Towards more inclusive and equitable hiring practices
Imagine being a crew member and receiving a call offering you a union job on a top tier production without even having to interview for the position. How would you feel? Excited? Suspicious? Both?
That’s how Dila Dokuzoğlu felt when she received that call. “I asked the recruiter: ‘How come you’re offering me the job only based on my availability, without even an interview? It doesn’t make sense.’ He said: ‘Well, we're all white here. And we need a BIPOC [crew]. So I was looking at the availability list [and] your last name sounds like you're not white.’ He also asked me if I was a woman, because that would help too.”
This is the kind of situation that a platform like HireBIPOC aims to avoid. BIPOC TV and Film launched HireBIPOC a little over a year ago, as a roster of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour filmmakers and crew members across Canada. While creating a profile as a job seeker can take less than ten minutes, on the recruiters’ side, you’ll need a few days. There is an extensive vetting process to make sure that the platform remains a safe space for racialized industry professionals.
About a year after its launch, the platform now has over 8000 members listed, challenging the myth that there are no talented or experienced racialized filmmakers and crew members.
More than a roster
While encouraging and normalizing the hiring of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour is a goal, it is primarily about recognizing the talent and professionalism of thousands of people who have systematically been marginalized.
BIPOC TV Board member Judy Lung, who is also Vice-President of Communications and Marketing at Touchwood PR, explains: “This was never simply about creating an online roster but instead, conceived as an industry-wide initiative to showcase the incredible talent here in Canada that has been consistently overlooked and shut out in our current system, and to rethink and re-haul hiring practices to be more inclusive and equitable going forward.”
Pranay Nichani, a Toronto-based video editor, was able to get at least four jobs through HireBIPOC. Nichani recently used the platform as a recruiter himself and was able to hire an assistant editor.
Tina Apostolopoulos, Production Executive of Factual and Reality on Bell Media’s Original Programming team, started using HireBIPOC right when it launched. “I use it every time we start a new production, or for crewing up as a kind of a starting base for just looking at names to see who's out there”, she says.
Mike Sheerin is an executive producer at Nikki Ray Media (The Big Bake, Great Chocolate Showdown). Last summer, Sheerin’s team was hiring for several new projects. “One of the first things we did is we went to the site to look and it was one of those sort of ‘good news, bad news’ things because nearly everybody that we had reached out to was already working. So that's great. And then there was one person whose skill set didn't necessarily match up with what we were looking for so we weren't able to go forward with it. But it is now part of our normal rotation of what we do.”
What about BIPOC newcomers?
BIPOC professionals include many newcomers from the Global South. The challenges faced by most qualified immigrants to find work in their field in Canada are no different in the film and TV industry.
Megha Subramanian graduated in film studies from the University of Southern California, worked as an executive producer and screenwriter in India, and taught screenwriting at the university level there. But when she moved to Canada six years ago, she struggled to find a job in her field, despite many networking efforts.
“Interestingly, the university that I taught at in India had an exchange program with Ryerson [University]. So I had some leads there. I did go and meet them. And I asked them if I could teach a course. But obviously, they never responded to me”, she recalls.
Subramanian even applied for production assistant jobs, but was rejected for being “overqualified”.
Eventually, her project management skills from her film career in India got her a job in… IT.
Even though Pranay Nichani benefited from having pursued education in the US and Canada, the first few years on the market before getting his permanent residency were still challenging as there were fewer job options. “Until I got my permanent residency, there were a lot of doors that were closed to me, just because of tax breaks and how the industry works, especially in the nonfiction world, which is what I'm predominantly in. And since then, I've been lucky enough to work with really good people”.
Dila Dokuzoğlu worked as a First Assistant Director in her home country, Turkey. But here in Canada, she had to start over, and now works as a Set PA. “I'm very surprised that in non-union projects, people who especially support BIPOC, do recognize my experience [as a First AD]”. She is very grateful for the BIPOC communities, through which she got many referrals.
While she can only take a limited number of non-union jobs, as per union regulations, Dokuzoğlu is working on channelling that frustration through the development of a series about the issue, with a friend of hers who is also going through the same challenges.
A first step towards inclusive and equitable hiring practices
While HireBIPOC “was never intended to solve all problems”, according to Lung, it aims to accustom recruiters to the idea of hiring Black, Indigenous and People of Colour professionals.
Mike Sheerin believes that it’s “about making it part of your normal process to go in and search that database rather than just sort of try it once and have no success, and then move on to say, well, that doesn't work. [...] You have to just make it part of your regular routine when crewing up.”
One way this is being implemented is by making the use of HireBIPOC a condition of greenlight for projects at Bell Media. “That's a game changer!”, says Judy Lung. “We know that a list is just a list unless it is used, consistently and across the industry. It was important from the outset to ensure the support of Canadian broadcasters who are largely responsible for what series get greenlit, how they are produced, and how they reach audiences”, she explains.
“Ultimately, our hope is that one day, initiatives like HireBIPOC become unnecessary and obsolete”, Lung adds.