Debbie Allen Made It a Mandate to Diversify ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Directors

ABC/Mike Rosenthal

Debbie Allen, actress, and producer on Grey’s Anatomy made it her mission to diversify the entertainment industry by giving more women opportunities.

“I know that when I started directing, there was nobody that looked like me,” Allen told PEOPLE. “Black, white, there were no women that I could see. And I knew it was a matter of opportunity. Opportunity is everything. Giving someone a chance. When I started executive-producing Grey’s Anatomy, I made that mandate up for myself for more diversity.”

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Amongst some of the people, Allen recruited to direct are the first transgender director in network television, Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo, and the first African American male director.

Off the set, Allen is putting time and energy into her Dance studio, The Debbie Allen Dance Academy. She guides her dancers and teaches them everything she knows so they can go out in the world and be the kind of people they want to be.

“[The Debbie Allen Dance Academy is] a space that’s open so people can think of something that they’re not just getting from the internet or from television, that they’re actually ingesting something that’s now ready to come out in their way of doing it: creativity, confidence, being able to take criticism, deal with pain, and also to understand the freedom and the unlimited journey of your energy,” Allen said. “How far it can really go.”

Allen is also starring in an upcoming Netflix documentary Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. The film is supposed to be released on November 27. Grey’s Anatomy comes back to ABC on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.