Realscreen West ’19: Mentorship a key component in diversity discussion

This article was originally published on June 7, 2019. Through a combination of factors, the content industry has cast a more pronounced focus on issues of diversity and inclusion within executive ...
June 2, 2020

This article was originally published on June 7, 2019.

Through a combination of factors, the content industry has cast a more pronounced focus on issues of diversity and inclusion within executive ranks. And at the closing session of Realscreen West on Thursday (June 6), various execs discussed ways to ensure that real change emerges and is maintained.

Moderated by Lifetime VP of non-fiction programming Mioshi Hill and featuring National Geographic development and production SVP Janet Han Vissering; eOne’s alternative programming SVP for US television, Madison Merritt and Sergio Pizzolante, founder and general manager of talent and content agency C&T MOBS, the session explored how efforts to ensure diversity and inclusion are impacting corporate culture and content creation itself.

Han Vissering, Hill and Merritt each said that their respective companies were employing various initiatives to promote diversity in the executive ranks and to ensure that future staffing reflects a diverse and inclusive population. Han Vissering pointed to five “affinity communities” established within the Nat Geo team designed to mirror the diverse employee roster, and described efforts undertaken to provide opportunity for diverse candidates for future employment, with 60% of the interns coming to Nat Geo this year hailing from diverse backgrounds, compared to 10% last year.

All panelists agreed that mentorship of newer employees was incredibly important, both for providing insight to the opportunities available for execs on the way up, and support for dealing with challenges that emerge along the way.

“We need to make more effort to get to the ground level and expose ourselves to the junior people,” said Han Vissering. “It’s about letting people know about us and how we got to where we are.”

Hill pointed out that UK public broadcasters have been visibly undertaking initiatives to arrive at best practices for diverse and inclusive hiring, but that U.S. commercial broadcasters have not been as vocal in establishing mandates to ensure such efforts.

“I think it’s a fine line,” said Merritt. “It’s hard to change the status quo without some hardcore mandate… [but] yes, it should be something that is made front and center because honestly, it makes for a better organization.”

Hill also emphasized the need to understand that diversity exists within different communities as well. “I want people to know that we are not a genre,” she said, with Merritt in agreement. “I haven’t had have every single African American experience,” said the eOne executive. “African Americans come from very diverse backgrounds themselves.”

The discussion also highlighted the need to bring more diverse stories – and casts – to the screen. Pizzolante pointed to the impact that the success of the narrative feature Roma from Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón could have on a future generation of filmmakers and content creators. “Now, [Mexican] kids can say, ‘Wait a minute, I can win an Oscar,’” he said.

Going forward the panelists agreed that efforts to provide and protect diverse and inclusive work environments need further commitment, and that those efforts will ultimately help broadcasters to, in Han Vissering’s words, “make television that looks like the world.”

(Photo by Nelson Blanton)

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.