Representation is a big word. Where and how and when and why certain groups of people are represented has a huge impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. It can change policies, challenge stereotypes, and influence laws. While there is great complexity around different forms of representation - fittingly, it doesn't always look the same - at one basic level, it is about who is in the room when it matters.
Recently, there have been two very different news stories about who is going to be in two very different rooms. First, for the good news: 2021 marks a historic year in the traditionally white, male field of Oscar nominations. For the first time ever (yep, the first time EVER), more than one female director is in the running for the best director prize. Not only has this nomination never gone to more than one woman in any given year, it has only gone to FIVE women in the entire history of the Oscars. Similarly, 2021 is also the first year two men of Asian heritage have ever been up for Best Actor in the same year - and only two actors of Asian heritage have EVER been nominated in this category before. To put that into context: the Oscars began in 1929. Both Best Director and Best Actor tend to have around 5 nominations each. This means, throughout the course of the awards, there have been a total of 460 nominations in each category. So, for Best Director, women have accounted for seven out of 460 nominations (1.5%), and for Best Actor, men of Asian heritage have accounted for four out of 460 nominations (0.9%).
In addition, nine of 2021's acting nominations have been awarded to people of colour - a huge increase on 2020's total of... one. The Oscars, it seems, has come a long way in its diversity of representation. This is obviously great news - but I have to admit, I can't stop myself from feeling a heavy dose of cynicism and incredulity that it has take until 2021 for more than one female director to be nominated for Best Director and more than one actor of Asian heritage to be nominated for Best Actor. On a more positive note, there will be more women and more people of Asian heritage in the room on Oscars night, which should undoubtedly be celebrated.
Now for the bad news. On Friday, it was announced that BuzzFeed would be shutting down the national news operation of its recently acquired HuffPost website. This would leave the jobs of 16 out of the 29 full-time staff in jeopardy - with just four jobs available for these 16 staff. Redundancies are clearly never nice to hear about and, from this article, BuzzFeed has not handled the situation well by any stretch of the imagination. But what is perhaps most alarming about these job cuts is the demographics of the potential redundancies. Of the 16 editorial staff who may face losing their jobs, 11 are women. These 11 women also account for every mother on the staff - including one who is currently on maternity leave. Potentially, all of the four positions remaining for the editorial team could be given to men, which would drastically alter the level of representation within HuffPost.
It is no secret that women have been disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, including redundancies like this. While a member of staff at BuzzFeed was unconvinced that the cuts deliberately targeted mothers, it is hard not to draw certain conclusions from the fact that every single one on the HuffPost UK editorial staff is now facing the prospect of losing their job - especially against a backdrop of workplace policies and societal expectations that have all too often disadvantaged, disparaged, and devalued working mothers. (After all, how often do you hear the phrase "working fathers"?)
Without these voices in the pitch meeting, certain stories will not get told. That is inevitable. Representation in that room leads to representation in the press; as a staff of journalists becomes more homogenous, the perspective of their publication narrows. So hopefully, however this situation plays out at HuffPost, they will still retain some semblance of diversity. But it certainly feels like this is a big step backwards.
Every mother on the UK editorial staff has been told they face losing their job, including one person on maternity leave.