Congrats to Zootopia for winning an Oscar for Best Animated Feature!
We’re guessing you’ve seen it by now – but if you haven’t, rent it tonight. It’s a lot of fun, and offers a few timely lessons and reflections on the current state of diversity and inclusion. There are places where it falls short; for example, the film implies that everyone experiences racism similarly. We know that’s not true, but getting to the heart of this would be a lot to ask a family-oriented animated film. The fact remains: there are good lessons on the topic of diversity and inclusion to take away.
The film features animals living in a diverse metropolis where different species – both predators and prey – must learn to get along. The story hinges on a rabbit, who is the first of her “kind” to join a police department dominated by predators. Scott Mendelson of Forbes called it a “potent metaphor for race relations and fear-based social control.”
Indiewire’s Bill Desowitz said: “By capturing the zeitgeist of diversity and inclusion, Disney just got lucky with its timing – and could score big at the box office.” You can say that again. Zootopia sailed past the 1 billion mark worldwide, and it’s now the fourth biggest animated film of all time, behind Toy Story 3, Minions and Frozen.
The timing was right for a reason: we all have a lot to learn. And here are the 4 key takeaways from Zootopia.
Lesson 1: Candidates don’t have to “look the part.”
Lots of assumptions are made about Bunny cop Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) based on her gender, size and species. It’s hard for her to break into a precinct of big tough guys. Her sidekick, Nick, a fox, who has been hearing the negative messages his whole life, has acquiesced, saying: “We are who we are. I’m born a sly fox, you’re born a dumb bunny, that’s who you are. There’s no use trying to get out of those boxes that society’s put us into.”
But the mantra of Zootopia – that “Anyone can be anything!” – makes its message clear. We have to actively shatter the images we have in our own of what a cop looks like. Or an engineer. Or a doctor. We have to discipline ourselves – and practice – to look at skills and experience in a way that’s unbiased. To help fight a similar bias in the workplace, develop a hiring process by which you’re selecting candidates based on their qualifications alone. One example of this is the use of blind resumes, where skills are all that matter.
Lesson 2: Commitment from leadership is critical.
Diversity and inclusion programs are not just a passing trend, and their importance goes way beyond complying with laws or “doing the right thing.” There’s serious data to support that hiring a diverse workforce is good for business.
And there’s quantifiable proof that it’s good for company culture, too. A full two-thirds of active and passive job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. No matter the size of your company, making diversity a priority is a fundamental step toward becoming a recruiting and branding powerhouse.
Ultimately, Chief Bogo accepts Officer Hopps and treats her with as much dignity and respect as the other members of the force. That support coming from the top is critical for any organization – and in Zootopia, it was key to restoring peace and harmony to the metropolis.
Lesson 3: Diversity & inclusion must be part of your core values.
Have a focus on diversity and inclusion from day one. If your D&I initiatives aren’t woven into the fiber of who you are as a company, there’s a strong likelihood that these programs will be met with open resistance. Judy Hopps was hired as a part of a dreaded “diversity initiative,” and she was marginalized accordingly. You can’t just expect to hire for diversity and then think there will be instant inclusion. There have to be thoughtful systems in place to foster an inclusive workplace culture.
Lesson 4: There is no quick fix.
It’s easy to believe that racism does not exist – or that it exists elsewhere. Zootopia surfaces underlying racism and looks at the issues once they’re exposed. But the issues won’t be fixed overnight. There’s bound to be trial and error. You have to actively look for and eliminate bias at every step, from recruiting and hiring to fostering employee engagement, career growth and retention.
Related: 3 Tips for Hiring for Diversity
The issues around diversity and inclusion are far more layered and complex than an animated film could ever do justice to, but the fact that the topic is being addressed at all in a film is a step in the right direction. Kids are hearing far different messages than those perpetuated by Disney in the past. Song of the South, with its numerous derogatory stereotypes, is an extreme example, but with Moana and Queen of Katwe, both released last year, the studio has become more inclusive than ever.
In the same way that diversity has been shown to contribute enormously to innovation, the very success of Zootopia is a testament to the great things that happen when you have very different people on your teams. No fewer than seven diverse story writers came together to create the script for this brilliant film.
In the words of Officer Judy Hopps, “We can only solve it together.”