biases, compensation disparities, and difficulties in career advancement, particularly for mothers.
  • A majority of respondents across levels felt that they experienced different treatment because of their racial/cultural background or how they looked.
    • Experiencing differential treatment because of how they look or their racial or cultural background was most acutely felt by entry (50%) and senior level (68%) staff.
  • A majority (62%) of respondents across all ranks reported lack of mentorship as a challenge.
    • Additionally, 88% of respondents expressed a desire to have mentors from their racial/ethnic background, echoing the adage: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
  • Almost 1 out of 5 respondents across the industry expressed they were looking to pivot to a different capacity within the entertainment industry.
    • Due to the all-consuming life of being in entertainment, stress, poor pay, slow growth, and resulting mental health considerations, respondents contemplated leaving or were forced to pivot for more work-life balance.

Key recommendations included:

  • Opportunities for senior-level executives: Establish paid internships, and full-time roles with benefits to attract more AANHPI talent and organize company-wide trainings on topics such as intersectionality, class, race, microaggressions, and racism.
  • Opportunities for entry-, and mid-level staff: Proactively seek mentoring or advice even through cold calls and develop a personal voice rooted in their experiences and identity.

Supported by TAAF with outreach conducted by CAPE, the study methodology drew on survey respondents from a pool of current and former creative executives at multiple levels ranging from C-suite executives to assistants. The study was supplemented with confidential qualitative focus groups and interviews that surveyed participants’ working experiences in the entertainment industry. 

CAPE and TAAF set out to survey AANHPI creative executives in the entertainment industry. However, due to the low number of responses from respondents who identified as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and the fact that all of the NHPI respondents also identified as both Asian and Pacific Islander, the report focuses largely on Asian and Asian American perspectives. It does, however, include Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander perspectives where possible and intentionally does not use the AANHPI acronym when it might not fully represent NHPI perspectives.

Unveiling the results of the study last night at their inaugural gathering Culture Change Salon: Greenlighting AANHPI Stories, the organizations are now focused on leveraging their data to inform strategies to strengthen pathways in all creative fields. CAPE has since 2017 worked to foster the next generation of senior creative execs through its CAPE Leaders Fellowship, the only talent development program of its kind that builds leadership skills and creates networking opportunities for AANHPI creative executives in Hollywood.

“CAPE is excited to work with TAAF on this important study to unpack the barriers to entry, advancement, and career sustainability for Asian American creative executives in the entertainment industry,” said CAPE Executive Director Michelle K. Sugihara. “Creative executives are critical in getting our stories greenlit and told with care. We must protect and support their upward trajectory into the upper echelons of power within the industry. We must especially push for the hiring and promotion of more Pacific Islander creative executives whose numbers are currently extremely low, particularly in this time of upheaval and challenge for executives of color.”

Added TAAF CEO Norman Chen, “TAAF is honored to partner with CAPE to shed light on the unique experiences of Asian American creatives in the entertainment industry. We must ensure the pathways from entry-level positions to creative executive roles are supported and fortified through mentorship, leadership development, and access to opportunity. To truly feel like we belong, we must see ourselves and our stories on screen. To do that, we must ensure that AANHPIs have the support to not only tell authentic narratives but also reach executive roles to greenlight those stories.”

Given the survey’s suggestion that Asian American professionals working in entertainment are eager to greenlight more diverse projects helmed by AANHPI creatives, TAAF is also launching Lights, Camera, AANHPI: A Creative Development Directory, a centralized resource that supports and advances AANHPIs’ careers and creative work in film and television. The directory currently hosts more than 200 talent development opportunities for creatives in front of and behind the camera, from fellowships and residencies to professional and script development programs to build sustainable pathways for talent. Moreover, CAPE’s AANHPI talent database of working professionals in Hollywood is currently in beta.

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