Netflix admits it needs to do more to recruit Hispanic employees

Netflix’s “La Casa De Las Flores” is a Spanish-language hit.
Netflix’s “La Casa De Las Flores” is a Spanish-language hit.
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Netflix has produced diversity reports every quarter since 2013, but this week it released its first inclusion report, meant to be a holistic look at rates of recruitment, retention, and promotion of underrepresented groups at the streaming company.

The company took the opportunity to highlight where it has made progress in recent years, and indeed there were several points of pride worth touting. For example, women now make up nearly half of the workforce at Netflix (47.8%), including at the leadership level, meaning nearly half of all directors, vice presidents, and senior leaders are women.

People from one or more underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds—including Black, Latinx or Hispanic, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Pacific Islander backgrounds—comprise 46% of the total workforce of approximately 8,000 people, and 42% of leadership, the company found. And the number of Black employees in the US has doubled over the past three years, though it still stands at just 8% of the workforce and 9% of the leadership team.

But Netflix also acknowledged ways that it’s falling short with its mission: First, it needs to hire more Hispanic employees. Although the number of Hispanic employees in the US ticked up slightly from 6% to 8% over the past three years, the percentage of Hispanic people in leadership positions remained basically flat, reaching 4.9% in 2020, compared to 4.5% in 2017.

The second weakness that Netflix identified spoke to a complicated question for any multinational company: “We have a lot more to learn about topics of inclusion and representation outside of the US,” wrote Vernā Myers, Netflix’s vice president of inclusion strategy and the author of the report, which also was issued as a slick short film posted on YouTube.

Racial gaps persist in big tech leadership roles

The varied sizes and operations of the tech companies with which Netflix is most often compared made it difficult to draw conclusions about diversity across their workforces as a whole. For example, Amazon reports that, at the end of 2019, 26.5% of its US employees (about 400,000 people at that time) identified as Black or African-American, but that figure included warehouse and delivery workers, who are not paid the same wages or offered the same benefits given to corporate employees.

But looking at the top ranks of each company provides a clearer picture of how well they’re closing structural gender and racial gaps, and putting people from underrepresented groups in roles where they have greater power and influence.

In that light, Netflix does appear to be most successful at increasing gender representation among managers and leaders. Amazon reported that at the end of 2019, only 29% of its managers globally identified as female. (The company didn’t provide a US-only breakdown.) Facebook has reported that 34% of its leadership positions globally were held by women. For Apple, that figure was 29% and at Google it was 27% (pdf).

Unfortunately, none of the major tech companies, including Netflix, can claim racial equity in their leadership ranks, suggesting white women have benefited most from recent diversity efforts.

At Facebook and Apple, roughly 3% of US staff in leadership positions are Black, while Google reports that 2.6% of its upper-level roles are held by Black employees. That number jumps to 8% at Amazon and 9% at Netflix.

Netflix’s 4.9% figure for Hispanic employees in leadership jobs in the US is higher than Facebook’s 4.3% and Google’s 3.3%. However, Apple has found that 7% of its managers are Latinx, and Amazon says the same of 8.1% of its managers.

Netflix is serving a Hispanic audience

As part of the new inclusion report, Myers says that the inclusion work the company does “is internal first, so that it shows up in what we do externally.” That may be true of industry firsts to which Netflix can lay claim, including the first woman nominated for an Oscar as a cinematographer, and the first trans director ever nominated for an Academy Award.

But recent trends point to a reverse relationship between content and internal representation, at least in the short term. In 2020, Media Play News reports, Netflix managed to draw Hispanic viewers away from Amazon Prime, the streaming company with the most total hours of content of any service.

Netflix stole Hispanic market share from Amazon Prime by adding 30,000 hours of Spanish-language content between the end of 2018 and September 2019, while Amazon Prime reduced its Spanish-language programming by 2,000 hours, the publication reports. In total, Netflix increased its Spanish language content by two percentage points, to 14%, during that period.

Netflix has managed to invest in the products it needs to attract a certain audience and revenues from Spanish-speaking audiences internationally, but it has not had the same success cultivating Hispanic talent in its corporate ranks.

Inclusion goes global

Speaking to its need to better understand and improve inclusion at Netflix in its international offices, the company pointed to its recent hiring of an inclusion team member for its Europe and Middle East region as evidence of progress, and said it plans to hire people for the same role in East Asia and Africa.

Netflix also said it is launching an incubator for Indigenous filmmakers in Australia, running training programs in media production for Brazilians from underrepresented populations, and exploring ways to support transgender employees outside the US.

Though a complex puzzle to solve, the goal of understanding and establishing a diverse workforce globally—in terms of race or ethnicity, socioeconomic groups, gender, orientation, disabilities, and other traits—is not new at Netflix. Cristina Hernandez, director of inclusion strategy at Netflix since 2018, remarked on the company’s need to expand its inclusion mission in non-US markets in a company blog post published in 2019.

After identifying herself as “an almost-fifty years old, US-born, Latinx, straight, cisgender, English-speaking, former lawyer, [and] mother of two boys,” who thought she understood inclusion and the ways she does and doesn’t experience privilege in the world, Hernandez said she was still figuring out what it takes to be an inclusive global company. “I am learning new things daily,” she wrote, “and now I repeatedly ask myself—are the actions that I am taking going to advance our employees across the globe? Where may I be forcing a US view?”