Nina Shaw - ESSENCE Black women in Hollywood Luncheon (SPEECH )

Since it was announced that I was receiving this honor, I have been deeply moved by how many of you have shared with me that I made a difference in your lives. But I am here today in no small part because you used your power to decide how and by whom you would be represented. Indeed, I stood up for you, but I was able to do so because you stood with me.

Yes, the truth is there should be a lot more of us, women and people of color, as successful representatives, heads of studios and presidents of networks. We know this , so let’s turn our focus to solutions. Let’s believe that our own power is part of the solution

But it does mean we have to ask and answer some tough questions.

Ask yourself… Is it okay that when your representatives, whom you pay very well, put a team in place to guide your career, that team no matter its size might consist of 1 or maybe 2 people of color?

Is it okay that, despite their seniority, the women who represent you are almost never owners or partners of the businesses for which they work so very hard?

Is it okay for you to know that this is not okay and to not make your displeasure known?

You must pose the uncomfortable questions to those of us to whom you entrust your career. And don’t settle for “we need to do better” as the answer. There must be real dialogue as to how they intend to “do better” and they must know that “doing better” is part of how you determine whether you are being well represented.

Be clear on this -- your representatives work for you, you don’t work for them. You have every right to demand more of us. Better than most, I understand how personal our representation relationships are. I understand you want great people with whom you share a personal connection, people who excel in their work and whose relationships advance your career. But the current system doesn’t hire people like us in great enough numbers or mentor us so that we survive long enough to be the experienced representatives you need.

I am not telling you anything you don’t already know -- but in a nutshell, your representation options are limited because those who might bring a different perspective often lack access and when access is gained, lack support and time and time again, even the most promising careers end prematurely.

So how can we use our power for change?

If you are a woman who wants to be empowered then empower other women. You are a much more forceful advocate against gender bias and wage inequality if you actually hire women.

If you are a white man who advocates for change then hire someone other than a white man as an example of that change. And if you don’t think you need to do it for yourself then do it for your wives, sisters and daughters so they can reach their full potential in the work world.

There are those of you who have fought the good fight for years advocating for people like me and relying on an informal network of diverse advisors to bring perspective to the complicated conversations that help you place a value on your artistry, but ultimately the institutions must change because until our business conversations are inclusive real change will continue to elude us.

There are so many more people to whom I owe thanks, my family, colleagues and friends, but I know they will forgive me for not using more of this time to tell them and you how much you all mean to me. As we stand here on the precipice of what feels to be finally real change, I wanted to use my acceptance of this incredible honor to add my voice to the dialogue.

So my message, while not original, hopefully resonates. Use your own power to be the change you want to see.

Thank you.