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Publishers go beyond diversity reports and make plans for action

March 15, 2021 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement served as a catalyst for change in the workplace. Ignited employee voices and their frustrations filled Slack channels and social media postings. As more and more people shared their work (and life) experiences, it became clear that businesses needed to examine their internal culture and take action.

Publishers were front and center, reporting on the movement. They were also widely included in the criticism. Clearly, media organizations needed to take a hard look at their diversity and inclusion practices. Many acknowledged the need for their company culture and practices to evolve.

Digiday recently published a breakdown of 12 publishers’ diversity statistics. Unfortunately, few changes emerged in publishers’ employee composition over the last six months. Evolutions are slow and often painstaking. Some say it is too little, too late, while others continue to monitor and hold publishers accountable.

Importantly, as an initial step, many publishers have begun to conduct internal assessments. The New York Times, Conde Nast, and Vice Media Group (VMG) are among those that published their findings. These companies also identified some of the actions needed to transform their company cultural. It is clear that those who have been systematically underrepresented, underpaid, and discriminated against deserve accountability, transparency, and — most importantly — action.

Accelerate the timeline

Publishers recognize the need for change. In February, The New York Times noted positive movement in its diversity statistics as compared to 2015. However, it appears that these efforts slowed and 2020 shows little improvement. The company’s full investigation finds that Black and Latino employees are still underrepresented, particularly in leadership roles. While management sees positive shifts compared to 2015, they recognize the need to implement a comprehensive plan to accelerate change.

Conde Nast’s release of ITS Diversity and Inclusion Study also notes prior diversity initiatives. They launched two employee-led community groups, Global Employee Council for Diversity & Inclusion in 2019 and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in 2018. Both initiatives showcase employees who are fostering inclusivity.

Separate from the report, Conde has made steps through changes in their executive team. Sixty percent of this team identify as women, 30% identify as LGBTQ+, and 30% are of a racially diverse background. Unfortunately, even with positive movement on the executive level, the report offers details on aspects of the Conde culture that perpetuate a biased racial environment. Management has identified new steps required in employee diversity, leadership, content, and training and benefits that will help combat the cultural divide.

Vice Media Group (VMG) continues their efforts to evolve and redefine their company culture. While things have changed since the reported “bro culture” and allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct circa 2017, it’s a work in progress.

VMG’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Report does find that the company is improving on the diversity front. The executive team is now comprised of 56% men and 44% women compared 68% men and 32% women in 2019. Further, BIPOC representation increased to 57% white and 43% BIPOC from 80% white and 20% BIPOC in 2019. While witnessing a few achievements, there is more work to be done.

Action plans

The New York Times identifies a four-point plan as its roadmap toward diversity and inclusion.

  1. Incorporate explicit details on exactly how diversity, equity and inclusion tie to the company mission and values.
  2. Increase Black and Latino representation in leadership by 50 percent by 2025.
  3. Improve systems to improve developing people to ensure more diverse, equitable and inclusive. 
  4. Create a more diverse and inclusive newsroom. 

The plans include setting clear expectations for employee behavior, new training programs for managers, and the creation of a new diversity, equity, and inclusion office. The Times also plans to establish a feedback loop where employees provide evaluations on their managers. An assumption Times states it wants to correct immediately is the idea that “there is a tradeoff between diversity and excellence.” In fact, excellence can best be achieved through diverse opinions.

Conde Nast’s plans toward cultural change go beyond their employees as it includes freelancers and content. They want to ensure that at least 50% of all candidates for open positions are from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. They also want to include diversity in the hiring of freelancers, contributors, and photographers. Further, they have pledged that their content will reflect the topics and stories important to a diverse collection of people and communities. Finally, Conde Nast promises that 100% of their global employees will undergo mandatory unconscious bias and anti-racism training.

The Vice Media Group (VMG) is providing a new Hiring Playbook and initiated a second Pay Equity Report. The company is conducting a full review of their performance management and leadership training. The goal is to ensure there is objectivity and no bias in the process. Vice also plans to issue a new code of conduct and respect in the workplace. Details on implementation are in development.

Progress in-process

Internal examination and transparency from these media organizations marks a step in the right direction. However, action and results must accelerate. Top consulting firms, Boston Consulting and McKinsey, confirm that diverse companies result in better financial outcomes and more engaged employees.

Diversity is a win-win. Success happens when diversity acts as a business model and an integral part of the business design and workflow. Media works best when it reflects the audiences it represents. Publishers must do more than report on the problem, they need to be part of the solution — and that starts from within.

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