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As supermodel-turned-business-mogul Tyra Banks continues to expand her empire, she’s focusing on diversity and, in particular, hiring more women of color for her latest venture, Modelland.
Speaking on a panel at Time 100’s inaugural summit in New York Monday, Banks told the audience that not only is it important for her to hire women, but her team “understands it’s important to hire women of color,” as she strives to champion diversity in the workplace.
“I have that extra layer that is very specific for my team right now,” she said, adding that it’s also important for her to hire female writers of color on her production team.
And while women of color are at the top of her list right now, Banks has long been passionate about diversity and always on the lookout for a mix — “gay men, straight men, women and then women of color,” noting that she can tell a certain project in her company by the lens it comes through.
She believes for it to work, the message has to come from the top of companies: “I think it’s about mandates,” she explained. “I think if you have power, that is a platform that just wields so much control, and having the mandate — ‘this is this role, this is a cfo, we will find a woman, we will find a woman of color’ — and being very specific. It’s about being that pointed with it.”
Banks also recounted her struggles in her early modeling career in Milan when certain designers no longer wanted to hire her because her body had started to develop and become more womanly and how this shaped her view of diversity in her career.
“My mother showed me this list and I started to cry. I said ‘Mom I’m going to starve. I’ll eat salad all the time and I’ll run around the block constantly.” And she said ‘No, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to go eat pizza,’” she told the audience.
There, her mother got a piece of paper and a pen and told her daughter, “Write down every client in this modeling industry that likes ass because I’ll be damned if my baby starves because of these b—hes.” She then came up with a plan for Banks’ modeling agency to call all those people.
As first reported by WWD, Banks is this year launching Modelland, a 21,000-square-foot, ticketed attraction creating a fantasy version of the modeling world, at Santa Monica Place shopping mall.
According to Banks, visitors will get to “be the dream version of themselves” through interactive entertainment, curated retail and user-generated content that can be shared.
“It’s my calling to bring modeling to the masses,” she said at the time. “I created ‘Top Model’ to expand the definition of beauty based on my own pain of being told ‘no’ that I couldn’t do something because I’m curvy or I’m black. My empathy for women in general increased through the experience. And now with Modelland, I’m taking it 10 steps forward, giving people the opportunity to engage with the elusive world by opening it up to everyone.”