People/Biz

NAMIC ’20: Bob Bakish, Detavio Samuels on making diversity a priority “from the top down”

Industry CEOs convened virtually yesterday (Oct. 7) for the 34th annual NAMIC conference to discuss diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera. Shaun Robinson, television personality and host ...
October 9, 2020

Industry CEOs convened virtually yesterday (Oct. 7) for the 34th annual NAMIC conference to discuss diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera.

Shaun Robinson, television personality and host of TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé Tell All, moderated the conversation with panelists Bob Bakish, president and CEO, ViacomCBS; Monica Gil, EVP and chief administrative and marketing officer, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises; Princell Hair, president and CEO, Black News Channel; and Detavio Samuels, co-head and COO of Revolt Media and TV.

“Race relations, systemic injustices and related issues are now at the forefront of many corporate conversations,”  Robinson said. “In this moment, do these conversations feel different?”

Bakish said “eight minutes and 46 seconds” — referring to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May — created an “inescapable reckoning.”

“[It's] led us all to confront this systemic racism and bias that lives around us and really examine what we need to do to make diversity, inclusion, equity and justice a reality for everyone,” he continued.

Bakish said ViacomCBS is broadening and deepening its work to foster diversity and inclusion.

For Telemundo’s Gil, there’s an urgency for the industry to address these issues.

“What we’re seeing is that, in the past, a lot of these conversations were much more aspirational, about ‘How do you get a diverse workforce?’ For many of us that have been working in diversity and inclusion for a long time, it seems like it’s not soon enough and we’ve been talking about this issue for a very, very long time,” she said.

Still, DeTavio of Revolt Media and TV — the music-oriented digital cable net founded by Sean Combs – said conversations around systemic racism and injustice feel different than when he started his career 15 years ago.

“The reason it’s different is because both COVID and George Floyd happened at the same time. George Floyd has been happening for decades. What happened with COVID is, it caused the world to come to a halt, to a standstill, there were no distractions,” he said. “In that moment, after eight minutes and 46 seconds, Black Lives Matter not only becomes a Black thing but it becomes a green [money] thing and now companies absolutely understand that their stance on Black Lives Matter and their stance on things like that will absolutely have the opportunity to hit them in the only place that matters for corporate America, which is the bottom line.”

Hair agreed.

“There’s a call to action that hasn’t been there in the past. You can’t change what you don’t see, and it feels like society at large [is] really seeing what the problem is and it’s not just the people that are actually impacted by these various social injustices, or coronavirus, or the economy,”  he said.

FROM THE TOP DOWN

In recent months, ViacomCBS committed US$5 million to social justice organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and set up its merged diversity and inclusion team. In July, the company’s UK arm set a “no diversity, no commission” content policy.

“The UK really is very much on the forefront of D&I in many ways,” Bakish said.

CBS, meanwhile, struck a multi-year partnership with NAACP in July to develop content across scripted, unscripted and documentary.

“There is no one silver bullet,” Bakish said, saying ViacomCBS is employing “a multifaceted approach which, yes, includes partnering with these organizations both from a financial standpoint and an execution of initiatives standpoint.”

For Bakish, building an inclusive workplace requires the company to hold leadership accountable for developing that diverse workforce, and equipping employees to succeed.

“For us, that starts at the top. It starts with me, our board of directors and our senior leadership team,” he said, adding that ethos extends to the company’s brands and content.

ViacomCBS’s senior leadership team meets quarterly to review data in a granular way, Bakish explained, analyzing new hires, promotions, its workforce pipeline development and terminations through the lenses of gender and ethnicity. For executives at the company, a portion of compensation is tied to delivering on diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“We’re really looking at middle management and growing that to, say, the VP level because that’s the sweet spot of the organization, that’s where you have real scale,” he said. “We like to aid internal advancement with an eye towards, ‘Where do we have great talent within that we can either move up or move elsewhere?’”

Robinson, speaking to Telemundo’s Gil, pointed to the 2019 NAMIC survey on diversity and inclusion, in which respondents named Comcast NBCUniversal a top company for people of color — however, the mediaco fell short on promotion and retention despite strong recruitment.

“It starts at the top, quite frankly, in our organization,” Gil said.

“90% of us at Telemundo happen to be Hispanic. So we had to dive deeper into looking at the organization… Deficiencies for us are truly in areas of our women being promoted and, ‘Does our organization reflect the diversity and hues of Latinos?’ Whether you’re Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, whether you are Afro-Latino or not, it’s important that we look like our viewers,” Gil said.

“We have found a lot of the women in our organizations or in any company, they tend to cap at an SVP level. So we want to make sure… they continue to grow and make sure that they’re part of the candidates and in the discussions for senior leadership roles when they open up and even when they don’t open up.”

For Gil, retention is tied to compensation and educating candidates of color early on in the hiring process about the “rules of the game” of the organization so they can compete on a level playing field.

“It’s no secret that Latina women get 53 cents for every dollar that a non-Hispanic male receives,” she said. “I’ve always said to myself, if I am fortunate enough to be a Latina that has a corner office, it is my responsibility as a senior leader with influence to throw a rope and bring another Latina in. And that’s the only way it’s going to happen.”

When it comes to being accountable for those efforts, Gil said data is key.

“I fully believe that what’s measured gets improved and what gets improved gets done,” she said. “Secondly, I’m a believer that when you fill out your performance reviews, that diversity and inclusion should be a part of that conversation.”

For Revolt’s Samuels, the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement altered the businesses at the “cellular level.”

“They changed our direction forever,” he said.

“We’ve uncovered one specific place that we want to do more work and that relates to women — the hiring of women in management roles and putting women in front of the camera.

“I would be remiss if I did not say there’s an extra nuance in there for me, which is that we’re focused on women in general but specifically Black women. I do not believe that you can be committed to the fight for social justice and not be focused on centering, uplifting, supporting, elevating and protecting Black women… Any solution, in order for it to work, has to work for Black women.”

BEING A LEADER

When it comes to ViacomCBS’s work around diversity and inclusion, Bakish highlighted the importance of following through.

“For me, I think it’s getting to the right mix of aspiration and achievability. We want to aspire to do great things but we actually have to deliver,” he said. “And then the other thing… is ensuring whatever we’re doing is endurable and sustained and not just of the moment.”

For Samuels, one of the biggest challenges of being a leader in this moment is supporting his workforce — individuals contending with myriad challenges of their own.

“We are pushing our small group of people to run through a wall and make history.”

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