Christine Simmons On Promoting Racial Diversity And Representation

What is the true definition of a leader? Chief Operations Officer of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, Christine Simmons, helps shape our 2021 vision of what it means to be a leader in this pivotal interview leading us into the new year.

Prior to her role as COO of the Academy, Christine was with the Los Angeles Sparks, our beloved women’s basketball team. It was the first time she ran an entire organization herself and she certainly took the bull by the horns. Christine rebuilt and rebranded for success…growing and connecting with fans both on and off the court.

Everything Has a Season…and Change is Crucial

Christine is a firm believer in change. “You shouldn’t be in positions for too long,” she says. In every thriving organization, you need top talent and fresh ideas to continue to grow. “Everything has a season,” she says. When the opportunity came up for her to step into the COO role at the Academy, Christine seized it and simultaneously created an opportunity for another young, Black woman to work with the Los Angeles Sparks as her successor. Now Christine is busy breaking barriers and paving the way for more women and people of color at the Academy.

According to Christine, the true definition of a leader is leaving something behind that thrives and grows after your departure. And if you’re a CEO or small business owner, maybe you stay at the helm, but leave your legacy through succession planning, that is, setting up greatness for generations to come. When you have a C- in front of your title, it’s also important to let go—because letting go of those duties and tasks you’re holding on to so tightly opens up an opportunity for someone else to step into their brilliance.

Diversity and Inclusion are Front and Center

As the person in charge of day-to-day operations at the Academy, Christine continues her work spearheading diversity and inclusion initiatives and best practices. While we are all familiar with the Oscars, what you may not know is the remaining 364 days of the year post-Academy Awards, many programs and initiatives are being developed—and Christine takes a hands-on approach to bring diversity and inclusion to the film industry.

Some of the projects Christine has been working on are talent development and diversity programs designed to support the next generation of amazing filmmakers. She’s focused on bringing in diverse voices that represent a global view to the silver screen. Christine looks at the business through the lens of inclusion. She has also had a hand in helping to diversify Academy membership and the board of governors, who all have voting power for the various Academy Awards. 

But even with a more diverse membership and board, do diversity and inclusion come into play if the slate of films up for awards isn’t also held to a diversity standard? No. Christine’s work is helping influence the film industry from top to bottom through unconscious bias training, apprenticeship programs, Inclusion Standards, and more. It’s all about broadening the aperture through which excellence is recognized—and everyone should have a voice, whether they’re in front of or behind the camera.

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There’s a lot to learn from Christine not just about reshaping leadership as we enter the new year together, but also in changing the world around us for the better. What strides have you made in your business for diversity and inclusion? Share in the comments below. We’d love to learn about your progress as a leader, as a brand, and as a visionary.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways:

02:38 – “Everything has a season,” says Christine. She believes you shouldn’t be in positions for too long. Brands like the Los Angeles Sparks and nonprofit organizations like the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences require top talent and fresh ideas to keep current, grow, and thrive.

04:10 – The true definition of a leader is leaving something behind that continues to grow long after your departure. If you’ve done your job well, you’ve left your seat confident that the next person who steps into your former role is well equipped to take the organization to the next level and beyond.

09:34 – In response to the civil injustice that erupted in 2020, Christine helped create and implement AA2020—a diversity and inclusion initiative that doubled the number of women and people of color in the Academy’s membership base, and added seats to the board of governors. This initiative effectively made way for more women and BIPOC with voting power.

10:50 – Additionally, Christine and her team continue to create opportunities in front of and behind the camera to help influence and reshape what we see on screen—so that films become more representative of the world we live in. Under her leadership, the Academy also established Inclusion Standards for Best Picture and other awards.

17:00 – Christine talks about institutionalized racism. This is what happens when certain rules and ideologies become institutionalized in an organization, creating an oppressive environment that affects women and BIPOC’s experiences. 

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Important Links:

IG: @unapologetically_christine

Twitter: @cnsimmons

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Our blog features a series of interviews with some of the most visible and inspiring people world wide (ILTV) PLUS inspiration, business tips, and advice from Keri.