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Now, Colbert is hardly alone on the landscape. The entire late-night world is a particular pocket of extreme white-maleness in a TV landscape that remains far from diverse. It may really be that there are very few applicants of color and women even crossing the threshold, and even fewer who have received the kind of training and experience that it takes to work an extremely demanding job like this one. In that sense, I am somewhat sympathetic that Colbert doesn’t feel like he can wave a wand and make his staff change overnight.
But that doesn’t mean he’s powerless, at all. Feminist bosses and stars like Colbert can take lots of steps create cultural change in their industries, including putting effort into building a pipeline. For instance, they might reserve an internship or, even better, fund a fellowship for people from underrepresented groups (see: what HBO is doing) to bring them up through the industry. They might go a step further, and create new associate writer-type jobs to help give new hires experience if they can’t get it elsewhere. They can also be exceptional bosses to the women and people of color they do hire, helping them navigate work-life issues while keeping an eye on office power dynamics and environments to make sure they’re welcoming. And they can use a more diverse guest roster to network and find folks in the industry who might be good potential collaborators in the future.
Colbert is beloved by his fans because of his mix of wit and humanism. It’s that latter quality that I hope will propel him to seriously consider the long-lasting impact he can make with a small effort to shake up the pale, male world of late-night comedy writing.