Michelle Ray Keeps Inclusion Efforts Top of Mind

Michelle Ray
Walter Kaitz Foundation executive director Michelle Ray (Image credit: Walter Kaitz Foundation)

The cable industry’s annual Diversity Week gatherings took place virtually last month, as major media companies continue their efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable environment both on-screen and in the employment ranks. 

Recent diversity initiatives such as the CBS Studios/NAACP content production partnership, which tapped industry veteran Sheila Ducksworth as its president, and the partnership between ESPN and the Alliance for Women in Media, which will award $10,000 scholarships for Black females pursuing careers in sports media, have kept diversity and inclusion themes at the forefront of the industry.

Michelle Ray, executive director of leading diversity advocacy group The Walter Kaitz Foundation, addressed those recent efforts in an interview with Multichannel News. Here’s an edited version of that conversation. 

MCN: NAMIC and WICT drew more attendees for their virtual events this year than they did for their traditional events last year. Is that a positive sign that the industry remains committed to its diversity and inclusion efforts?

Michelle Ray: Given that [diversity and inclusion] has been front and center and in the spotlight, I think people largely wanted to understand and see what these organizations were talking about and what they were doing to change the game. I think there was that aspect of people who normally would not come to a Diversity Week in New York because their companies wouldn’t approve travel. It allowed everybody to peek into these conferences without having to spend copious amounts of money. Even though we didn’t have our traditional dinner, the issues of diversity and inclusion still remain on the front burner for the industry.

MCN: With recent moves toward fostering diversity from ViacomCBS and others in the industry, are you encouraged companies will continue the diversity discussion both on-screen and in the employment ranks beyond Diversity Week?

MR: Yes. I think particularly now, when we’re hurting financially — remember, studios aren’t fully shooting new content — it's important that we find ways to pivot in terms of content curation. When we get back to some sort of normalcy, these [diversity and inclusion] initiatives will already be in place. Take the [CBS] scenario: they’re looking to align with some third-party organizations like the NAACP. So with a lot of our companies it’s about how they help to lean into this conversation as people who know diversity and civil rights. They know the issue of the day and can work with the content creators. 

I’m so glad that these companies are leaning even more towards diversity and inclusion because they’re really the barometers of the communities that they serve. So I like that the fact that this industry is showing up in this special time of need, and I’m so optimistic that at the end of the day, any one company or organization can tackle any of these prevailing issues, whether it's around race, gender, sexual health. I don’t think any one organization or person can own that narrative, I think we all have to lean into it individually and then come together collectively to collaborate when we need to amplify that voice. 

MCN: What does ‘normal’ look like in 2021 for the industry’s diversity initiatives? 

MR: I want to be optimistic, but it’s going to be a long runway with this. For me, it’s about being really intentional about the work and what we’re trying to do to achieve and to reshuffle the decks. It’s about having impact and collaborating with organizations that focus on benchmarking and tracking so that we know where we’re at, particularly in terms of employment. We’re getting ready to work on the [NAMIC
and WICT AIM/PAR Workforce Survey], and for us, it’s about scrutinizing
and questioning every­thing. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.