Speaking with DiversityQ, Shari Holly, Director of Operations at Pipelines, explains how, with the Movtogether mentoring programme, they are creating opportunities for diverse talent in the creative, tech and entertainment industries.
When Shari Holly applied for her first DE&I job in 2014, which also required experience with non-profit organisations, she didn’t tick any boxes. But that didn’t stop her.
She not only got an interview for the position of programme manager with Promax BDA, a US TV network trade association. The interviewer, Kat, was so impressed by Holly’s passion and energy that she remains her mentor today.
“That was the last time I ever interviewed for a job,” she says. “At one point, Kat said she didn’t care about my resume anymore. So, not only did I become an advocate for affording opportunities for exposure to other people, but an advocate for thinking outside the box when hiring.
“Experience is important, but I always tell students and young talent not to discredit their personalities, drive, passion, willingness to learn and positive attitude. Those soft skills can get you through the door – no one looked at my resume for my last three jobs.”
Today Holly is Director of Operations at tech start-up Pipelines and is a steering committee member of the Movtogether initiative. Both are helping underrepresented talent from diverse backgrounds to get a foothold in the creative, tech and entertainment industries.
Training and job opportunities
Pipelines, which is expanding into the UK this year, is a web-based platform and is also available via a mobile app on iOS and Google Play. “We wanted to create a tool that was less intimidating and more streamlined,” she explains. “Everyone has a smartphone and knows how to download an app, so, as we’re moving further and further into this digital space, we wanted to capitalise on that and give talent a way to connect directly with job and training opportunities.
“A lot of them think that entertainment is just producing, directing and acting. But it’s so much more than that. They don’t have the proper mentors, resources, or education to teach them what’s possible. Pipelines aim to do that. On the flip side, we’re a tool that serves as a go-to resource for companies wanting to source diverse talent because that resource doesn’t really exist, and companies still say they don’t know where to find them.
“When they come on, they’re not only posting jobs but also participating in panels, workshops, mentorship programmes, and other ideas to support talent. We built this to be hyper collaborative and not a rigid, one-size-fits-all structure.”
There’s also a non-profit, the Pipelines Foundation, that focuses on education, mentorship, scholarship, and building networks. Holly points out: “It’s not enough just to give people jobs. That’s not going to solve the issue. We must take a 360° approach and make sure they’re set up with mentors in the industry, an expanded network and the tools and resources to be successful. That’s what makes Pipelines unique – we’re attacking the issue from all angles.”
Pipelines is part of a coalition of leading agencies and design studios that created Movtogether to reach a new and diverse generation. Last year, it launched a pilot mentorship programme in which 27 creatives at Cal Arts in California were paired with brands and agencies across the US for six months. At the end of the programme, seven people got full-time jobs.
“We’re hoping that numbers will go up as the years go,” says Holly. “There were things that we learned that we want to do differently. Instead of partnering with one academic institution this year, we will partner with five, and each sends us five mentees. Maybe we’ll double that the year after and open it up to high schools.”
From Detroit to LA via Chicago
Growing up in Detroit, she never dreamed that one day she would be running a tech company and helping others to achieve success. “My community was Black, and there weren’t many people coming and saying, ‘hey, you can be the next producer, creative, or entrepreneur and make money following your passions.’ It was about stability, security, making money and retiring with a pension. That’s what my parents instilled because their parents instilled that into them.”
After studying business in college, she moved to Chicago. By chance, Holly heard that the Chicago Tribune had vacancies in advertising, and she jumped at the chance. “It showed me that there was a world outside of working for the government, which is what I wanted to do at first,” she states.
Then, 11 years ago, she headed to LA. Following stints with a direct response advertising agency and as an executive assistant at a post-production house, she soon realised that she wanted to better use her creative skills and open doors for others.
Promax BDA set her on the road. She managed a cohort of 25 aspiring entertainment marketers, and it was her first experience with DE&I. Before Pipelines, her next port of call was with the Commercial Directors Diversity Program, set up by the Directors Guild of America and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers. It aimed to get more women directors and directors of colour into the commercial production industry.
D&I is more than just hiring
Holly is keen to point out the difference between diversity and inclusion. Whereas diversity is the “presence” of people from different backgrounds, inclusion is “an ongoing verb.” She explains: “When it’s done well, it’s weaved into the DNA of your company. It doesn’t feel forced; it’s something that you make a part of your culture.”
As mentioned earlier, Holly favours not relying on resumes alone when recruiting. She cites the example of a global agency that makes its hiring decisions purely on conversations. But, in the long term, it would require more commitment than just appointing a chief diversity officer, which tends to happen at some companies.
“DE&I is more than just hiring; it’s more than HR. It’s education, empowerment, advocacy, resources and mentorship, so it deserves to have its own category.
“Many are looking at this as a charity or hobby rather than a top priority. I’ve talked to leaders who don’t know the difference between diversity and inclusion, but I’ve also met leaders who are educating themselves and not afraid to ask questions. And they’re leading great companies.”
Paying it forward
Holly is justifiably proud of what she has achieved. Despite times when she feels little progress has been made, she navigates her way by “celebrating the small wins,” maintaining an optimistic outlook and being true to herself.
She is enthusiastic about mentorship, which, she says, changed her life, adding: “I don’t know where I’d be if Kat [at Promax BDA] had just looked at my resume and said I wasn’t qualified. I would not be here at Pipelines or anywhere else I worked had she not seen that I was passionate and willing to learn.
“I want to inspire more companies to think outside the box. We can’t do things the way we did before, especially post-Covid. There’s so much incredible diverse talent out there. When hiring, we need to incorporate soft and hard skills; they both matter.
“We owe it to ourselves to pay it forward to others because someone opened the door for us. Before we see real change, we need more people mentoring others.”