The past year has seen many industries reckon with their shortcomings when it comes to addressing race and racism.
Continued demands for justice—and for better representation in all aspects of culture, including entertainment—has galvanized many kids media companies to examine their inadequacies and invest real time and effort into creating lasting change. Broadcasters, producers and toymakers have worked over the last 12 months to make improvements to their diversity and inclusion efforts on screen, behind the scenes and on shelves in order to more effectively serve all families.
As part of our Inclusion industry series, we asked top D&I execs about their plans for 2021 and beyond.
Wanda Witherspoon (pictured top left)
Company: Sesame Workshop
Title: SVP and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer
Since: January 2021
Witherspoon started in her newly created role at Sesame Workshop with a full review of current business practices—including vendor selection, hiring and staff development—with an eye to making them more inclusive and equitable. “My immediate focus was to engage in a listening tour, both internally and externally, to explicitly identify the work that we need to do when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
These ongoing efforts build on the research Witherspoon led as part of a task force that was formed in June 2020 in response to the death of George Floyd and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. Witherspoon, who first joined Sesame Workshop in 1997, is also working to implement internal programs that will establish a diverse pipeline of talent across all areas of business. To do this, buy-in from leadership is crucial, she says.
“We’re not in a sprint. We’re looking at this as a marathon and a journey to continually evolve and refine. It’s about patience and perseverance to ensure that’s sustainable.”
Wincie Knight (pictured top middle)
Company: ViacomCBS Networks International
Title: VP of global inclusion strategy
Since: October 2020
“It’s really about making sure diversity, inclusion and belonging are embedded in our business and part of our core company culture,” says Knight about her role.
She first joined Viacom in 1999 and was upped from senior director to VP of global inclusion strategy in 2020. The promotion came shortly after ViacomCBS UK announced a “no diversity, no commission” policy for all of its UK partners, which has since been expanded globally.
The media giant is also putting money be- hind new programming from historically excluded communities. In Latin America, 25% of ViacomCBS International Studios’ budget will be allocated to the development of projects from diverse creators, while VCNI’s Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia division has committed to dedicating 30% of its 2021 budget to producing stories focused on or related to underrepresented groups and issues.
Knight’s responsibilities include everything from bringing in external consultants, to providing guidance, insight and research to senior leadership. “We’re all over the world, so it’s important for us as an organization to understand that one size doesn’t fit all,” she says.
Vernā Myers (pictured top right)
Title: VP of inclusion strategy
Since: August 2018
“My job is to help our leaders think about how they will own inclusion [within their own teams],” says Myers. She works with Netflix higher-ups to set internal and external inclusivity strategies for both talent management and on-screen content, and sees this work happening in stages. The streamer is currently in the foundational phase as it develops an understanding of and conversation around issues like unconscious bias, privilege and cultural competency. The next phase will see Netflix implement a US$100-million creative equity fund to transform its content and creative teams by increasing representation among casts and crews, and then examine how authentic that content is to the lived experiences of different communities.
“One misstep is to say more than you do,” says Myers. “You get people making statements and launching a program here or a celebration there, but they’re not thinking holistically and comprehensively. We’re focused on acknowledging what’s working, and also being willing to identify where the barriers are and drill down on them. We have just scratched the surface, and who knows what’s possible when people see themselves reflected [in entertainment].”
Bryony Bouyer (pictured bottom left)
Title: SVP of diversity, inclusion and multicultural strategy
Since: November 2018
Bouyer is focused on ensuring that diversity and inclusion are integrated into the company as a business priority at every level—not only as a force for good, but also a “force for growth.” She’s been with the toyco since 1995, and took on the diversity and inclusion mantle in 2018.
Her responsibilities were recently expanded to include Entertainment One. Today, Hasbro is working towards a goal of growing its ethnically and racially diverse employee representation in the US to 25% by 2025.
Longer-term plans include accelerating unconscious bias training and implementing an inclusion leadership workshop for managers. According to Bouyer, the kids space still has a lack of understanding around historically excluded consumer groups. “Who are they? How do they see themselves, and how do we speak to them in an authentically inclusive way?” she asks. “The entire industry has the opportunity and responsibility to develop this level of insight at the brand, content and marketing level.”
Cecilia Weckstrom (pictured bottom middle)
Company: The LEGO Group
Title: Senior director, global head of diversity and inclusion
Since: December 2018
The Danish brickmaker’s diversity efforts feature two global priorities—valuing differences and improving representation. Weckstrom is focusing the program on inclusion because she believes it is crucial in order for diversity efforts to be successful and result in significant change.
“Without inclusion, companies struggle to at- tract, develop and retain diverse talent and, crucially, will not achieve the true power that diverse prospects bring,” Weckstrom says.
One of LEGO’s goals is to become gender-balanced at all levels by 2032. Weckstrom says the company is engaging with current employees to develop better insights, and using that data to implement improved hiring processes.
LEGO also continues to focus on developing products for the disability community following the launch of its Braille Bricks line. “Stereotypes and the lack of meaningful role models from all backgrounds can limit children’s perceptions of their own potential and opportunity in life, depriving the future work- force of important talent,” she says.
Amy Thompson (pictured bottom right)
Title: EVP and chief people officer
Since: October 2017
Thompson’s responsibilities at Mattel include employee culture and engagement, leadership development, internal talent management, and diversity and inclusion. She joined the toymaker in 2017 and has been working on initiatives to achieve pay equity, with a focus on pay disparities based on gender and ethnicity. Mattel first reached pay parity in the US, and this month announced it achieved pay equity for all employees performing similar work globally.
“We are focused on empowering the next generation,” Thompson says. “Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce is a critical component to us accomplishing this goal.” Mattel is currently focused on education in an effort to maintain that diverse workplace, and has introduced a diversity and inclusion speaker series for all employees, in addition to providing conscious inclusion training to all of its global people managers.
This is part two in a four-part series focusing on the Inclusion Industry. Tune in tomorrow for a look at shows from companies including Nickelodeon Animation, Netflix and Lion Forge Animation that have a focus on diversity and inclusion.