NBCU Local Looks To ‘Value Contrast In The Hiring Process’
Broadcast has dabbled in diversity and inclusion efforts for years, but Anzio Williams, NBCUniversal Local’s SVP of DEI, says something has changed in the current zeitgeist, which has moved beyond “quick fixes” to more deeply ingrained practice.
Williams, a veteran news director with stints at NBCU Local’s WCAU-WWSI Philadelphia, Hearst’s KCRA Sacramento, Calif., and Hearst’s WDSU New Orleans, had years of looking around leadership conference tables as a Black man asking himself, “Why aren’t there others? Why just me?” to inform his current role steering DEI efforts. Those efforts now include rebooting recruitment efforts, fostering retention by more frequent “future conversations” with diverse staffers and regular evaluations of diversity in newsroom content.
In an interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp, Williams lays out the priorities he’s set for NBCUniversal Local, the importance of avoiding the trap of “hiring yourself” in newsrooms and how inclusion is an essential daily practice in every meeting and decision-making conversation.
An edited transcript.
If you look at DEI initiatives at various points in the broadcast industry’s history, what is different to you now? Is there tangible improvement?
Absolutely. What is different now is that we are not looking for the quick fixes. We are looking for sustainable items that can be measured over a period of time. Now all eyes are watching us, and the community is watching us. They are holding us accountable and looking for significant change. We are looking to not only meet that moment, but to make sure that we sustain the moment.
When you were a news director, what were your own firsthand observations of the industry’s most acute shortcomings?
Being a Black man in a news leadership role, I recognize that there were not too many others like me around, and I was highly recruited. I used to think to myself, aren’t there others? Why just me? I knew early on that being in that position carried a lot of weight.
What did the failures look like to you then?
Looking at organizations where everyone at the top looked the same and seeing over and over again that folks who were in hiring positions were pretty much hiring themselves. It is easy to hire yourself. I learned a lesson from that. You are usually going to like people that resemble you, whether it is the thought process or how they look, so I have always been cautious about not hiring myself, making sure that I value contrast in the hiring process. That contrast is what makes the editorial process in a newsroom work, when you have a diverse group of people around you. I needed to make sure that we inclusive of others.
Where have you set your priorities at NBCUniversal Local?
We started with three things. One, is the content that is outward facing, how the communities see us. We want to make sure that we were looking at DEI in the content. Two, we wanted to make sure that we were looking at the culture of the places that we run, our workplaces, how people felt coming to work, that they were coming into an environment that we were proud of. And then three, how can we be champions and allies of our folks, making sure that they are fulfilled and making sure we are giving them opportunities for elevation.
As far as recruitment and retention, what are you putting in place to foster diversity?
Let’s start with the recruitment side. Diversity, equity and inclusion in the recruitment and the hiring process starts at the beginning, looking at your job description, the qualifications that you need and where you place job listings. Are you recruiting from all of the places that a person of color may be looking? We can measure where people of color fall out in the interview process and why. That is important for us to be able to measure.
The retention part is huge for us because now we are not only up against other broadcasters, but we are competing against the streaming businesses, so we want to make sure that we have all the tools in place. We have updated our PTO. We want to make sure that we are keeping up with the industry as it relates to giving benefits that people actually use and value.
We have to make sure that we are on par with the rest of the industry and going over and beyond in that and then in continuing education. I am proud of what we have been doing at NBCUniversal especially along the lines of our weather folks as it relates to training. We are providing continuing training for all of our weather folks to make sure they become meteorologists, so that through that investment in them there is a benefit for the employee and the audience.
What are the moments in the interview process where you find that your more diverse candidates disengage?
It is less about them disengaging and where they are just not moved onto the next level for whatever reason. That is where we have got to constantly look. Sometimes it could be how fast we are moving. Part of the competition for great employees today is being able to streamline the process.
Have you had to be more creative in the kinds of places you recruit now than you did just a couple of years ago?
Absolutely. I have always been a fan of recruiting great people from the newspaper industry and having them become broadcast journalists. I was successful in Philadelphia hiring a great investigative reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer. She was kicking our butt for years, and I was like, have you ever tried TV? She is one of the best broadcast investigative reporters in the city of Philadelphia right now.
What are you doing to improve pathways into leadership?
We have started several key developmental programs. I love She Leads, an employee development program that we launched in 2018 for females in the sales part of our world. This exposes them to other leaders and best practices and then puts them in the forefront when positions come up in sales.
I love our Telemundo University, a training program for college students that can work in our Telemundo group. We have programs along the pipeline so no matter where you fit, there are some touch points for you. We also know that these programs are not the be all, end all, so we are constantly encouraging our leaders to have what we call the future conversation. Let’s talk about your future. We do annual performance reviews, but the future conversation can be had at any time.
How are you reevaluating news content with a view to more diversity and equity?
Along with our DEI council, our racial justice and news taskforce was created to help our news leaders in their decision making around people of color in their newscasts. We put some guidelines together — vague suspect descriptions, mental health references, an article removal policy so when someone calls and says I did something 20 years ago when I was 15 and you still have this article, can you remove that. We have photo guidelines. We even created diverse resource guides for every newsroom so that all our experts don’t look the same.
The racial justice and news taskforce serves as the accountability arm. If there is a part of our organization that may be falling short, we step in and say how can we help.
Who comprises the DEI council?
I lead the council and it is [composed of] different members from across all of our stations and corporate levels. We have HR people, news leads, sales leads, anchors, reporters and folks from sports as well.
And with the task force, do you look at sample newscasts? How do you come in and grade progress?
We watch your newscast for 24 hours or 48 hours and say every time we see a person of color, which bucket do they fit in? Are we showing them in positions of criminal activity or are we showing them in positions of expertise? If we flood our newscasts with people of color in criminal activity and don’t work on the positions of expertise, we are part of the problem. We want to make sure that when young girls and boys are watching our newscasts, they see people that look like themselves and they are proud of them.
How hard has it been to do this kind of daily blocking and tackling kind of work?
Newsrooms have been changing with the times, and thankfully for NBCUniversal, the principles of DEI are not new to us. I am not in it by myself in terms of the DEI fight, and I have counterparts in the company. We get a chance every week to share the best practices within our divisions. We get to talk about unique challenges or challenges that we are all facing together so that we can solve those problems together.
What do you want to see in a year or five years’ time in terms of demonstrable improvement? What will look different about this industry if your work is successful?
I certainly am encouraged by seeing the number of people who look like me and people of color in leadership roles, decision-making roles and hiring roles. We need that. Seeing those diverse voices, ideas and thoughts at the table means a lot to me.
That is the diversity side, and then there is the inclusion side. To have us at the table and not value our thoughts and opinions is actually worse. So, inclusion is the things that we can work on today. Diversity is a long-term plan that is over months’ and years’ time. Inclusion has to happen in the moment, right now, today.
There is an opportunity today for you to include someone different, unlike yourself in a meeting, in a conversation, in a decision-making conversation. My hope is that we understand the difference between diversity and inclusion, and we work on both of them simultaneously.