“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is written by Shona Pinnock, director of diversity and inclusion at Meredith Corp.
The horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland (who died under extremely suspicious circumstances) and too many others have chilled me to the bone and left me emotionally exhausted. I’m numb, but I’ve got a job to do: driving meaningful change both inside my company and in the content delivered to our massive audiences.
I recommit to advancing those goals every day. The introspective reckoning that I see across the entire media industry gives me optimism. I believe that palpable energy can result in significant progress if we do the serious and substantive work on our systems and practices.
It’s an unquestionably divisive time, and achieving transformative change is not easy. To improve company culture and the workforce, I use my three-pronged mantra: recruitment, retention and education.
My first rule of thumb: Slow down.
Here’s a scenario that will sound familiar: You have a manager with an open role, who says, “My best friend’s daughter would be ideal for that role. She’d be perfect for that position.” Your manager’s best friend’s daughter may be a terrific option, but she is not the only option.
To foster diversity and inclusion, it’s critical that companies widen the net of talent and focus on the open role’s competencies, not on the comfort with the person. Make space for people with whom you might not share an easy language. That difference can be anything – ethnic, racial or how you approach work. Be a bit more open-minded. There will be a time when this approach is second nature. It’s about creating muscle memory around processes.
I use industry associations, such as the national associations of Black, Hispanic and Asian American journalists, ColorComm, Lesbians Who Tech and the Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy, and job fairs at the collegiate level. It’s important to include historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions in a search, while also seizing other networking opportunities to expand the talent pool.
I find that creating a database of BIPOC talent for editorial and content leads is a helpful tool. Virtual networking events can also bring in diverse creative talent to engage with editorial and content teams. Hiring managers should be curious and thoughtful about how they build their social media networks, get to know and follow folks to learn about new and different perspectives and aesthetics.
Retention is just as important as recruitment – if not more. When great strides are made in recruiting diverse talent, it’s imperative that every employee has equal access to opportunity, growth and development. Preparing the company to effectively manage through difference is critical. It’s also important to set the stage for what diversity and inclusion mean day to day. It’s one thing to have a diverse company, but is it inclusive? Is it effectively leveraging the diverse ideas and perspectives to move the needle?
Surveying employees and gathering data to assess how the staff feels on an ongoing basis are critical to understanding what’s happening culturally within the organization. Tracking promotions and terminations, conducting pay parity analyses and monitoring pay practices can help identify and correct inequities affecting employees of color and other minorities.
Creating an understanding of the origins of notions about belonging, growth and development is critical to allowing for greater objectivity and mitigating bias, both personally and in the content produced by media companies. We all have biases and need to check our blind spots. This takes constant work.
I believe that education about the history of racism is crucial. We also all have to provide space, grace and patience for people to begin educating themselves and then figure out how to do the work to make change and decide what everyone’s responsibilities are.
When my organization rolled out sessions about the history of racism and how to dismantle it, the feedback was largely positive, along with a few negative comments. There’s a spectrum of acceptance among people for uncomfortable issues and conversations.
“That’s not me” is a common mentality that can be broken down in this sort of training, which allows individuals to see the bigger picture and realize that it’s larger than themselves.
It’s an emotional process. Not everyone is in the same place on the journey. As a D&I leader, I have to understand that leading this journey is difficult yet necessary, and I accept that.
Know that you’ll encounter missteps and resistance. It’s part of the process.
Media organizations are working hard to enhance content, ensuring that it’s more inclusive and reflective of their audiences. They should strive to be organizations that value diverse perspectives and leverage that diversity to inspire meaningful products and services that reflect their audiences and the world at large.
To get there, I’m a big fan of auditing and focusing a content team’s energy, skills and resources to generate more reporting about BIPOC-related news and storytelling. Bring on more Black voices – writers, reporters, video producers, social media editors and content creators who can add their perspectives and share their stories firsthand.
Though hiring is challenging right now, it’s worthwhile to try expanding your content contributor network to support diversity in a meaningful way. Stay engaged and involved with talent who can bring diverse stories to the forefront. This is an actionable first step and allows media companies to incorporate new voices into their content as they get to know individuals they may want to hire when the time is right.
Making this kind of change – internally and externally – is challenging and requires disruption and discomfort. When that discomfort gets too hot, step away. Practice self-care. For me, that means unplugging and connecting with my sister circles that help me sustain my sanity and peace. I put my work down and breathe.
Be open, realistic and resilient.
We can meet this moment.