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MTV: Committed On-Air and In Workplace

MTV has a long history of demonstrating its commitment to diversity — from its funding of NAMIC [National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications] and ELDP [Executive Leadership Development Program] to its recruiting practices. That’s what separates them,” said Michelle Ray, program director for the Walter Kaitz Foundation.

MTV Networks — this year’s winner of the Foundation’s Diversity Champion Award — has demonstrated its commitment to diversity in its culturally relevant programming and in its personnel-recruitment efforts, which included the hiring of a chief diversity officer as a member of its executive leadership team, the first hiring of its kind in the cable industry.

“Overall, MTV has done a good job making content multicultural. What you see is a reflection of modern-day American culture, which is very diverse,” said multicultural marketing expert and former Showtime Networks Inc. marketing executive Lynn Rutledge. “And internally, they have a diverse workforce. Clearly, MTV believes in diversity and a successful diversity strategy, from the top down.” Rutledge, who helps networks evaluate their diversity strategies, worked with MTV to advance its multicultural marketing efforts.

“The challenge is accessing a culturally diverse workforce. Many companies are frustrated with that, but it is a natural challenge for companies like MTV,” said Rutledge. “They believe it is an important part of their business strategy, particularly in the U.S. with its culturally diverse environment, and are trying to shape their strategies and make its diversity success more well known. That’s why they have a new diversity chief reporting to the two top executives. It means they’re paying close attention.”

Attention indeed. MTV, said Diana Lee, senior vice president of human resources for MTV Networks, embarked on an all-encompassing diversity strategy in the late 1990s, and today is considered by many to be a leading proponent of a culturally diverse environment in the cable industry.

“We’re committed to fostering an environment of inclusivity, which holds leadership accountable for creating, developing, promoting and championing a diverse workforce, where all people can achieve and contribute to the company’s success,” Lee said. “It serves as a foundation for many of our policies and practices. Our CEO and chairman, Judy McGrath, has set out specific diversity and inclusion goals for her direct reports, and the entire company, to follow.”

MTV’s course to diversity in the workplace is evident on several fronts, from the growing number of outreach programs to its recently launched “All Access” program to establish employee development plans and encourage management training programs.

“We have a very active outreach program to meet and recruit diverse external candidates, and we pay close attention to developing our internal talent for success,” Lee said.

“True diversity also refers to being open to new ideas and finding people with different skills and connections, different world views and perspectives. Not only must it reach across all channels and operations, it must permeate every level of the company,” she added.

Among the diversity campaigns the company has deployed within its networks:

  • An orientation program where all new employees attend a daylong “Diversity 101” awareness program to introduce them to MTV’s diversity values and how it wants them reflected in the workplace
  • MTV partnered with more than 40 external organizations representing diverse communities across all business functions, ranging from accounting to legal to production and marketing; and it hosts outreach efforts and sponsors events.
  • MTV Networks has 11 diversity teams, three advisory councils, the MTVN Diversity Council, global diversity councils and diversity leaders. More than 200 MTVN employees work to embed diversity into the fabric of the company

“We have executive leaders of color all across our channels and business units, in every corner of the company,” said Lee. “We’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved. But of course, we are continually looking for ways to do it even better.”

A number of those ways are now being seeded at MTV, she noted. “Through the company-wide MTVN Diversity Council, information is available on our intranet … company seminars and informational sessions, and events with partner organizations. Our channels and business units have absorbed the vision and goals we have for diversity and inclusion.”

Not only does the Diversity Champion Award honor MTV’s internal commitment to diversity, but it also recognizes its content diversity.

According to Lee, MTV’s programming “reflects the diverse, multicultural consumers of our content which is the common vein that runs through all our channels’ programming.”

The MTV network roster includes MTV Desi, aimed at South Asian Americans; Chinese American-targeted MTV Chi; the newly launched MTV K, for Korean-American audiences; and Latino-themed MTV Tr3s, launching Sept. 25.

“We must keep [diversity] as a front burner issue in terms of commitment and investments. We must commit to it in our annual goals and reward people appropriately,” Lee said. “We must invest our time and money in making sure we have the right mix of employees making content and decisions for our business. And above all, we must maintain our aggressive consumer focus, and continue to invest resources in research to understand our audiences.”

Understanding its audience is a crucial component to MTV’s diversity strategy. An example of the company’s approach is its aggressive research, which it uses to inform key decisions in creative and programming. Those decision are then made locally for the networks’ international channels to ensure they’re relevant for the audiences they serve.

“One of the things MTV prides itself on is its obsessive consumer focus. We want to superserve our audiences wherever they are,” Lee said.

“MTV has so many networks and they target other people globally,” said Rutledge. “They have developed some very creative campaigns to recognize contributions from different cultures.”

Alicin Reidy-Williamson, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at MTVN, noted that “a commitment to diversity isn’t a choice, but an imperative. Diversity is what drives us forward.”