Diversity Week Spurs Virtual Conversations

Lori Hall and Michael Powell speaking at the WICT Leadership Conference (Image credit: WICT)

 The industry’s Diversity Week festivities may not have been in person this year, but issues of diversity and inclusion remained front and center at the virtual events held by Women in Cable Telecommunications and the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications.

Both WICT and NAMIC reported higher-than-expected attendance for their virtual presentations, which ran through most of last week. Between live registrations and on-demand signups, WICT said it has surpassed all previous WICT Leadership Conference attendance numbers with more than 843 registered attendees, while NAMIC reported registrations were up 40% from last year's in-person event. Both the WICT Leadership Conference and the NAMIC Conference were held at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel in 2019.

COVID-19-related disruptions in business operations both in the office and the studio  — as well as the social unrest in the country initiated by the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody — provided a backdrop to the issue of the industry’s continuing efforts to become more diverse and inclusive within the executive ranks and on the screen.

NCTA–The Internet & Television Association president and CEO Michael Powell said during a WICT Oct. 5 session that Floyd’s killing, as well as other high-profile deaths of people of color at the hands of police, has galvanized both individuals and businesses toward a social justice movement within the country. 

“Business really had a wake up call in a way that I had not seen happen before,” Powell told session moderator Lori Hall, of marketing agency Pop’N Creative. “You’re seeing a lot more willingness by a new generation of business leaders to speak up and commit their company culture resources to important social questions facing the nation.” 

ViacomCBS president and CEO Bob Bakish said during NAMIC’s virtual town hall on Oct. 8 that the conversations on race relations within companies are taking on greater relevance due to the events of this year. 

“I would say that eight minutes and 46 seconds really jolted us,” Bakish said of the time police kneeled on Floyd’s neck prior to his death. “It’s created a reckoning that’s led us all to confront systematic racism and bias that lives around us. We need to examine what we need to do to make diversity, inclusion, equity and justice a reality for everyone.”

Executives said part of that reality is further diversifying the executive ranks, as well as creating content that more accurately depicts the images and stories of people of color. While those efforts continue, speakers said the pandemic had created a new normal that the industry is still adjusting to and grappling with. 

The pandemic “has enabled us to think so much more creatively and pivot and work very quickly in brand new ways that we never thought we could,” Discovery Inc. chief lifestyle brands officer Kathleen Finch said during an Oct. 5 WICT session called “Navigating Chaos in a COVID World.”

Black News Channel president and CEO Princell Hair added it's important for the industry in general and the country at large to continue to remain diligent in diversity and inclusion efforts while not turning a blind eye to the plight of those who may have different experiences. 

“There’s a call to action that hasn’t been there in the past,” Hair said. “You can’t change what you don’t see, and it feels like society at large is really seeing what the problem is. It’s not just the people that are impacted by these various social injustices, coronavirus or struggling economy.” 

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.