There have been myriad conversations surrounding the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) within the television industry, but many within the business say there has been little practical movement forward.
As a result, high-level executives gathered for a thought-provoking educational session at the 34th annual NAMIC conference to discuss the ways in which media and entertainment companies can shift the corporate culture.
In a conversation with Karen Gray, A+E Networks’ EVP of human resources, panelists Salvador Mendoza (pictured left), VP of diversity and inclusion at NBCUniversal, and ESPN’s Tonya Cornelius (right), VP of development, inclusion and wellness, discussed the shortcomings of many corporations in their DE&I efforts while also exploring how employers can hold uncomfortable conversations about inequity in the workplace and respond to employees’ needs.
Here, Realscreen highlights some of the key takeaways from the session below:
Moment or Movement?
If it’s true that corporations and conglomerates are indeed a microcosm of society, then the argument could be made that the societal movement we’re currently experiencing, amplified by the global protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, is a reflection of what’s going on at the company level.
Companies across the spectrum of industries are responding with the creation of an influx of positions surrounding diversity and inclusion. That’s important. What’s not important, explained NBCUniversal’s Mendoza, is how those companies are getting to the table in relation to the conversation.
“In this moment, it is a movement,” said Mendoza, noting that he remains cautiously optimistic. “We have to wait and see – as we’re looking at short-term implementation of initiatives – what are the long-term ramifications and what is the sustainability of these initiatives now being put in place.
“My advice to companies is twofold,” he added. “First, however you got to the table, put the right person in those roles. It’s not a checkbox — even if you’re moving into DE&I because of external pressures. Secondly, support that person in that role with the right resources and the right connections in order for that person to be successful in this moment, in this movement.”
For diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to work, there needs to be a movement inside of the company. While there may be a head of diversity and inclusion, ESPN’s Cornelius said, the right people are those who are leaning in – ensuring that a global mindset and collaboration play a role in making change happen.
“We’re all diversity leaders, we’re all working on equity and inclusion,” she noted. “You’ve got to have people at the helm who are the drum majors, if you will, who are collaborative and know this space really well, who have committed to the long haul, but the more we can bring others along on this journey, the better we will all be.”
Step out of your comfort zone
Diversity, equity and inclusion benefits everyone. But Mendoza said there will always be detractors to argue that these programs tend to solely benefit marginalized communities.
“We have a responsibility to make that assertion that a high tide raises all boats,” he stressed. “We have to stay on point and be consistent in delivering that message to our employees and executive leadership.”
While senior leadership may not necessarily feel comfortable with having these vulnerable discussions, the conversation is critical if positive change is to happen.
“We have an executive diversity and inclusion council that our president presides over; we meet frequently,” said Cornelius, adding that the committee includes 35 of the Disney-owned company’s most senior leaders. “We discuss diversity strategies and feedback from employees. We make adjustments to those strategies based on that.
“We’re really trying to educate our senior leaders, and all of our employees, so that they can see themselves in this work and understand where their biases are. In second quarter 2021, we will be implementing the Inclusion Leader Assessment, and this will give our leaders [the chance] to receive feedback from their peers about how they are doing in terms of creating an inclusive culture as well as managing and inspiring their teams.”
It’s never too late to start
Corporations that have yet to seriously approach DE&I should be focusing on the internal needs of their companies rather than external.
For a company to adopt an inclusive workplace, leaders at the executive level must work in partnership to identify the pain points in relation to diversity within the company – whether it’s the executive leadership itself, retention or other areas – and question whether employee engagement has been positive overall.
“You cannot boil the ocean. You have to do it one bucket at a time,” Mendoza advised.
In addition, receiving significant executive buy in and consistent messaging cannot be understated.
“At the end of the day, when you talk about these issues as a leader and do it consistently, the messaging is that ‘This is important to me,’” Mendoza said. “That will deliver the message to everybody.”