Julie Ann Crommett describes her job as a “tech-and-Hollywood hybrid.”
She’s Google’s entertainment industry educator-in-chief, striving to banish stereotypes about computer science from mainstream media.
Since founding the initiative in 2014, she has worked with TV shows ranging from HBO’s “Silicon Valley” to Disney Junior’s “Miles from Tomorrowland” to encourage more inclusive portrayals of what an engineer or computer scientist looks like.
Because what people see on TV affects them more than you might think.
A new survey by Google and Gallup found that students and their parents perceived fewer portrayals of women, Hispanic, or Black computer scientists on TV or in movies. And in an earlier survey of more than 1,500 women and men, Google found that perception accounts for 27% of girl’s decision about whether or not she should pursue computer science.
Like the rest of the tech industry, Google has dismal diversity stats, with women and minorities holding a small percentage of all tech and leadership positions. One way it’s trying to change that is by finding ways to shake up the pipeline, like by working with directly with high school and college students. Crommet’s media efforts are one more way to try to attack the CS diversity problem at its roots.
“When we asked girls what they thought of computer science, they associated it with negative stereotypes,” Crommet tells Business Insider. “We want to see, ‘Could work with Hollywood to create a different narrative around computer science and tech that was more inspiring for more people?’ How can we get away from that ‘lonely hacker boy in the closet, usually with glasses’ portrayal?”
The company wants to recreate the “CSI” effect: Studies hae shown that since that show started airing, it increased the number of forensic science majors in the US by at least 50%, with the majority of the students women.
So, Google started providing “engineering advisement.”
“We literally invite Google engineers into rooms with writers, producers, studio network heads and we have conversations,” Crommett says. “We just say, ‘Talk to each other. See what happens.’ And then, usually, magic happens. We’ve seen the growth of storylines and characters happen through these conversations.”
For example, the Disney Junior show “Miles from Tomorrowland” stars a boy named Miles who adventures through space with his family. After meeting with Google, the creators decided to flesh-out the character of Miles’ sister Loretta, making her a brilliant coder. Many producers are focusing on including more racially diverse characters in their shows, but STEM continues to be a blindspot.
More recently, Crommett introduced creators of the Fox show “Empire” with a mentor of its “Made with Code” iniative, which tries to get girls excited about computer science and all its varied applications. Ebony “Wondagurl” Oshunrinde, a music engineer, will make a cameo on the show later this week.
Crommett can adeptly make connections like that one because she’s been tackling behind-the-camera diversity issues for years. Before coming to Google, she worked at NBCUniversal, where she spearheaded a fellowship program that launched the careers of 25 writers and directors of colour. And she’s personally passionate about the media’s portrayal of diversity in part because of her own background.
She still remembers the first time that she saw “A Latina like me” on TV through America Ferrera on “Ugly Betty.”
Crommett calls her work her “life’s beacon,” and says that the Google engineers who she wrangles into lunches and workshops with Hollywood execs love it too.
“At a very personal level, our engineers very much understand the power of image that possibly had an influence in their career choice and their life, and they want to pay it forward,” she says. “Hopefully, we’re leaving nuggets of thought that percolate long after we’ve left the room. That’s really the exciting part.”
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