Collins | Time For Talk About Race In Media
“To entertain the world, we must be the world.” That comment came from a Gearbox software employee participating in the Workplace Culture and Diversity Roundtable during MFM’s ongoing virtual Media Finance Focus conference. Racism and diversity are complicated topics; companies continue to struggle with them.
In June, new WarnerMedia CEO, Jason Kilar, convened an employee discussion on the topic. He told participants that racism is a problem for both WarnerMedia and the country as a whole. Kilar promised to listen to those underrepresented employees and to “lead with empathy and action.” Later in that week, the company announced an additional $500,000 for its content innovation effort OneFifty. The funds are specifically targeted to Black and other “underrepresented creators.”
Killar’s voice joins those of other media and entertainment industry leaders who have vowed to take action following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black Americans killed by police actions.
Comcast’s CEO, Brian Roberts, announced plans to spend $100 million over three years to fight injustice and inequality aimed at “any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or ability.” The pledge is to be $75 million in cash, with $25 million committed to advertising inventory.
Recording company Warner Music Group also committed $100 million to the cause. Steve Cooper, the company’s CEO, said the funds would be earmarked to support charitable groups “on the front lines of the fight against racism and injustice, and that help those in need across the music industry.”
Video games publisher Electronic Arts (EA) announced a donation — $1 million — “to organizations dedicated to the fight for racial justice in the U.S. and against discrimination around the world.” The company also pledged to give all employees an additional paid day to be used for community-based volunteer work. This was in addition to making June 19, Juneteenth, a day for companywide volunteering.
Unfortunately, racial inequity is not a new problem. The Columbia Journalism Review reports that, “in 1979, the American Society of News Editors pledged that, by the year 2000, the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in newsrooms would match that of the population at large.” Instead, while racial and ethnic minorities now account for about 40% of the U.S. population, they are significantly underrepresented in print and digital newsroom staff and newspaper leadership, at 17% and 13%, respectively.
Time For Change
The good news is that now may be the time for change. In addition to the pledges from media industry leadership, there are calls for action from the advertisers and the agencies that fund media. Not long after George Floyd’s death, more than 600 advertising professionals from across the U.S. sent an open letter to ad agency professionals. They called for the ad industry to be more transparent and truly inclusive, outlining 13 actions they believed agencies needed to take to address systemic racism in the profession. Out of this came the formation of the nonprofit 600 & Rising, which advocates for Black agency employees, led by the firm Bennett and Young.
At Cannes Lions Live, Proctor & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, called for media outlets to address systemic racism in content and to begin portraying Black people accurately and respectfully. He further committed to increase minority representation throughout the creative supply chain — brands, agencies and production crews.
Pritchard’s call makes sense. Media companies occupy a unique role in our lives; content touches us daily; it can creep into every aspect of our being. Words, phrases, situations, even characters from video and audio productions become part of conversations and our worldview.
How long did it take primetime television to include people of color in a way that wasn’t demeaning and didn’t reinforce stereotypes? What if we could undo 75, or more, years of history? Imagine that from the beginning, they were cast in all types of roles, the romantic leads, the heroes and heroines as well as the rascals that you love to hate. Wouldn’t we have a more nuanced and broader view of Black, and other, people today?
Of course, accurate representation requires diversity among writers, producers, and other team members. Organizations like the Walter Kaitz Foundation, Emma Bowen and the T. Howard Foundation have been responsible for bringing people of color into the telecommunications industry for more than 40 years. The fellows, interns and programmatic participants from these organizations now run some of the most successful companies in media. These organizations will be particularly important to moving our industry forward.
Getting The Message Across
We also need to talk about race, an inherently uncomfortable proposition. But, as we are seeing amid civil unrest and protests across this country and abroad, having frank and honest conversations on the subject, including the ability to air grievances without negative repercussions, is really the only way we can move forward. These conversations must be followed by meaningful actions like the ones already being identified by those in the industry.
The Harvard Business Review’s Kira Hudson Banks and Richard Harvey published an article titled “Is Your Company Actually Fighting Racism, or Just Talking About It?” In it, they assert that the only difference between “police brutality” and “corporate brutality” is the way the actions are manifested. To address this problem, they identify five actions to help companies keep the lines of communication open while making the changes that need to be made.
- Identify the harm without being defensive — People can be defensive when they recognize racism in their company or their department. The solution requires really listening and understanding. Keep in mind that many companies have already asked these questions of their minority employees. In those cases, the challenge is one of moving beyond discussion to understanding the responses and taking action.
- Get specific about internal and external actions — It’s all too easy to fall back on what the authors refer to as blanket or abstract statements that “sound more like a politician trying to get votes.” The authors recommend enacting real changes, giving as one example Activision’s addition of resources specifically focused on rooting out racist language in the company’s games.
- Deal with the discomfort — Most white managers have never had any formal training to help them talk about the issues of race and racism, let alone in enacting programs to overcome the problem. Companies may want to consider investing in coaching for these managers; they must be able to deal with the discomfort if they are to help enact the necessary changes.
- Be accountable — Management guru Peter Drucker said: “What gets measured, gets managed.” Consider including benchmarks in employee evaluation criteria. At the same time, goals must be achievable. Change is going to take time and it won’t always be easy or pleasant. The results, however, will be worth the effort.
Want to get involved in the conversation? TVNewsCheck is hosting a Report Card on Race webinar on Aug. 13 at 1 p.m. ET.
Talking about race will likely remain uncomfortable, but people are not just their color, they have hopes and dreams for their future and the future of their families. Keep that in mind and the conversations will become easier.
Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at [email protected] and via the association’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.