HBO Shows How Not to Launch a Diversity Program

By Michael Nam


The problems faced by the HBOAccess Writing Fellowship’s application program last week serves as a harsh lesson for companies and organizations making attempts to diversify their industries.

The program itself is set up to encourage those identifying as “Asian Pacific, Sub-Continent Asian, African American, Hispanic, Native American, Middle Eastern, and/or women” to apply to be mentored by creative executives with HBO and Cinemax.

However, as TheMarySue.com points out, some of the general rules could be viewed as undermining the attempt to truly diversify writing staffs. The number of online applicants was originally limited to 1,000, and the initial classes for those selected require an individual or a team to make their own way to Santa Monica, Calif., which could be a hardship for many possible applicants outside of Southern California. Additionally, a guideline serves to accept a wider pool of industry professionals, “applicants may have previously served as staff writer for up to 13 episodes. They should not have more than 1 feature film released by a studio, independently or shown in major film festivals. Or had 2 plays produced on or off Broadway,” which makes the cap even smaller for those not yet with a foothold.

Adding to these issues were site crashes for the application form hosted on the web portal Without A Box, a film community website. HBO and Without A Box underestimated the number of writers wishing to apply for the fellowship. With the cap limit, many potential applicants found themselves shut out almost immediately due to these web site issues. TheWrap.com enumerated some of the frustrations that boiled over into Twitter under the hashtag #hboaccess, where users expressed anger and ironic amusement over the ‘access’ portion of the name.

In response to the backlash over the program’s early woes, Deadline.com received a statement from HBO:

“The site was unable to handle the volume of activity at the time of launch,” HBO said in a statement to Deadline. “Without A Box worked quickly to resolve the issue, but due to the overwhelming number of applicants the site is moving slowly. In response to the demand for the program, HBO will expand the number of applicants it will review and grant waivers to some who were unable to access the site at the time of launch. Applicants may request a waiver by sending an email to hboaccess@hbo.com with REQUEST FOR WAIVER in the subject line. Waivers will be granted on a first-come basis until the new cap is reached.”

There is no word on what the new cap might be, and the current guidelines do not appear to have been changed at the time of this writing.

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