Spoiler: it's because they have a great attitude towards diversity and inclusion
Netflix's success and popularity have been meteoric. It has changed the way we binge-watch programs, edging out movie rentals and becoming so ingrained in our society that it's almost an inevitability that some of us will 'Netflix and chill' come Valentine's Day.
The company was first conceived in 1997 as a humble DVD-by-mail service, but following a transition into a subscription video-on-demand model in 2007, it has become one of the most influential media streaming services in the world.
Since this transition, annual revenue has grown from $1.36 billion to around $15.8 billion in just ten years. The number of Netflix subscribers has also jumped from under 22 million in 2011 to almost 150 million in 2019. The service is becoming so popular that an estimated 37% of the world’s internet users now have Netflix.
There are multiple reasons to love the platform and for us, it's their diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices that stand out in particular:
The company is transparent about its workforce demographics and they're gender-equal
Netflix publishes the gender ratio of its staff and the breakdown of ethnicities in the overall company, as well as their leadership, creative / corporate, and tech divisions. Impressively, the company as a whole has an almost equal gender balance, which remains the same in leadership:
The gender figures are less balanced in tech, however they remain markedly better than many other major US companies, where the percentage of men is typically over 75%.
It's committed to fostering inclusivity
On a page of the Netflix jobs website dedicated to diversity, the company states: "we understand that inclusion plays just as much of a role in our success as having a diverse team. Inclusion is about authentically recognizing, understanding, and appreciating differences [...] Our goal is to create an environment where people of different backgrounds can contribute at their highest level and where their differences can make a positive difference for Netflix."
In fact, Netflix has an executive position focused on inclusion and diversity
"Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance."
She was appointed to integrate cultural diversity, inclusion and equity into all aspects of Netflix’s operations worldwide. The news of her appointment came two months after Netflix fired its Chief Communications Officer, Jonathan Friedland, after seven years of employment due to his use of a racial slur on at least two occasions in the workplace.
Sharing her excitement for the position at Netflix, Myers stated "I was so impressed by their mission, their excellence, and decision to take their inclusion and diversity efforts to a higher level."
Pictured: Vernā Myers
Three months ago, Netflix hired a new Director of Inclusion, Michelle Penelope King. King will be releasing her first book The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Hold Women Back At Work this March 2020. In her book she outlines the barriers that women and men face at work because of gender inequality — and what leaders can do to fix it.
Netflix are dedicated to helping staff take care of themselves and their family
Netflix offers a global family-forming benefit to support employees during their fertility, surrogacy, or adoption journey. This benefit is available to both an employee and their spouse or domestic partner, regardless of marital status, gender, or sexual orientation.
Acknowledging that these pathways can be challenging from a financial and emotional perspective, Netflix also offers an allowance through Carrot (a fertility care service for companies) to support staff in covering the costs of their family-forming journey.
The parental leave of other major US tech companies pales in comparison to Netflix, whose policy is "take care of your baby and yourself". According to a 2018 study, Netflix provides more than double the number of weeks of paid maternity leave than the next highest company:
The online streaming giant is far outpacing Hollywood in hiring female directors
The Golden Globes and the Oscars have come under fire numerous times due to the shockingly poor diversity statistics of their winners and nominees. In 92 years, only five female directors have ever been nominated for an Oscar. It has prompted campaigns such as #giveherabreak, which replaces ads during the Oscars with films from female directors they ignored.
It's abysmal that this has been maintained for almost a century now, but at least people are beginning to call out the Academy more and more for their exclusive practices. In a moving acceptance speech at the 2020 Oscars, Joaquin Phoenix exhibited qualities of a male ally, saying:
"I think whether we’re talking about gender and equality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity."
According to the Annenberg Inclusive Initiative at the University of South California, which tracks Hollywood’s diversity statistics, Netflix had women helming 20% of its 53 original US films last year (not including documentaries or films outside the US). That was almost double the 10.6% rate of representation for women directors across the 100 top-grossing US films of 2019.
What's interesting is that despite the gender parity, there is in fact little to no recorded difference in the Metacritic rating between male and female-directed films. This is something that often translates into other industries such as tech, where there's a significant gender gap despite no evidence of a difference in work skill to support that.
Netflix's content reflects global perspectives and global stories
Part of the reason that the company has been focusing on diversifying its workforce is because it recognizes that its audience is also increasingly diverse. After all, why would a viewer want to watch programs that consistently fail to resonate with any of their personal experiences? As such Netflix has broadened its horizons to highlight characters who are more like their viewers — featuring a larger range of races, ages, and sexual orientations.
Netflix has been particularly adept at featuring female leads across a wide variety of genres. In fact, the two most-searched-for actors on the site are women: Winona Ryder and Krysten Ritter. The strong female lead is rising ahead of the more traditional roles for women — such as housewife or assistant — in popularity, and it’s in response to complaints regarding the limitations of those roles.
In 2017, Netflix even quietly added a 'Women who Persisted' category to its streaming service, loading it with films about strong, resilient women who refused to back down from a fight. This was potentially a playful response to an iconic phrase that emerged earlier in the same month after Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for criticizing Senator Jeff Sessions. McConnell felt it necessary to cut Warren off mid-speech, which did not go down well with the public. McConnell later defended his actions by saying "Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
The platform currently offers a myriad of shows featuring women (a good portion of which are originals); more notably, it offers programs highlighting women of color and women of all ages.
If you're looking for something to watch (in addition to the titles shown above), try Dear White People, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Orange is the New Black, Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife, Master of None, Sex Education or Atlanta. There are so many international Netflix original shows and films that you can explore as well — and one thing that Bong Joon Ho's history-making win at the Oscars for Parasite proved is that:
"once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films."
Let's keep on knocking down barriers
There are still so many barriers we need to overcome to achieve the gender balance and diversity that we want to see in the media and in major companies. Netflix is only in the early years of its diversity and inclusion journey, but has shown to be a leading role model for D&I practices so far. We hope other businesses take note!
We love the modern company's application of D&I in jobs, work culture and product development — and so does the public. Netflix's corporate and HR policies have even gone viral, accruing more than 18 million views on SlideShare. Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg called it one of the most important documents to ever come out of Silicon Valley.
Attend a talk by Netflix at Women of Silicon Valley
Feeling inspired? Women of Silicon Valley will be a platform for industry leaders and pioneers to discuss their insights and experiences on all things relating to D&I and how to empower women in the tech industry.
You can hear from Netflix in person by attending a talk with Nazanin Delam, a Senior Software Engineer at Netflix, at the upcoming conference this May 4-5, 2020. She is dedicated to advancing the role of women in engineering, volunteering with Hour of Code to teach high school girls how to code and serving as a member of Women Who Code and Women Tech Makers to mentor engineers.
Ahead of her talk, we asked her some quick fire questions:
1. What will you attendees learn from your talk at Women of Silicon Valley?
People will learn how to be receptive to feedback and how to give effective feedback to others at work.
2. What does your typical day at Netflix entail?
Code, coffee and joy are three words I would use to describe my day at work.
3. Are you working on anything exciting at the moment that you can share with our readers?
Yes, one of my most recent projects was the Netflix Referral program which we released across the globe not too long ago.
4. What's your experience of D&I at Netflix?
The company is very inclusive when it comes to minority groups. We have lots of European Research Groups focused on LGBTQ, trans, women and related topics.
5. What do you do when you're not working?
6. Who is your female tech inspiration and why?
Women are unique and inspiring in many different ways. I cannot name just one, there are many women who inspire me every day. From my colleagues to my mentors.
7. What advice would you give to women looking to pursue a career in tech?
Never give up, know that great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
So, what are you waiting for? Netflix is a wonderful example of the strengths that a company can soar to when it is not only mindful of D&I but committed to making a difference with its D&I strategies and receptivity to its community.
Make sure your business is working towards the same goals of boosting women, creating a supportive company atmosphere and responding to the interests of its consumers.
Join our movement to break the barriers against diversity and inclusion in the tech industry and secure your seat for Women of Silicon Valley 2020 now:
In addition to Silicon Valley, our 2020 Series will be hosted in Boston, Cape Town, London, Dublin, Edinburgh and Amsterdam.