ViacomCBS Sees Gains In Workforce Diversity In Second DEI Report Since Merger

Ethnic diversity at ViacomCBS’ U.S. operations nosed up to 37.7% from 36.2% over the past year and, at the VP level or higher, moved to 27.7% from 24.9%, according to the company’s second DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) report since Viacom and CBS merged in late 2019.

Among growth at the VP+ levels, Black representation increased from 7.5% to 8.6% and Asian representation from 8.3% to 9.3% according to workforce demographics data as of July 31, 2021 published today on the company’s website, compared with a year earlier tally.

It wasn’t in theses stats but CBS commitments beginning in the 2021-2022 broadcast season were for 40% BIPOC writers and 50% BIPOC reality casting and it’s exceeded both. As for casts of scripted CBS shows, 37% of series leads are BIPOC, an all-time high for CBS.

The numbers come amid a push for diversity and, importantly, parameters to track it, by investors and corporate America that became more pronounced as social justice issues grabbed public attention in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd. Many companies have enhanced or launched new initiatives in DEI and the overlapping Environmental, Social & Governance, or ESG, sphere.

ViacomCBS said 62% of its U.S. employees are white (vs 63.8% a year earlier); 12.28% Hispanic or Latinx (vs 11.6%); 11.7% Black or African American (vs 11.3%) and 10.66% Asian (vs 10.33%). Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, and American Indian or Alaskan Native, which weren’t measured last year, are, respectively, 0.26% and 0.23%.

At the VP+ level, 72% are white (vs 75% a year ago). At the SVP+, it’s 75.8%. The 2020 report just included one “senior leadership” category.

In terms of gender, ViacomCBS is one of the few companies in the S&P 500 to have a majority female board (7 out of 12 directors are women) led by chair Shari Redstone. Nearly half (about 49%) of employees globally are women. That dips slightly to about 48% at the VP+ level, and 44.75% at the SVP+.

The figures were based on 21,573 employees worldwide, including 15,926 in the U.S. The analysis doesn’t include independent contractors or project-based employees.

ViacomCBS’ DEI site also outlines initiatives for underrepresented talent in front and behind the camera, and for employee engagement like expanded work with HBCUs.

Talent initiatives include a global program called Content for Change; the longstanding ViacomCBS Writers Mentoring Program; Directing Initiative; ViewFinder Emerging Directors Program; Nickelodeon’s Writing Program and Artist Program; BET’s Project CRE8; MTV Entertainment Group’s First Time Directors Program; and the annual talent Showcase aimed at developing and sustaining a pipeline of underrepresented creators.

The DEI program is overseen by Marva Smalls, EVP Global Head of Inclusion, ViacomCBS and EVP, Public Affairs, Kids & Family Entertainment Brand for ViacomCBS Media Networks. Smalls has a long history at the company, recruited to join Nickelodeon in 1993 by Geraldine Laybourne to serve as Chief of Staff, managing administrative functions for the brand and establishing relationships with child advocates and government officials while creating a Public Affairs department. She later added the DEI function for MTV Networks, then Viacom globally.

She had previously been chief of staff for former U.S. Congressman Robin Tallon (D-SC), the first Black chief of staff for a white congressman from the South. Earlier she had launched the University of South Carolina’s first collegiate chapter of the NAACP.

“Diversity without inclusion is tokenism,” Smalls told Deadline in an interview earlier this fall. “Everyone knows what it’s like to be invited in. It is easier framing in term of building a culture of inclusion, not about taking seats away, it’s about adding more seats and once you are at the table allowing your voice to be activated.”

“We want people to be here because they believe they are part of the value add of the ecosystem. To create, innovate and build a path forward for the company. We want you to bring your whole self to work. No part of you needs to be checked at the door. Because if you bring your whole self you’ll do your best work,” she said.

The business argument is key, that investment in corporate culture is strategically important. “An environment where people can innovate will deliver results. It’s the difference between having to lean into a headwind or a tailwind.”

She said ViacomCBS leaders globally are involved and accountable for the demographics of their divisions and projects to foster engagement and representation, with progress often linked to bonuses and compensation.

Small was named head of the combined DEI function of the newly merged ViacomCBS reporting to CEO Bob Bakish in the summer of 2020, a deal that came with some DEI baggage as the company face accusations of sexism and racism at CBS stations. It launched an investigation early this year and in April before it was done had fired two longtime executives. After the probe concluded in July, GMs in Los Angeles and Chicago were also shown the door. George Cheeks, CBS Entertainment Group boss, said then in an email to staff that “our diversity, equity and inclusion standards need to be a top priority for leadership in every corner of our Stations business; our workplace culture needs to measurably improve; and, your trust needs to be restored with your CBS leaders.”

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