Monday, June 15, 2009

Another first for a black American

Here's the story of a woman on a stormy journey, but with amazing determination: America's first black woman rabbi.

Finally, the Magical World of Disney Is About to Include an African American Princess

Thanks to the Women's Media Center for this one.

by Rachell Arteaga

Granted, it’s a fairy tale—the furthest thing from reality. But a wide audience of little girls is likely to take Tiana, the new Disney character, to heart. The author asks how likely is it that the mainstream company can produce an effective role model for them.

June 15, 2009

When I first heard that Disney was releasing an animated film starring a black princess this November, I was excited, yet skeptical. Disney has attempted to fulfill its diversity quota in animation before with films like Aladdin, Mulan, and Pocahontas. While these films achieved their box office busting goals and won the hearts of many little girls and boys, some would argue that they still left much to be desired in terms of racial, cultural and gender representation. The Disney production machine has remained relatively unchanged—can Tiana be any more authentic?

Tiana stars in the soon-to-be Disney classic The Princess and the Frog. A remarkable moment for American children’s media, she has come into an environment where Dora the Explorer, a pre-school animated series featuring a Latina, has become a national heroine for toddlers and their families–despite or because of her brown skin and magical Spanish words. Arguably, mainstream white audiences are ready for Tiana thanks to the long road paved by Dora and other animated favorites such as the bilingual twins Maya and Miguel and Little Bill, based on Bill Cosby’s book series.

Despite these gains an international study (International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, Germany) shows that still the “ratio of male to female characters in animation programmes … is as disparate as 87 percent male to 13 percent female” and that “72 percent of all main characters in children’s television are Caucasian,” with these proportions holding true in film and other forms of media. Headed by Maya Götz, along with scholars from more than a dozen countries around the world, the study posits that for children to really be engaged in any program, including animation, it is not unreasonable to expect that viewers be able to identify with the characters along the basic lines of gender and ethnicity. The Princess and the Frog has, thus, garnered a storm of media attention in its attempt to address this need—and boost Disney’s marketability across varying demographics.

Ultimately, however, the underlying issue here is not whether Disney will get this “right” by creating an accurate portrayal of a black princess. After all, we are talking about fairy tale here, which never have realistic depictions of anything, especially race and gender. Still, nuances are important, and, with Disney we have a homogeneous mainstream giant with white male directors and producers trying to construct a character based on a cultural and ethnic experience that is not their own.

It is admirable that, according to The New York Times, Disney has consulted with selected theater owners, the NAACP and Oprah Winfrey. And at least Tiana’s voice belongs to Tony Award-winning African American singer and actress, Anika Noni Rose. Nonetheless, as blogger Stephanie Daniels puts it, you have to be “wary of the thought of white folks writing about black folks and presenting it to black children.” What needs to be addressed is the lack of women of color in positions of authority—a need that the Götz study shows is spread throughout mainstream children’s media—who can conceive of strong female characters of color based on personal experiences within their culture and communities. Given this deficiency in its creative and executive positions, it should be of no surprise that Disney is struggling here. Until we can fill the director’s chairs, the production houses, and the writers’ rooms with these women, we cannot expect accurate portrayals or truly powerful role models for girls of color.

Disney will, predictably, do its mega media marketing magic and inundate malls, billboards and after-school TV ad slots with toys and other commercial images of Tiana leading up to the movie’s release. And there is no doubt that many little girls of color will be drawn to Tiana. As Women’s Media Center President Carol Jenkins aptly noted during a CBS news segment, this is an incredible validation for little girls of color who are for the most part invisible. My hope, however, is that Tiana’s mainstream appearance—controversy and all—will pave the way for all children’s media companies to not only continue embracing animated female protagonists of color, but to value the work of women of color, who have the license and authority to create authentic and imaginative characters for our children, our communities and beyond.
Rachell Arteaga is administrative coordinator for the Women’s Media Center. Before she joined the WMC, first as a volunteer, she worked on cultural and academic projects at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY—such as “assessment and Valuation of Puerto Rican, Chicano, Latino and Hispanic-Caribbean Art,” the first symposium of its kind. While earning her BA in media studies at Hunter, she interned at Sesame Workshop and the Jim Henson Company. She currently works weekends at the Paley Center for Media as an engineer for Recreating Radio Sound, helping children discover the rich history of “old-Time” radio while they re-enact a radio play.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

New Catalyst Research Reveals Workplace Barriers for LGBT Employees

LGBT employees report unique experiences of exclusion and echo similar workplace hurdles to women

TORONTO (June 3, 2009) — Even in Canada, a country with legislated human rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, LGBT employees face workplace barriers that limit career advancement and, therefore, restrict potential contributions to organizational success, according to Catalyst’s third report on building LGBT-inclusive workplaces, Building LGBT-Inclusive Workplaces: Engaging Organizations and Individuals in Change. The new study finds that a lack of awareness, which may cause other employees to rely on stereotypes, can lead to a hostile work environment for LGBT employees including discriminatory behaviors such as inappropriate humor or derogatory language; exclusion from important relationships and advancement opportunities; and a lack of role models.

The study suggests that since some LGBT employees are “invisible” and choose not to disclose or come out, organizations may not fully understand the benefits, needs, and challenges of these employees. It also points out that when LGBT employees spend less effort managing disclosure and can focus on their work, both organizations and employees benefit.

“Leaders who understand the bottom-line benefits of diversity should be eager to implement LGBT-inclusion programs,” said Deborah Gillis, Vice President, North America , Catalyst. “LGBT-inclusive workplaces can increase employee engagement by allowing employees to be authentic and spend less time self-editing. That reduces costs by decreasing turnover. It can also potentially increase revenue by encouraging LGBT employees to help the organization tap new markets and enhance customer loyalty.”

According to the study, concerted efforts by organizations to create LGBT-inclusive workplaces, such as diversity training, employee networks, and mentoring programs, help to raise awareness and dispel myths, resulting in better workplace relationships, improved perceptions about workplace fairness, and increased career satisfaction and organizational commitment for LGBT employees.

Through its LGBT series, Catalyst extends its focus on gender diversity to include LGBT employees—recognizing that women may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This Catalyst study offers new insights about specific challenges facing LGBT women. While few differences were based on gender, LGBT women did report “less friendly workplaces” than LGBT men:

* 76 percent of LGBT women versus 85 percent of all others reported that their manager was comfortable interacting with them.
* 70 percent of LGBT women reported that their manager evaluated performance fairly versus 80 percent of LGBT men and 77 percent of non-LGBT women and men.
* On average, LGBT women are “out” to 50 percent of their workgroup versus LGBT men out to 72 percent of their workgroup.

The study reports that LGBT employees working in organizations with effective and inclusive diversity practices indicated better workplace relationships and greater organizational commitment and career satisfaction (linked to greater productivity) than LGBT employees at organizations without them. To help organizations become more inclusive and increase their brand as an “employer of choice,” Catalyst offers a number of recommendations, including:

* Increase awareness—identify and tackle organizational issues related to LGBT employees company-wide.
* Implement diversity training to help dispel LGBT myths/stereotypes.
* Help LGBT employees find mentors and employee groups.
* Make consistent and inclusive communications a core goal.

Scotiabank is the Contributing Sponsor of Building LGBT-Inclusive Workplaces: Engaging Organizations and Individuals in Change.

For more information on building LGBT-inclusive workplaces, please go to: For media inquiries, please contact: Susan Nierenberg , 646-388-7744,; Serena Fong , 646-388-7757,; or Jeff Barth , 646-388-7725,

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States , Canada , and Europe , and more than 400 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.