For the last thirteen years, Kalpana Kotagal has been tackling workplace discrimination as an attorney at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. Her thirteen years of experience have given her an exceptional view into what workplaces are doing right and doing wrong when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Her work led to her involvement in developing a new force to encourage more to do it right, one which gained national attention through a shout-out from Frances McDormand during her Oscar’s acceptance speech: inclusion riders.
“The inclusion rider as a strategy really flows from those who have clout using that clout to drive change in their industry,” Kalpana explains. Essentially, the inclusion rider is a clause in a contract that allows an actor or actress to require that films they work on meet certain requirements for diversity. Although it could be applied to any industry, Kalpana decided to start with Hollywood because, she says, “If we think about the role that Holywood plays in our broader society, it’s not just any other industry. It is the industry that shapes the stories that we tell and the cultural narratives that shape our communities and influence our children.”
According to Kalpana, attorneys have an important role to play, too. Although she wrote the template inclusion rider, she encourages actors and actresses to work with attorneys to develop tailored inclusion riders, rather than using the template exactly as she wrote it. “As with all issues that both relate to contract law and relate to issues of affirmative action and diversity in employment and hiring, it’s really, really important to get the details right,” she says. “We know in the history of affirmative action that there are opponents of building greater diversity in industry and in education, who come after anything that resembles affirmative action with cries of quota or reverse discrimination. And so here’s why lawyering and the details of lawyering matter: to ensure that what actually gets implemented doesn’t become a lightning rod for that kind of attack.”
“There is no reason, really, that the principles embodied by the inclusion rider shouldn’t be in wide-scale adoption in 3–5 years.” — #ModernLawyer and inclusion rider co-author @KalpanaKotagal Click to Tweet
Given how recently inclusion riders were introduced, Kalpana doesn’t yet have data indicating their impact, although, she says, “After Frances McDormand took us from a place of quiet strategizing and obscurity in meetings, to this level of public endorsement that we had never expected, there’s definitely a level of adoption that’s moving rather quickly.” Kalpana believes that in the next few months, we’ll start to see films released that incorporated inclusion riders and can demonstrate how inclusion riders don’t have to be complicated or expensive and can actually improve the quality of a film (and drive box office spending). She adds, “I think once we see that kind of progress, it’s really hard to argue that there’s really anything that proves an impediment to implementing this.”
Her eventual hope for the inclusion rider she helped create is that it will be useless within a few years. She says, “There is no reason, really, that the principles embodied by the inclusion rider shouldn’t be in wide-scale adoption in 3–5 years. There’s no reason that the inclusion rider as a concept, as a contractual document, shouldn’t be obsolete.”