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No Laughing Matter

November 12, 2015

Mary Bruce 1Today’s blog is written by AmeriCorps Alums Co-Executive Director Mary Bruce (full bio is included at the end of the blog) and is part of AmeriCorps Alums’ REALTalk series on race, equity, and AmeriCorps alumni as leaders. 

Aziz Ansari is funny. But, his NY Times piece this week on race, opportunity and identity in America didn’t make me laugh. (Okay, parts of it made me laugh. Like the line to his Indian stuntman, “Dude, I’m so sorry!” And the bit on Arnold Schwarzenegger as “the unsung pioneer for minority actors.”) The article made me think. Aziz explains, “Whatever progress toward diversity we are making, the percentage of minorities playing lead roles is still painfully low. The numbers for women are depressing as well.”

Unfortunately, and all too often, we don’t see leadership that’s reflective of our fabulous American reality. A reality in which people of color account for almost 40 percent of the American population and women make up half. For example, new research  shows that the odds of randomly having an all male panel at a conference are slim to none. Yet, as this blog hilariously documents, events featuring just the guys are all too common. And the data Aziz shares on Hollywood isn’t so different than what we shared about leadership in the nonprofit sector last month. On cable, 19% of lead roles went to nonwhites in the 2012-2013 season. Nonprofit boards? 20%.

Nothing funny there.

Representation matters – and not just in Hollywood. Aziz shares, “Seeing an Indian character in a lead role had a powerful effect on me … I rarely saw any Indians on TV or film, except for brief appearances as a cabdriver or a convenience store worker.”

For me? Women in leadership roles inspire me. (Like these alums we honored for Veterans Day.) Their voices, especially in powerful places, help me to find my powerful voice.

But, each time I see a conference panel, or a nonprofit board, (or a new cable show …) that is unreflective of our fabulousness, I feel a little less bold, a little less powerful. And I know we’re doing ourselves a great disservice — because research consistently shows that diverse teams make better decisions.

That’s no laughing matter.

Author Bio: Mary Bruce served in AmeriCorps from 1999-2000 at the Latin American Youth Center as well as in Peace Corps Morocco from 2004-2006. Before joining Alums, Mary was the Senior Education Advisor at Civic Enterprises. She led the firm’s education portfolio, including convening the Grad Nation Civic Marshall Plan Leadership Council, which brought together more than 40 leading national partners to help reach the goal of 90 percent high school graduation rates by 2020. She also sits on the national advisory council of New Politics, an organization that gives Americans who have served the tools and guidance to win elections and become the transformational leaders America needs.

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