… I’m a person of vision. When I started my staffing agency, I saw that there weren’t enough people who knew what I knew, who could meet the needs of the executives in the industry. I sought a solution. Hearing about the lack of diversity, Oscar so white, and all of these issues, I thought, “If I can figure out a way to change a workforce, I can have an impact.” So for me, it’s about the movement of changing an industry that I love — bridging the gap and opening the door for others to follow. I think when you do it in a way that meets the needs of the individuals who want to be a part of it and those who want them, it becomes a movement of creating change and giving back to others.

I had the pleasure to talk with Stacy Milner. Stacy, a seasoned entertainment industry veteran, began her illustrious career as the executive assistant to the chairmen of NBC and Paramount Pictures. She later founded and became the CEO of Executive Temps, a premier employment agency that has exclusively served the entertainment sector for over three decades.

As a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion, Stacy established the Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program (EICOP), aiming to educate, recruit, and develop a culturally and ethnically diverse workforce to meet the entertainment industry’s needs. EICOP’s innovative approach connects leading media, entertainment, and communications companies with students from Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions across the United States, equipping them with the necessary tools to thrive in the entertainment world.

Stacy’s commitment to cultivating future industry leaders is exemplified by her workshop and book, ‘Leveraging UP! The Key to Launching Your Entertainment Career,’ and the HBCU in LA, HBCU in NY, and HBCU in ATL Internship Programs. These programs provide HBCU students with invaluable, hands-on work experience through internships at top entertainment organizations in Los Angeles, California.

As an entrepreneur, sought-after professional speaker, career strategist, and diversity and inclusion leader, Stacy Milner has left an indelible mark on the entertainment and staffing industries. Her two successful businesses, built from the ground up, have been instrumental in setting young Black professionals on the path to success and promoting diversity in art and society.

Stacy’s unwavering dedication to creating opportunities for Black youth in entertainment has led to the impressive 90% intern-to-hire conversion rate through EICOP’s HBCU in LA program. Her story serves as an inspiration for others to pursue their goals and highlights the significance of diversity in business and entertainment. In 2021, Stacy was featured in Variety’s Women Impact Report, further solidifying her status as a true change-maker in the industry.

Yitzi: Our readers would love to learn about your origin story before we dive in. Can you share with us the story of your childhood and how you grew up?

Well, that’s a very interesting story because I am one of six children raised by a single parent. I am next to the oldest and have five brothers; I am the only girl. We grew up in Dayton, Ohio, a little factory town. Even though people might think it was hard being raised by a single parent, I had an amazing mother who taught us that we could do and be anything we wanted if we put our minds to it. I also had uncles who were around and would take us out on weekends to visit various parks and enjoy time together.

My mom worked for a factory as a plant supervisor for a chemical pool company. My brothers and I all went to high school, but none of us went to college. We didn’t have the money, and I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I graduated from a cooperative high school in Dayton, where we went to school for two weeks and worked for two weeks, starting the summer of our sophomore year. I chose business as my major and ended up working for the local bank, investigating stolen credit cards. After graduation, the bank offered to hire me and pay for my college education.

During my high school years, I was a gymnast and won the state champion all-around gymnast competition. That was my outlet; every night after school, I was in the gym until around eight o’clock. It’s a bit of a strange story because I actually came in second, but the girl who came in first had poor grades and was deemed ineligible. So, I was eventually declared the state champion.

As for my childhood, I was a tomboy, playing with my brothers, throwing rocks, and just enjoying life.

Yitzi: Can you continue the story? So you said you were working at the bank? What led you to this prestigious career? You know, you built all these businesses?

Well, my aunt used to come into town on government business. The year I had graduated and started working full-time at the bank, I decided to go back to California with her. I had visited the previous summer and spent a couple of weeks with my family. During that time, I went to work every day with my cousin, who worked at NBC as a page, giving tours. I got to travel along with the tour, learn about all the stuff, and go to the Tonight Show. I realized that it could be a job for me. So I went back and started working, thinking, “Why don’t I just move to California?” My aunt told me that if I moved to California and gained residency, it would help me afford college, and I could go from there.

So when I got back, my cousin helped me get an interview for the page program. I found out before the interview that they only hired people who had graduated from college, and I hadn’t. I was nervous going into the interview, but I told the interviewer the truth. She said she knew who she wanted to hire and when, and she told me to call her at the beginning of the year to see what they could do. To my surprise, they made me an offer, and I became a page. I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, I soon found out that the page program only lasted for a certain period before the next cohort came in, so I needed to find a job and make connections in the industry.

That’s what led me to the entertainment business. I spent a summer getting exposed to the industry, and I had family in California to support me. I commuted from San Bernardino, which was an hour away from Burbank, sometimes even two hours in traffic, but that was my start in the business.

Yitzi: You probably have a lot of fascinating stories from your long career. Can you share one or two of the most interesting or humorous stories that have happened?

Oh, wow, that’s always a hard question. Which story do you share? There are so many interesting stories, but I’ll tell you one. I went from being a page to interviewing for an assistant job with the head of the movie of the week department. My mom always taught me that if you learn how to be a secretary, you’ll always have a job. We don’t say “secretary” anymore, but I knew how to type, handle phones, and all that stuff. So, I went for the interview. The executive, a man of color, which was rare at the time, interviewed me. After asking various questions, he inquired about my birthday because they liked to celebrate birthdays. I thought I might have the job, and sure enough, I got it.

My first project with him was a movie called Grambling White Tiger, though I’m not sure if that’s the exact title. It starred Bruce Jenner and another amazing actress whose name I can’t recall. I was thrilled to meet Bruce Jenner, an Olympian I had idolized. It was really cool to meet him and his manager, and I was excited about the exposure I’d gain. I had the opportunity to assist and help make the movie successful.

But then, there were also a couple of people who aren’t looked upon very favorably in the industry anymore. For example, O.J. Simpson used to look for me all the time in the building because I was practically the only assistant of color in those ranks. He was doing shows and movies, and people would say, “O.J. is looking for you,” which was quite surprising.

And then there was Mr. Bill Cosby, who, growing up in Ohio, I only knew as the Jello pudding man. One day, I found out he was coming in for a meeting and I needed to be there early. I called my mom in Ohio, excitedly telling her the Jello pudding man was coming, and she advised me to be cool.

When he arrived, he asked if there was someone who could get us coffee. I replied that we had runners and asked what he would like. He named a popular restaurant I had a tough time pronouncing, mentioning they had the best lattes with steam on the side. Honestly, it was like he was speaking another language to me since all I knew was black coffee.

I called the messenger service to order the coffee, saying the restaurant’s name phonetically as I had heard it, hoping they understood. They recognized the place and asked what we needed. When the coffee arrived, Mr. Cosby was in a meeting with the executive I worked for. I knocked on the door to let him know his coffee was here. He came out, grabbed his order, and asked if I had tried the drink before, offering me some. It looked like chocolate syrup to me, but I declined. That was a funny and personable moment.

But I’ve had so many experiences, like meeting Will Smith for the first time. At the time, the iconic Brandon Tartikoff was president, and I was working with him. He told me he was going to meet Will in the lobby, and I didn’t know who this kid was. All I knew was that we were doing a show called Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

When Will came up, I happened to be walking down the hall, and he was enamored by all the iconic images lining the corridors of NBC. I couldn’t help but wonder who this kid with the odd-shaped haircut was — Mr. Will Smith himself.

We watched the pilot, and Brandon asked me to give my honest opinion. After watching it with some other assistants, Brandon approached me for my thoughts. I told him it was an absolute hit, from the opening music to the show itself. And as we all know, Will Smith went on to become the star he is today.

Again, some of these people now have controversial issues surrounding them, but those were the people I engaged with a lot and shared some really cool, funny moments with.

Yitzi: It’s been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story of a mistake that you made when you were first starting and the lesson that you learned from it?

Wow, yeah. First of all, my biggest mistake was feeling like I wasn’t good enough because everyone else was talking about their fraternities, sororities, and the colleges they attended. I would shy away, thinking I didn’t have anything to contribute since I only went to high school. That was a big lesson for me — to realize that I belonged in that space, even though I felt like I didn’t have the credentials. I was observant and absorbed information like a sponge, which led people to see me as vital to the team.

Another lesson I learned was not to take advantage of situations. For example, I once asked for Disneyland tickets as if they were for my boss when they were really for me and my family. They called my boss to double-check, and that was an embarrassing moment. So, understanding the privilege of the space I was in and learning how to conduct myself was important.

But honestly, I made very few mistakes. (Laughs) I learned so much by observing, and I didn’t try to act like I knew everything. I was quiet, so when I did speak, people were always curious about what I had to say. The biggest mistake was selling myself short — I brought a lot more to the table than I realized. And now, with the program I’m working on, I help young people understand that their talent, gift, and experience all matter. That’s probably the most significant lesson I’ve learned.

Yitzi: Let’s pretend that you are the queen of Hollywood. What changes are you happy about seeing so far in the industry? And what changes would you implement in the industry going forward?

Wow. I’m happy about the progress we’re making around DEI. I think there are some changes happening, and we’ve made incremental progress that’s starting to add up. I’ve been around since the early days of affirmative action and the NAACP-crafted MOU between the studios. As someone who’s been on the inside, particularly at the C-suite level in these organizations, I’ve seen the disparity — there aren’t enough people of color making decisions or being in the rooms.

I’m driving along and looking at the writer strike right now, and the writers’ room is sitting out in public. We see some diversity, but we still have a long way to go. I’m happiest with the progress and the “wokeness” that everybody has in this industry right now. It’s up to organizations and individuals to keep that momentum.

If I were the queen, I would make a real strategic and intentional approach to ensure long-lasting and impactful change. We want a workforce that reflects the communities we serve. To do that, we should reach out to institutions of learning we traditionally don’t go to, like HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions. We need a concerted effort there.

When we bring diverse talent in, we should nurture them by providing mentors, inviting them to join country clubs, and including them on the golf course. We must intentionally groom executives, leaders, and talent. I would implement accountability measures, possibly tying them to bonuses. There needs to be accountability — it’s not enough to have a program and leave it to others to follow through. Everyone should be accountable for achieving our goals.

Yitzi: Wonderful, let’s talk about your work. Can you tell our readers about EICOP and why we should be excited about it?

Sure! EICOP is the Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program. Since it’s a mouthful, I just decided to call it EICOP. I’ll tell you the story about how this happened. I wrote a book called “Leveraging Up: The Key to Launching Your Entertainment Career,” which is about how to work a desk in Hollywood. I cover all the little nuances and help readers understand the business behind the business. People kept telling me to write a book after I spoke at events, so I sat down, figured out how to write one, self-published it, and then went on a book tour to colleges and universities across the country.

It wasn’t until I ended up on the campus of HBCUs that I realized there was a major disconnect between the industry and institutions. These schools and students weren’t hearing from industry leaders, and they didn’t have alums coming back to give advice. At the time, owning a staffing agency, my clients kept asking me how to find diverse talent. I suggested going on an HBCU college tour, and they were interested in joining.

We started these tours in 2010, and they were very successful. In 2012, President Obama’s team reached out to me to help expose us to more HBCUs. We organized a meeting in Hollywood with industry power players, and during that roundtable discussion, we identified two barriers: geographical distance and students from low-wealth households being unable to afford internships in LA.

That’s when I established EICOP as a nonprofit organization and launched our signature program, HBCU in LA, to bring in a diverse pipeline of talent for the industry. We’re partnering with major studios, networks, production companies, talent agencies, and more. We aggregate talent, serve up a pool for internship opportunities, and have a 90% conversion rate from intern to hire. We already have our first executive, a young man who signed a three-year deal and is now a literary manager for a major talent agency.

We’re changing the landscape of the industry in terms of talent and workforce, making it possible for underrepresented students to have paid housing and internships. I like to say that I’m their rich uncle or aunt, opening doors for them, and they’re showing up and showing out. So, get excited about what we’re doing because we’re making a real difference.

I want to mention our unique program called the HBCU in LA Hollywood Summit. It’s historic as we’re bringing the HBCU community and the Hollywood industry together for three days of curated sessions and talks. We’re really excited about that.

Yitzi: Looking back, you have so much experience and have been blessed with so much success. Can you share five things you wish someone told you when you first started your career in entertainment?

The five things I wish someone had told me:

  1. You are good enough.
  2. Believe in yourself and your abilities.
  3. Don’t take no for an answer.
  4. Nothing is going to be easy.
  5. Shoot for the stars.

Those would be my five pieces of advice.

Yitzi: Stacy, you’re a person of enormous influence. If you could spread an idea or inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can inspire.

Well, I think I’m living this right now. I’m a person of vision. When I started my staffing agency, I saw that there weren’t enough people who knew what I knew, who could meet the needs of the executives in the industry. I sought a solution. Hearing about the lack of diversity, Oscar so white, and all of these issues, I thought, “If I can figure out a way to change a workforce, I can have an impact.” So for me, it’s about the movement of changing an industry that I love — bridging the gap and opening the door for others to follow. I think when you do it in a way that meets the needs of the individuals who want to be a part of it and those who want them, it becomes a movement of creating change and giving back to others.

I don’t know if I have a specific idea, but I think I’m living in that moment right now. I visualized something in my mind’s eye, and it’s changing the industry. With almost every major studio and talent agency participating, I can see that in the next five years, we won’t be talking about the lack of diversity in the same way. We’re making this a movement. The students call me Mama Stacey and say, “This is a revolution. We’re going to revolutionize this industry.” I’ve already moved the next generation into this movement, and I think it’s just going to keep germinating and happening.

Yitzi: How can our readers best continue to follow your work online and how can they support your work? Is there anything they could do to support what you’re doing?

Oh, yes, we’re a nonprofit, so we’re constantly raising funds. Our website is EICOP.org. There’s a donate tab there for those who want to donate. We also have our Emerging Talent Network, which is an online mentorship. So if folks want to mentor and give back to the next generation, there’s a place for them to join and become a mentor on our platform. And then, follow us and share with your organizations to get more diverse talent into your internships and early career opportunities. Our hashtag is #HBCUinLA. We’re on all social channels, including LinkedIn and others.

We’re really just about giving back and providing shoulders for the next generation to stand upon. Dr. King talked about the long arc, and we’ve got to bend it. There are people who have to make that happen, so we’re looking for folks who want to get in and help us continue to make this good work possible for so many more.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for this amazing, inspirational, and uplifting conversation. We wish you continued success. You’re a powerhouse.

Oh, thank you so much. It comes from my heart. I do it because someone once opened the door for me, and I need to open the door for someone else. I know what’s possible in this industry. I know that it can change and change for the good. With the rapidly approaching minority-majority, we’ve got to create content, stories, and spaces for all people to evolve. I think when people really step into that, we will be a much better nation and society. That’s just who I am as a person, and I feel blessed and honored to do the work that I do. I thank God all the time for giving me vision and letting me see its manifestation. When I sit across the table from students who I once only imagined in my mind’s eye, and they’re working with Angela Bassett, JJ Abrams, or at other companies, I see the power of taking an idea and running with it. If you just sit on it, it stays with you. We’re in this world to make an impact, and that’s what I’m about.

Yitzi: I’m excited to share your story. The world needs to read it.

Enjoy the rest of your day. It’s been a pleasure. You made the interview very easy, and you just pulled it right out of me.

Site: https://medium.com/authority-magazine/how-stacy-milner-eicop-are-helping-to-make-the-entertainment-industry-more-diverse-and-d9377816306d