Top Hollywood agency, ICM accused of racial bias in agent-trainee program

ICM's senior employees are accused of asking Black assistants to participate in a trainee video to provide an illusion of racial diversity.

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ICM Partners, a prominent Hollywood agency that has served talents such as Samuel L. JacksonSpike LeeRegina KingShonda Rhimes, and more, is facing criticism for a toxic environment rife with misconduct, including workplace racism. 

Over 30 former and current ICM Partners (previously known as International Creative Management) employees have testified to the mistreatment, bullying, and harassment that women and employees of color were subjected to, according to an Los Angeles Times exposé.

In response to the allegations, ICM said it “does not tolerate harassment, bullying or other inappropriate conduct. HR investigates all reports received and addresses each with appropriate disciplinary measures up to and including dismissal,” in a company statement sent to the Los Angeles Times

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Among the many incidents of verbal abuse, bullying, sexual harassment, and two reports of sexual assaults, senior agency employees were also accused of trying to stage employee diversity.

In 2019, Black staffers claimed that they were asked to participate in a promotional video meant to debut for Black History Month to make the agent trainee program appear more racially diverse than it really was, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

“You wouldn’t have to use Black assistants as props if there were enough Black people here that could naturally be here in this program,” said then 29-year-old Jabari McDonald. “The situation could have been mitigated if they pay people more and if they stopped giving priority to nepotism hires.”

McDonald worked at ICM as a media assistant and was asked to pose in the video along with two other Black support staffers. Footage of Black staff was not used in the final video edit.

In 2020, ICM fired 40 of its assistants and announced that it was making changes through a diversity initiative. In addition to raising the assistance pay rate to $20 an hour, the company pledged to “make every effort to hire diverse candidates for at least half of all open positions going forward, a plan first recommended by Diversify/ICM, the recently empowered internal group headed by board member Lorrie Bartlett.”

However, its company statement did not specify what those efforts were. 

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The Diversify/ICM launch followed a demand brought forward by a group of assistants within the company for “an investment in fixing the systematic exclusion of Black people from this office through pay increases,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

In 2019, ICM appointed its first Black board member, Lorrie Bartlett. The company currently has four Black partners and managing directors out of 60. 

“It’s a lot of talk and very little action,” McDonald told the Los Angeles Times. “They’re putting on the performance that they are putting in the work, and behind the scenes they are not.” 

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