Collins | Diversity’s Very Slow (But Steady) March

Diversity and inclusion within the media industry were moving ahead at a respectable clip. Then the pandemic happened. How should organizations get back on track with their hard-fought efforts?

Mary Collins

Just when you think you are making great strides toward an important issue, it seems something comes along to disrupt — or possibly even dismantle it. The elephant in the room regarding diversity is COVID-19. Along with its many other ill effects, the pandemic has undermined even the most diligent diversity efforts among the publishing, television, radio and digital media sectors. Yet, the fight goes on. It’s a fight I expect media will ultimately win.

Janet Stilson, editor of MFM’s member publication, The Financial Manager, provides a number of unique insights into how well the media industry is faring in terms of diversity in the March/April Issue. Her article titled “How Awake are We?” takes a look at diversity from a number of perspectives, ranging from Black male ownership of TV network affiliates to women in leadership, to diversity issues among employees. And it doesn’t look great — at least on the surface. But there’s hope.

Stilson unearthed a number of studies — and a wealth of statistics — around diversity and inclusion among the media sectors within the past year, including a Radio Television Digital News Association/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Newsroom Diversity study that offers a view into the TV and radio broadcasting industry. For the cable industry’s part, it now hosts a fairly exhaustive Diversity Survey commissioned by the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications and Women in Cable Telecommunications via the Walter Kaitz Foundation.

You see in Stilson’s story that, for example, gender diversity among TV station leadership varies widely: while women made up 36.8% of all news directors — a four-year record high — women in general manager positions make up just 19%, a 4.4% drop from 2019. Looking at racial diversity, market size seems to play a significant role. Among news staffs, the top 25 local TV news markets are the most racially and ethnically diverse, but as much as 10.1% of newsrooms in the smallest markets (DMA 151+) have no people of color (POC) on staff at all. Is that a reflection of their market? I have no idea.

But diversity and inclusion efforts are so much more than meeting quotas. Scores of studies demonstrate that diversity has a markedly positive effect on companies’ bottom lines. Two Harvard Business Review articles cited in the NAMIC/WICT study said teams that include “different viewpoints or thinking styles solve problems faster and produce more and higher-quality intellectual property, such as patents.”


Gender diversity in particular is a boon for companies. In Stilson’s article, WICT notes a 2019 Bloomberg report stating that within 24 months after appointing female CFOs, companies saw an average of 6% increase in profits and an 8% better stock return. WICT further refers to a 2018 McKinsey & Co. report, which found that “companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.”

Viewed through the COVID-19 lens, what kinds of conclusions can we draw from this data? One thing we know is that women dropped out of the overall labor market in huge numbers last year, In February, the U.S. Labor Department reported that 2.5 million women left the labor force during the COVID-19 crisis. In that same time, 1.8 million men left. This statistic is particularly alarming in terms of how it affects the findings around the ways in which gender and racial diversity positively affects companies overall.

Another example: while the percentage of POC related to overall U.S. population continues to rise, the percentage of POC employed in media, particularly last year, appears to have stagnated or even slipped as a whole.

More importantly, what can media companies do to get their diversity efforts back on track? One person we can turn to is Jack Meyers, chairman and founder of MyersBizNet and MediaVillage. Myers will serve as moderator of a supersession titled “Increasing Profitability by Re-Allocating Budget to Support Diversity and Education” on June 10, as part of MFM’s upcoming annual conference.

Myers has spent the past 10 years building a branch of his business, called “Advancing Diversity,” for the very purpose of tackling issues of diversity and employee retention. Further, Myers founded the Advancing Diversity Counsel in which he and 40 other diversity and inclusion executives plan to launch an outreach campaign to the tune of $1 million-plus to “promote our industry as a welcoming home for a wide spectrum of diverse talent.”

It’s obvious that diversity is a good and financially beneficial thing. So how to undo what the pandemic has wrought in terms of diversity and make up for lost time? While it may sound simplistic, the best course is to redouble efforts to hire, promote and support a more diverse staff. The industry has done the research and knows what needs to be improved.

Organizations like the Advancing Diversity Council are great ways of formalizing and structuring further efforts toward making diversity and inclusion top of mind for media companies and its hiring managers. Starting with each organizations’ C-suite, more discussions — at conferences, among associations and within the companies themselves — will undoubtedly lead to more action, thought leadership and change.

More tactically, the industry must create and/or expand resource groups for employees of different multicultural backgrounds, or different sexual orientations, to address individual needs. Updating and improving pay-equity policies and rules for maternity and paternity leave are also integral to creating an environment where people stay, and one that attracts new employees. Those kinds of initiatives show that an organization cares about recognizing that there is as wide a variety of needs are there are employees — and that acknowledging, discussing and developing policies to meet these needs will make the business stronger and more resilient, no matter what the next crisis may be.

For MFM’s part, I’m excited to say that the association will present its first Jeana Stanley Award during our Media Finance Focus 2021 annual conference. Themed “Together Toward Tomorrow,” it runs (virtually) from May 11 through July 29. MFM created this award to honor a person or company in the media industry that has made recognizable strides to promote diversity and inclusion. Jeana Stanley, an MFM board member and a friend to all who knew her, passed away unexpectedly last June. She was a longtime Hearst employee. It is only fitting that Hearst/Hearst Television receive the first award. Hearst is endowing an intern fellowship in Jeana’s name. The award includes a full scholarship to the 2022 MFM conference, which we hope will be used by their intern.

The March/April issue of TFM, which includes Stilson’s article, is now available on the MFM website. Two quotes struck me as especially relevant for the media industry: A. Shaunise Washington, president and CEO of NAMIC, said: “It’s one thing to get people in the door, but have you created an environment where people feel included?” Indeed, we must make a much stronger push toward creating inclusive, diverse work environments.

And Maria Brennan, president and CEO of WICT, summarized it with this thought: “When diversity, equity and inclusion are built into the DNA of a company, they’re going to have a better report card … than companies that hope it will happen naturally or organically. It takes a top-down approach from the CEO and has to permeate the entire organization.”

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.

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weneedhelpnow says:

April 2, 2021 at 7:34 am

This lady is a mindless joke!!.. Diversity is a drummed-up excuse for giving special treatment to people who are not qualified..Have we learned nothing from the worthless public school and University systems..They have destroyed this country with Diversity!!.. You people are Sellouts..but who is surprised??

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