Rosemary Palacios knows exactly how to get to Sesame Street, and she’s making it her mission to map out a path that will allow creatives from historically excluded communities to find their own way—not just at Sesame Workshop but in the kids industry at large.
Sesame Workshop appointed Palacios as director of talent outreach, inclusion and creative development in March. The newly created role sees her focus on incorporating a company-wide diversity, equity and inclusion strategy into all areas of content development and production. She reports to Kay Wilson Stallings, Sesame Workshop’s EVP of creative and production.
Her remit includes idea generation, scripting, visual development and creative/voice-over talent. Palacios also directs Sesame Workshop’s Writers Room and mentors fellowship participants. This new role spans so many aspects of the business, she says, because every department needs to be developing its DEI efforts in tandem.
“It’s about making sure there’s consistency across every corner of the business,” she says.
For Palacios, that means focusing on creating a diverse and inclusive pipeline of talent through programs like the Sesame Workshop Writer’s Room. She is also working on content assessment to make sure the team is as thoughtful as possible in considering any sensitivities, and weighing in on Sesame’s curriculum framework.
Her first months with Sesame Workshop have focused on meeting with each of the departments to listen, learn and assess the specific needs of each team. She estimates she’s met around half of the company, and expects this initial period of data gathering will be completed by the six-month mark. From there, Palacios plans to develop a set of guidelines she can share with leadership in the fall.
“The next major priority will be to develop what that comprehensive strategy looks like so that we can infuse all of the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts into everything that we’re already doing,” says Palacios. “How can we expand what’s already in place and then adjust for our long-term goals?”
One of those long-term goals, she says, is for the industry to evolve to a point where organizations don’t need DEI positions because diversity and inclusion efforts are so incorporated into the workflow that they become second nature. From there, Palacios says, she would like to focus on talent and creative development.
Before joining Sesame, Palacios served as manager of global talent development and inclusion for NBCUniversal Media, where she helped build the Universal Animation Writers Program to identify and develop an inclusive talent pool.
While Universal’s program was a year-long paid placement focused on developing writing samples, Sesame’s program is an eight-week intensive that ends in a development deal for up to two of the participants. Despite those disparities, Palacios says she is applying learnings from NBCUniversal into the Writer’s Room program at Sesame. Specifically, she says her time at Universal taught her how important it is to connect emerging talent with mentors in the industry. And while Sesame’s program is shorter, she plans to pack as much networking as possible into those eight weeks in order to significantly grow the participants’ personal connections.
Because of the pandemic, Sesame’s program became virtual. This transition to a digital format is convenient for Palacios, who is based in Los Angeles, but also more inclusive now that writers don’t need to be based in—or relocate to—New York in order to participate. As a result, she says writers from across the US now have greater access to the program.
Palacios joined the team shortly after the nonprofit promoted Wanda Witherspoon into the brand-new role as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. Witherspoon previously served as VP of public affairs and special events, and now focuses on driving all of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts—starting with a full review of business practices, including vendor selection, hiring and staff development.
Working in the DEI space, and collaborating with her colleagues at Sesame Workshop, has not only allowed Palacios to forge a path into the industry for creatives from historically excluded communities, but to also reconnect with and advocate for herself.
“I never really looked into my own personal cultural identity until I started working in the DEI space. Being a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines in Texas was very jarring for my family, and so I just learned to assimilate to life there because there really weren’t any people that looked like me growing up,” she says. “Moving into the DEI space and learning how to advocate for others, I really figured out what that meant for me. I want to be able to maintain that feeling for all of these diverse writers coming through our program.”