By Chris Hoenig
Being taped 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a reality TV show means your true colors quickly come out—especially if you’re a racist or homophobe. In the holiday weekend’s episode of Big Brother, CBS aired a montage of racist and homophobic remarks made by two of the shows contestants during the off-the-air live Internet stream.
Aaryn Gries, who became the show’s Head of Household during Sunday’s live broadcast, was shown mocking Korean-American contestant Helen Kim by pretending to be an Asian nail-salon worker, before adding that Kim should “shut up, go make some rice.” She is also heard using gay slurs about housemate Andy Herren.
GinaMarie Zimmerman is also included in the montage, saying that fellow contestant Candice Stewart, who is Black, “is on the dark side, but she’s already dark.” Gries replies: “Be careful what you say in the dark because you might not be able to see the b—-.”
CBS Corporation and Fly on the Wall Entertainment, the show’s production company, have not responded to requests for comment from DiversityInc, but the women’s employers have already taken action. Gries’ modeling agency has dropped the 22-year-old as a client, while Zimmerman has been fired from her job as a pageant coordinator.
Texas-based Zephyr Talent released a statement saying: “Aaryn, season 15 cast member of Big Brother, revealed prejudices and other beliefs that we (Zephyr Talent) do not condone. We certainly find the statements made by Aaryn on the live Internet feed to be offensive. Any views or opinions expressed in personal commentary by Aaryn, either on any live feed from the House or during the broadcast, are hers alone and do not represent the views or opinions of Zephyr Talent. Upon much consideration, we have decided to release Aaryn from her contract with Zephyr Talent.”
In response to a DiversityInc inquiry, we were directed to a second statement that reads: “Zephyr Talent appreciates the overwhelming support of our difficult decision to release Aaryn Elizabeth Gries from her contract. We wish Aaryn the best of luck in her future endeavors, and recognize that while not everyone will support our decision, we feel that this is in the best interest of our other clients and our company.
“Zephyr Talent fully supports free speech, but we also know that free speech does not mean free of consequences. Zephyr Talent, as a company, has always and will continue to be strong supporters of the LGBT community, and we celebrate all races, religions and cultures. While we disagree with Aaryn’s statements, we defend her right to make them; however, due to their direct conflict with many of the values we hold at Zephyr, we cannot continue to allow her to represent our company, nor do we feel comfortable representing her. We feel certain that there will be other agencies which will have no conflict representing her, and wish her nothing but the best.”
Regarding Zimmerman, East Coast USA Pageant, Inc. National Director and CEO Lauren Handler also directed DiversityInc to a previously released statement that reads: “After watching the live feed from the current season of CBS’s Big Brother, we have been left in disbelief and shock that GinaMarie Zimmerman, our employee for the past 5 yrs., could display such acts of hate and racism. The East Coast USA Pageant is an outlet for girls and women to gain self-confidence, announce their platform and, most importantly, celebrate who they are. We believe and teach our contestants that beauty comes from within. We have never known this side of GinaMarie, or have witnessed such acts of racism in the past.
“We are actually thankful that this show let us see GinaMarie for who she truly is, as we would never want her to be a role model to our future contestants. It is unfortunate that her hateful words were able to be witnessed by so many thousands of Big Brother fans, as they were rightfully so deeply offended. We are unable to contact her at this time, but when she returns from the Big Brother house, we will be terminating her employment for her unforgivable behavior. In a business where we are surrounded by beauty every day, we are saddened to see something so ugly come from someone we put on a very high pedestal.”
Third Housemate Also in Trouble for Slurs
Gries and Zimmerman aren’t the only ones who have been caught making discriminatory comments on the show.
Spencer Clawson has been heard praising Hitler and making gay slurs on the Internet stream, leading his employer, Union Pacific, to release the following statement:
“The values represented by Spencer Clawson’s comments during the Big Brother show do not at all align with Union Pacific’s values. Mr. Clawson is on unpaid leave of absence while participating on Big Brother. Union Pacific does not condone his comments.
“Union Pacific is acting in accordance with Collective Bargaining Agreement terms regarding Mr. Clawson.”
Simple Steps Businesses Can Take
Employers have a responsibility to create a favorable work environment and generate an atmosphere of safety for all employees. That means taking a firm stand with a no-tolerance policy for those who participate in behavior that promotes stereotypes, bias or microinequities, both inside and outside the workplace.
Best practices for promoting diversity in the workplace to ensure an inclusive environment include:
1. Communicating corporate values. CEOs need to take the lead in being visible and proactive advocates for diversity, in particular by holding their executive team accountable for diversity results. The corporate website also should feature the company’s values on diversity and inclusion prominently and highlight the company’s successes in diversity and inclusion. An excellent example of this is former jcpenney CEO Ron Johnson’s support of Ellen DeGeneres as company spokesperson. Watch Johnson discuss the controversy on CBS News.
2. Leverage mentoring and resource groups to teach cultural competence. These relationships allow employees to develop their skills and gain exposure to management, and they also generate awareness and understanding of differences in race/ethnicity, religion, orientation, etc.
3. Mandate diversity training for your employees, especially at the manager level and above. This will help educate employees about the negative business impact of stereotypes and allow them to recognize existing gaps and biases.