A Message from TEA International Board President, Chuck Fawcett: TEA’s Progress on the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion Journey
Over the last few years, we have witnessed significant generational change triggered first through our global politics, followed by a worldwide pandemic and then the visible reemergence of the social justice movement that swept our planet and opened our eyes like nothing before. For me, and many like me, this was a serious wake up call as I had never really had to think about the impact of inequity and exclusion coming from my sheltered world. Suddenly, I became aware of new acronyms like DEAI (diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion) that started to pop up in mainstream media which I initially thought was only focused on race or gender inequity, but soon realized the extent of the problem was much greater.
My view expanded as I started to learn more and see for the first time the impact that fear, bias, and misunderstanding had on the world around me. In hindsight, it sounds naïve, but the depth and span of how people are treated based their socio-economic/educational status, ethnic origin, disability, age, or being in the LGBTQIA+ community had not really been part of my consciousness. But those characteristics have been used as a means of exclusion and isolation for many in our society, and I began to see and understand the impact that had on marginalizing those communities. Thus began my journey of self-reflection, empathy and ultimately a feeling that I needed to do something about it.
Being a newly elected President of the TEA in 2020, I was full of fresh ideas and eager to make a difference. Those were extremely challenging times for the TEA with the loss of our staff, and our members suffering and losing their jobs in record numbers. I hoped this could be an opportunity for the TEA to help our displaced members, and especially those that had been historically marginalized. But what part could I actually play and where do you start with such a complex and sensitive topic? Those thoughts were further crystalized through our Town Hall discussions and countless one-on-one conversations that I had with TEA members throughout 2020 and 2021.
The TEA is working hard behind the scenes to develop our own comprehensive DEAI policy statement. Finalizing it will take iteration and concerted effort to listen to members and key stakeholders over time. We began the process by looking first at three core criteria: geography, professional discipline and industry affiliation. We know this is just the beginning, but it is allowing us to make progress while we develop our own larger diversity strategy.
The next step is to understand where we are starting from by measuring our own global competence and inherent biases. As such, in Q4 the International and divisional Boards and TEA staff will be completing the Global Competence Aptitude Assessment which will provide us with data that will serve as the basis for the development of TEAs DEAI policy, our strategy, and mechanisms for measuring our progress over time.
The business case for DEAI in a non-profit association like the TEA is simple. If we can create an organization that is more diverse, inclusive and accessible then the quality of our ideas will be better, the conversation will be richer and more innovative leading to better decision-making and a stronger organization. Plus by setting that example, we build and strengthen our internal culture and attract new members with new perspectives to the TEA. The direct result – our bottom line will improve and the association will grow. The indirect result – we build community, new connections and stimulate creative ideas that become the new DNA of the TEA.
While we still have a long way to go, I do want to update our members on the steps we have taken over the past two years to bring our DEAI effort to fruition and to celebrate the progress we have made to date. Those efforts include examining our core values, inviting participation in association leadership, expanding educational opportunities, pushing cultural and geographic boundaries and more.
Bringing Voices to the Table to Be Heard
Two years ago, TEA Past President, Michael Blau, launched the TEA DEAI Committee as a first major step to pull together a thought leadership team and “think-tank” to start to tackle this complex issue. The mission statement of the committee was the following:
TEA is committed to advancing, cultivating, and preserving a vibrant culture of diversity, inclusion, and belonging that extends to an authentic community of mutual respect where members can ignite creativity through our shared differences.
Nathan Jones, who serves on the International Board’s Executive Committee stepped up to chair a group of a dozen individuals who are passionate and knowledgeable about DEAI initiatives coming from all parts of the themed entertainment industry. This became a safe place to have open and honest conversations and to provide real-time solutions to challenges that would come up within the TEA.
Some of the other notable accomplishments of the committee include the creation of guidelines for speaker selection and messaging, identifying and recommending assessment tools to assist in education and training, and coordinating with the NextGen committee on issues relevant to underrepresented groups within our member community. Progress has been slow and at times the discussions have been difficult, but the steady habit of having these kinds of conversations have paid significant dividends for the TEA.
DEAI as a “Super-Strategy”
On April 5, 2022, the TEA International Board voted to approve a new strategic plan for 2022 and beyond. A key component of that plan was the establishment of super strategies or “core values” that are designed to inform everything we do as an association. The TEA took a major step in establishing a specific DEAI super strategy statement as follows:
Build on TEA’s momentum as a driving force for diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion by engaging partners, allies and experts to champion initiatives across the industry.
With this statement, the TEA establishes that our diversity policy is not just an afterthought in the plan, rather it is the first thought and is essential for our survival. With every new position we fill, new policy under discussion, new panel of speakers we consider, we will first and always look through the DEAI lens on behalf of our members and our industry.
Since hiring our Executive Director, Lindsey Nelson in June 2021, the TEA has put in place staff resources to address our overall internal needs to help us chart a better future. With the new DEAI super strategy in hand, Lindsey is empowered to provide training and other staff resources to support the mandate. With staff alignment and the International Board supporting DEAI efforts, there is no limit to the goals we can now achieve.
Diversity Scholarship Program
In April, the TEA launched a first-of-its-kind DEAI Scholarship Program which awarded nine individuals the opportunity to attend the TEA Summit case studies as well as the THEA Awards Gala. TEA worked closely with the DEAI and Next Gen committees alongside the Big Break Foundation to establish criteria for awarding scholarships to specific underrepresented individuals. This was an important new initiative that helped break down traditional barriers for talent trying to enter and gain exposure in our themed entertainment industry. I have no doubt that this will change the lives of the scholarship recipients as well as those TEA members that were fortunate to meet them.
Leading By Example
One of the things that I take pride in as the TEA President was an early approach to listening to as many TEA members as possible, to gain insight into what was working and not working. I saw passion and frustration in equal amounts and told many people that I would do something, that I would be an ally and an agent of change. That insight led me to the awareness that I am the fifth white male TEA President in a row and to ask the question, “What can I do to change that?”
I’m proud that I very intentionally designed my early TEA leadership team and specifically the International Board’s Executive Committee to have equal gender representation as well as broad representation in terms of age, race, industry perspective and international geography. That approach has served me well and is an example that I hope others will model in the future. I’m also proud to see our first under-40 female President-Elect, Melissa Ruminot, take the leadership reins from me at the end of this year. Melissa and I both share a passion and dedication for diversity and inclusion, and I know she will continue forward on this very important journey and make gains that I could only imagine.
New Geography and Cross-Cultural Opportunities
The TEA has made significant efforts to expand its reach over the past few years into new and diverse markets in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions. We now have a newly established business with TEA China and are learning to build better cross-cultural understanding and business opportunities for TEA members in that region. We have made additional progress with first-of-its-kind events in new markets such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia in the past few months. These types of events open even more opportunities for TEA staff and volunteer leaders to learn from each other’s cultures and ethnic origins as well as exchange diverse points of view from around the industry.
In our European region, we continue to learn that a one-size-fits-all approach does not always work and requires a flexible approach to be successful with our members. Even in North America where we mostly speak the same language, we still continue to discover cultural differences from East to West and state to state. One thing is for certain we always seem to work better when we have broad geographical representation and multiple cultural points of view at the table.
We are learning very quickly that a conversation around diversity must require that geography, culture and ethnic origin be in the mix alongside race, age, ability, sexual orientation and gender to be truly productive.
An Invitation to New TEA Leadership
While there are hundreds of little things that we could all do to help change the TEA for the better, there are far fewer opportunities to make sweeping “overnight” change. One exception to that is the change that can happen with the addition of future TEA leaders. Right now, in the month of August we are offering a unique opportunity in the form of our annual board elections. A call for candidates is now open and it is my hope that the work that we have accomplished so far has created a space where colleagues of all kinds feel welcome and safe to step up and volunteer to be our champions. A position on the International Board or our four Regional Boards is a unique, empowered opportunity to participate and help guide these important discussions and shape our continuing evolution. The deadline to apply is Friday, August 19th.
Just this past year the TEA formed a new Nominations and Leadership Development Committee, chaired by Melissa Ruminot, which is focused specifically on recruiting those next generation leaders. Our goal with this new committee is to be more intentional and to recruit candidates year-round and find those future leaders who share our values. Our new 2022 candidate application process is more streamlined and dynamic. It’s designed to remove inherent bias from the process and be more accessible for those individuals who wish to apply for leadership positions. If you share our passion and wish to interact with a group of the smartest and most diverse individuals in the industry, then TEA leadership is for you.
Continuing the Journey
One thing I have learned is the importance of the journey and not just the destination. We will continue to try, and we will certainly fail along the way, but we are fully committed to take this journey, to break systemic barriers where we can, and to become a more welcoming and diverse organization that represents all people and points of view. When we fail, we will get back up, learn from our mistakes and try that much harder the next time.
The creative work that we do as a themed entertainment industry is so much better and richer when it can represent all voices and not just a narrow or privileged part of society. As your TEA President and an “agent of change” I want to thank you for the journey. As long as I am here, I will proudly stand in the doorway and hold it open for all to come in.
2020 - 2022 International Board President
TEA – Themed Entertainment Association