ICM Partners Pledges to Reach 50-50 Gender Parity by 2020 (Exclusive)

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Shonda Rhimes and Chris Silbermann

Agency client Shonda Rhimes encourages the big step toward "mentoring women into leadership positions."

ICM Partners has made a simple yet bold commitment to changing the culture in Hollywood.

The agency has pledged to reach 50-50 gender parity by the year 2020, with an emphasis on the leadership ranks. That means that in two years' time, women will represent half the agency's partnership, half its department heads and half its board of directors. "It's not enough to have 50 percent [female] employees," ICM managing director Chris Silbermann tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Women have to be equally represented in true positions of leadership and influence throughout the company."

Hollywood agencies are notorious boys clubs. But ICM, which has 300 agents and executives and more than 500 employees, isn't starting from scratch. Roughly 40 percent of its agents as well as the heads of its 15 departments already are female, as are about a third of its partners. The agency, whose publishing department in New York is majority female, will have to add about 10 women partners to hit its goal, as well as two or three more women to join the three — including recent appointee Janet Carol Norton, co-head of the TV production department — already serving on the board of directors.

The benchmark was suggested to Silbermann by his client Shonda Rhimes during conversations about current events in the industry and how to combat the type of climate that breeds sexual misconduct in the workplace. "I said, 'I think the answer is gender parity,'" Rhimes tells THR, adding that she had learned of "50-50 by 2020" from Transparent creator Jill Soloway, who had heard it elsewhere. "Where there's equity, there's less harassment and abuse."

The key means of meeting the pledge is mentorship. "Women have historically been shut out of ways that bonding happens in the workplace," says Rhimes. "You have to change the way you have team-building and rethink how you're getting to know people."

Adds Silbermann, "There have always been a lot of natural avenues for male bonding, which translates to male mentorship. Mentoring women into leadership positions needs to be a conscious practice, which has been and will continue to be a priority for us."

This was the case for Jessica Lacy, who joined ICM as part of its acquisition of Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann in 2007. She expressed a desire to transition from television to independent film, so Silbermann placed her in the indie and international film department, where she trained closely under then-head Hal Sadoff. "It takes years to meet everybody and learn everything, and then when Hal left, she was the natural decision to run the department because she had grown and taken the time to do that," Silbermann says. Lacy was promoted to department head in 2012.

Even more recently, Di Glazer rose from trainee in 2011 to theater department co-head as of Monday. Over the years, longtime theater head Patrick Herold and publishing co-head Sloan Harris (one of the two male agents in that department) had taken Glazer under their wings to show her the ins and outs of the agency business. "This is us making a commitment to educate and grow people so we have true equity," Silbermann says. "It's not affirmative action. She earned it."

By going public with its pledge, ICM is not only creating accountability for itself but also is hoping to prompt other firms to take action. "Chris is quite serious about this," says Rhimes. "He understands the challenge and knows that the best way to make [lasting change] happen is to start from the top down."

No Hollywood company of ICM's size and scope has ever attempted true gender parity. "We're taking the initiative to do something," Silbermann says. "Whatever your version of '50-50 by 2020' is, you should just do it."

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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