Diversity: Its Time Has Come

The subject of diversity will take center stage this Wednesday (March 23) at the 23rd annual T. Howard Foundation Diversity Awards Dinner in New York. Juju Chang, co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline, will host the event, which recognizes and celebrates industry leaders and companies committed to increasing diversity. T. Howard Foundation president Jo Pamphile spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about this year’s event, which will award a Corporate Excellence Award to HBO, a Corporate Championship Award to ABC Entertainment and a Diversity Partner Award to Crown Media Family Networks and Microsoft. Pamphile heads a diversity organization that helps place young college-age people of color into internship programs. This year, the organization received more than 1,500 applications from college students of color for about 100 potential internship opportunities in 2016. Here are highlights of their conversation.

MCN:Heading into the dinner, do you believe the T. Howard Foundation is on the right track of accomplishing the diversity goals it set for itself and for the industry?

Jo Pamphile: We’re feeling that it’s sort of our time in a sense because, for one, diversity is in the news constantly. We believe we’re in such a good place with regards to our diversity efforts. Over the years, we have grown so much — we started as a summer program, and now we’re a year-round program. We have over 100 interns total this year, but we’ve expanded our reach beyond placing interns.

We now have a professional-development arm that we call our talent development program. What that program does is provide all the professional tutoring that the candidates will need for their positions.

We will also soon start a more aggressive eff ort to recruit diverse talent in the tech space. The industry is changing in that regard and the need for talent with those skills is growing. We feel that this is something that we have to do because the needs of our host companies are changing, and to keep up with that, we have to change, too. We will look to increase our recruiting eff orts to include engineers and [information technology] and digital media candidates.

MCN:Are you finding that more companies are reaching out to T. Howard to look for qualified persons of color?

JP: Yes. Our relationship with the industry has grown tremendously, not only in the number of companies, but in terms of the depth of services that we’re providing. Before, they may have just taken a summer intern but now they’re calling to help fill positions beyond entry-level.

When we talk about diversity, it’s easy to say you’re going to commit to it, and it’s another thing to actually do it. Companies want someone who really gets them and knows what they need, so for us it’s about knowing the skills requirement and the culture of their organization. There are young people out there who are talented, are willing to sacrifice and work the extra hours and do what it takes to be successful.

MCN:How did the organization come to choose its honorees for the event?

JP: I’ve had my eye on HBO for a long time, because their programming has been excellent in terms of diversity. When you think of HBO, you think of things like When the Levees Broke, produced by Spike Lee; and, most recently, the story of Bessie Smith (Bessie), played by Queen Latifah. They have always been innovative, and now we have the opportunity to honor them.

With regards to ABC Entertainment, who hasn’t heard of their “Thank God Its Thursday” lineup of Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder and Grey’s Anatomy? Who hasn’t heard of American Crime, black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat? We really look to honor companies like ABC that have a shared commitment to diversity on and off the screen.

We also have great guest presenters in John Ridley and Russell Simmons.

MCN:Overall, how do you see the industry’s diversity efforts?

JP: The doors are opening and I think that we’re no longer typecasting. It’s really saying we need to hire a person for this position, and if a person of color meets those requirements and is able to do the job, that person will get there.

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.