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Inclusion Takes Root at Netflix: Our First Report

Inclusion Takes Root at Netflix: Our First Report

Listen to the audio version here

Feb. 10, 2022 Update: We've updated our diversity numbers for the 2021 calendar year here.

Editor’s note, Feb. 25, 2021: Indigenous representation is important, but absent from a previous version of this report. This updated version better reflects that.

The night before my eighth birthday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and I saw my father cry for the first time. My family and community were rocked, and I can trace back my calling to work on inclusion and equity to that night. I decided to live King’s dream. 

I eventually became a beneficiary of that dream, so I made sure it wasn’t in vain. For decades, as a consultant, I helped companies remove barriers for people from underrepresented and excluded communities. That path finally led me here to Netflix in 2018, when I joined forces with a company that had so much influence on which stories get told and by who. 

We started by listening to Netflix employees about how it was to work here. The company added inclusion as a cultural value in 2017, but here’s what we found: we weren’t as great as we thought we were, or aspired to be. And over these last two years, our inclusion team has been building a foundation, sowing the seeds for inclusion to take root within the company. 

Today, we’re sharing what we’ve been working on with Netflix’s first inclusion report. Here, we’ll provide a snapshot of representation within the company, how we plan to increase it, and how we cultivate a community of belonging and allyship.

What inclusion unlocks

Let’s begin with why inclusion and diversity matter at Netflix. A lot has been written about our culture of freedom and responsibility. Yet the most important thing we’ve learned is that when you pair that culture with diversity and inclusion - it unlocks our ability to innovate, to be creative, to solve problems. It breaks up group think. It brings different lived experiences and perspectives to a problem, so that we’re no longer solving them in old ways. And, we’re able to better entertain our current and future members.

Our inclusion strategy team can’t do this alone. We need everyone to contribute. Each employee needs to look at every issue, decision, and meeting, inside and outside the company with inclusion in mind. We call this an “inclusion lens,” where employees ask questions like, whose voice is missing? Who is being excluded? Are we portraying this authentically?

When we get that right (more on that later), magic is possible. We’re uplifting stories about Black British lives. We’re chronicling the life of a gay man with cerebral palsy on TV, a first. We’re moving some of our cash into Black banks. Inclusion is at the heart of so many of these moments, and we’ve asked employees to tell you how they came together in this video. Please take a look:

Illustrations by Ndubisi Okoye. Featured in order of appearance: Vernā Myers, vice president of inclusion strategy; Ted Sarandos, co-CEO and chief content officer; Bozoma Saint John, chief marketing officer; Kabi Gishuru, director of inclusion recruiting programs; Aaron Mitchell, HR director for Netflix Animation; Rochelle King, vice president of creative production; Aaron Lynch, creative marketing manager; Frances Abebreseh, communications manager; Haydn Palmer, creative assistant; Gena-mour Barrett, editorial and publishing manager; and Cole Gavin, director of content acquisition.

The examples in this video only scratch the surface. We’ll create more of them if more of our employees come from different backgrounds. As our co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos explains: “inclusion on-screen starts with inclusion in our internal community.” This report will cover the work we do internally at Netflix, and it starts with being transparent about the numbers.

Representation by the Numbers

Since 2013, we’ve published diversity data quarterly on our jobs site. Here’s the current snapshot:

  • Women make up half of our workforce (47.1%), including at the leadership level: directors and above (47.8%), vice presidents (43.7%) and senior leadership (47.6%).

  • Nearly half of our U.S. workforce (46.4%) and leadership (42.0%, director level and above) are made up of people from one or more underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, including Black, Latinx or Hispanic, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Pacific Islander backgrounds. 

  • The number of Black employees in the U.S. doubled in the last three years to 8% of our workforce and 9% of our leadership (director level and above).

Data as of October 2020, at approximately 8,000 full time streaming employees. Leadership is defined as employees in director, vice president, and executive officer roles. Illustration by Ndubisi Okoye.

We’ve made good progress over the last three years. You can dig into the trends in the footnotes. But let’s be clear, we’re not where we want to be and we need to do better. We have a lot of work to do to attract more underrepresented folks to our company. So we’ve created a team and plan to do that.

Increasing Representation

We rely on every recruiter, every leader, and every employee to invite more voices into Netflix. But it takes coordinated effort to do this well. Kabi Gishuru heads the inclusion recruiting programs team at Netflix, which helps us look at gaps in representation and find ways to narrow them now and in the long term. Some of the highlights of this work:

  • Hiring more inclusively: Recruiters play a vital role in finding candidates, interacting with them, and advising hiring managers. The inclusion recruiting programs team built a training curriculum to do this more inclusively, with topics like: spotting bias in the interview process, sourcing candidates in non-traditional ways, and helping hiring managers identify the perspectives missing on their teams. More than 200 people on our recruiting team have completed one or more courses in the program.

  • Creating access for emerging talent: Systemic issues have excluded certain groups from the entertainment and tech industry. We can dismantle those systems by creating access to people early on in their careers. For instance, there’s low representation of Black folks in the tech industry. Our first technical bootcamp with HBCU Norfolk University hopes to improve that. If we open the door for people, they’ll open the door for others. We’re finding more ways to do that with different skills, industries and communities. 

  • Building diverse networks: People tend to hire people similar to themselves. The inclusion recruiting programs team helps managers break out of that mold by connecting them to networks outside of their own. Partnerships with organizations like /dev/color, techqueria, Ghetto Film School and TalentoTotal play a big role in that. But the team also loves to experiment. They’ve hosted events for Netflix executives like Greg Peters, Jessica Neal, and Spence Neumann to meet underrepresented senior leaders in their industries. And throughout the pandemic, they’ve hosted virtual events like the DJs and Discussions series to strengthen our bond with Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, and Asian American candidates.

Netflix “DJs and Discussions” virtual event with African professionals who are redefining representation in African storytelling.

Once we get these folks in the door, we want Netflix to be the place they can build a great career. That’s where the inclusion team comes in to guide the company, with the help of many employees along the way.

Inclusion and Belonging

We want employees to feel like they have a home here. That they belong. And that’s possible when they feel reflected at work. 

One way to feel reflected is for people to see themselves represented at different levels of the company, in different hallways and virtual meeting rooms. Our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are vital to creating this sense of inclusion and belonging. ERGs are communities of employees who create space to connect on their shared experiences. We have 15 ERGs serving Latinx, veteran, Indigenous, Black, and disability communities to name a few (see full list here). 

Each community creates space for people to celebrate their shared cultures and histories - like Diwali, Juneteenth and Spirit Day. They offer employees mentoring, career development, and volunteering opportunities, supporting each other through challenges. They also provide the company with insight into the perspectives, needs and lived experiences of their communities. And for allies, they provide a place to forge bonds. 

I remember my own ally moment at an event hosted by our Trans* ERG last year. I sat in a round meeting room in our Los Angeles office, connected to other offices around the world. One by one, different employees read the names of murdered trans women to commemorate the Trans Day of Remembrance. I wiped away tears hearing each name, seeing employees embrace and comfort each other, before reading the name of the woman assigned to me: Jazzaline Ware. My understanding and compassion for the magnitude of issues facing the trans community deepened powerfully that day.

SOMOS is an employee resource group for Netflix Latinx employees and allies.

Singapore-based employee Charlene Wee in a photo essay by the Asia-Pacific chapter of our Pride@ employee resource group, serving LGBTQ+ employees and allies. View the photo project here.

Feeling reflected also means employees recognize themselves in our company policies and practices (e.g., they reflect different religions, family responsibilities, gender identities, disabilities). Many teams work alongside us to make this happen.

  • Equitable Pay: We practice “open compensation,” which means the top 1,000 leaders (directors and above) at the company can see how much any employee is paid. This encourages open discussions about pay disparities. Outside of the transparency, our talent team routinely analyzes pay across the company to look for disparities, including an annual compensation review. In both cases, when we find pay gaps, we rectify them.

  • Inclusive Benefits: We want our benefits to work for everyone. Our flexible parental leave policy is gender-blind. We offer a family forming benefit to support employees on their fertility, surrogacy, or adoption journey. It’s available to employees regardless of marital status, gender, or sexual orientation. And we cover comprehensive transgender and non-binary care in our U.S. health plans. Outside of the U.S., we’re exploring how we can expand transgender coverage. 

Madrid-based employee Antonio Abalos and his partner used the family forming benefit for their surrogacy journey in 2019. Here they are pictured with their son in their home.

The Inclusion Lens

My first year at Netflix, our team was pulled into meetings around the company, on different inclusion topics. What we contributed was an “inclusion lens.” As I touched on earlier, it’s a way to embrace difference, to look for bias, and to consider a decision’s impact on marginalized or underrepresented groups.

But the inclusion team cannot physically be in every meeting. So for us to make lasting change in the company, and in our industry, we need to equip every employee with this lens. So we began building that foundation.

Building consciousness

First, we needed to get on the same page about concepts and language. We started that through in-person workshops in our first year, which we run ourselves. One of my first workshops was for Netflix vice presidents around the world in 2019. The topic was “Privilege” and we were in a big meeting room in Utah. Each vice president completed an exercise to locate themselves on the spectrum of privilege, be it cisgender, straight, White or someone without a disability. It was powerful to hear some of the most talented people in our industry be so vulnerable about their experiences being marginalized.

What’s distinct about these workshops is that we ask employees to identify within themselves how they’ve personally experienced and perpetuated inequity. That takes a lot of courage and discomfort, but the impact can be profound. Participants walk away with not just concepts and language, but self-awareness and the tools to help put that awareness into action. To date, our team has held more than 120 workshops for teams and folks of all levels, on topics like privilege, bias and intersectionality.

In the last year, we’ve shifted our consciousness toward allyship. It can be uncomfortable to talk about privilege. But we don’t think privilege is a dirty word. And once we’ve located our privilege, how can we use that privilege to offset inequities for others? While the early workshops were about self-reflection, allyship is about all of us coming together. Everyone has to do the work. And it became a critical practice in 2020. 

The pandemic disproportionately impacted employees from Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Asian folks around the world endured xenophobic hate incidents. The killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others brought inequality and allyship to the forefront of our minds. Throughout the year, we held space for employees going through these events to decompress. For others, it was an opportunity to listen and learn, energizing their allyship journey. We brought in experts like Dr. Robin DiAngelo, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Brittney Cooper and YK Hong to enhance our understanding of oppressive systems, and to offer light and healing. What moved me most were the number of allies who joined these conversations: more than 5,600 employees participated.

As new people join Netflix, they are invited to do the work to build this consciousness. Now, more and more we are seeing the “inclusion lens” in practice when the inclusion team isn’t in the room. We see it in decisions like our support of Black Lives, improving the accessibility of our offices and our service, increasing representation on our productions, launching an incubator for Indigenous creators in Australia, and training people from underrepresented groups for a production career in Brazil. In my two years at Netflix, we’ve grown from 5,400 to more than 8,000 employees today. To equip employees with an inclusion lens at that magnitude, we needed to get more specific about the work.

Executive producer Tiago Mello, left, on the set of the Netflix original series 3% out of Brazil. The Boost the Base program trained and employed nearly 30 young people, primarily from Black, female and LGBTQ+ communities across the production for seasons three and four.

Getting specific

Inclusion and diversity issues vary industry to industry, and function to function. So our marketing employees face different challenges than their colleagues in television production or software engineering or legal. We expanded the inclusion team to address this, with six leaders who are now dedicated to moving inclusion forward in different departments in the company. This allows us to build programs tailored to employees’ industries.

For instance, Wade Davis heads inclusion for the product and technology teams, with a charter to increase the number of women, Black and Latinx folks in technical roles. To build more inclusive teams and remove exclusionary practices, his team led coaching sessions for product leaders. One example: “train the trainer” group coaching sessions, where the inclusion team guided product leaders on a self-assessment of where they’ve historically hired from and how they can evolve that practice to bring in people from different backgrounds. Leaders in this session go on to lead the same coaching sessions themselves with their direct reports.

Meanwhile, as the inclusion leader for content, production and marketing, Darnell Moore’s focus is on representation on-screen and behind the camera. This year, his team unpacked topics like colorism and the representation of transgender and non-binary folks, and people with disabilities. His team did this through a series of virtual “Inclusion Institutes,” bringing in experts like Disclosure director Sam Feder and RespectAbility

We have similar models for the talent, legal, and finance and operations teams. I’m immensely proud of our work, and as I look ahead, we’ll only get stronger.

The 17-person strong (and growing!) Netflix inclusion strategy team.

The Road Ahead

I love it when people call me when they see something great from Netflix like Blood & Water, Selena: The Series, Never Have I Ever or Da 5Bloods, or when they’re trying to convince their own company to bank Black. They congratulate me, and the first thing I tell them is, “It’s not me! It’s all these great people.” We’ll only get better with more representation, and a sharper inclusion lens. 

While that heartens me, we’re not yet done building the foundation. We have so much more work to do:

  • We could do a much better job at recruiting Hispanic or Latinx, Indigenous, and other underrepresented folks into all areas of our company, particularly our leadership. 

  • We have a lot more to learn about topics of inclusion and representation outside of the U.S. We’ve started by adding Cassi Mecchi to the inclusion team to lead this work for our Europe, Middle East and Africa teams. We will add team members in the Asia Pacific and Latin America regions in 2021.  

  • Measuring our progress and “inclusion health” is important. We’re exploring how. We want to go beyond charting demographics and hiring goals by looking at the entire employee experience. Hiring is important, for sure, but so is retention, promotion, tenure and compensation among underrepresented colleagues.

All this work is necessary if we want to inspire cultural change in our industries, in the perspectives being heard. The neutral period is over, we need the courageous period. This work is not about perfection - it’s about humility, vulnerability and unlearning as much as it is learning. If we keep trying to get this right, a new season of equality will bloom. And King’s dream, my own dream, and the dream of so many others’ lives on.


*Data as of October 2020. Leadership is defined as employees with director level roles and above. Senior leadership is defined as the top 21 leaders at Netflix.

Global gender representation trends 2017-2020

U.S. race & ethnicity trends 2017-2020

Bao-Viet Nguyen