‘Feels very much lip service’: Media employees agitate over companies’ inaction following diversity and inclusion pledges

Was it all just lip service? That’s the question employees inside media companies are starting to ask about their employers’ diversity and inclusion pledges.

More than two months after many media companies issued statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and promising to improve the levels of diversity and inclusion inside their organizations, employees inside media companies are growing impatient that their companies’ leadership teams are not taking strong enough immediate action to back up their words.

And, as companies continue to deal with the effects of the coronavirus crisis, the employees are growing concerned that diversity and inclusion is fading from focus within their companies.

“I don’t want to say that leadership has been quiet. [Diversity and inclusion have] been brought up and discussed, but it’s not been brought up recently over the last couple weeks,” said one employee at a large media company.

Media companies have said they plan to hire more Black people and people of color, but employees say hiring freezes have put those plans on hold in some companies. Media companies have said they plan to add more Black people and people of color to their executive ranks, but employees in some companies say promotions have been scarce so far. 

“We still have no Black vps. We still have no Black [ad] sellers. It’s only been two months, but it kind of sucks because right now we’re in a recession. No one’s hiring, so they can point to not hiring at the moment so they can’t funnel in new people. But, it’s like what are you doing to elevate [existing employees]?” said a second employee at a large media company.

The employees feel their companies’ leadership teams have not been sufficiently transparent and communicative in answering that question. Many companies have held multiple virtual all-hands meetings since the beginning of June for employees to raise their issues and concerns with companies’ leadership teams. And as employees at companies such as Bleacher Report have demonstrated, the employees are being vocal and calling for changes to be made. But the companies’ leadership teams have not been specific enough in their responses nor have they been constant enough in their communication, according to the employees.

“I would like to hear that this is something they’re actively working on every day, if possible, or every week and that they’re taking very seriously. And that they’re putting together tight deadlines on things,” said the first employee whose company has yet to share with all employees a timeline or action plan regarding its diversity and inclusion efforts.

Media companies are taking some steps to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in their organizations. They have formed diversity committees. They have issued diversity reports. They have hired outside consultancies like Women of Color Unite to audit the level of diversity and inclusion in their workforces as well as their content and to advise them on the work they need to do.

And they have appointed task forces with advisers dedicated to specific departments and charged them with overseeing hiring practices. But that’s effectively the least that companies can be doing. “It’s baby steps,” said the first employee.

“There have been no tangible results or anything to measure against yet,” said the second employee.

The employees’ frustrations are not only aimed at the leaders atop their companies but also those overseeing individual departments. Departments, such as sales, that had been vocal in June about improving diversity and inclusion in their staffs have since quieted down, said a third employee at a large media company. From this company’s sales chief to its individual team leads, there has been a lack of “meaningful, real, concrete strategy” communicated to members of the sales department, said this employee.

It’s possible, the third employee speculated, that the lack of a strategy being communicated could be the result of their company’s top leaders formulating an overall strategy that has yet to trickle down. But that then puts the onus on employees to trust that companies — that have, for years, allowed themselves to fall short on diversity and inclusion — are now, or will soon be, devising concrete action plans.

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“People of color that are actively working in the organization need something more immediate. It feels very much like lip service otherwise,” said the first employee.

In lieu of company leadership teams being more proactive and transparent about their diversity and inclusion efforts, employees are taking it upon themselves to keep the topic front and center inside their companies. 

They are regularly discussing issues related to diversity and inclusion on Slack and in internal newsletters. They are compiling lists of Black writers, designers and programmers that companies can hire, uploading the lists to their companies’ Google Drive folders and then pinning links to the lists on Slack. They are even directing their efforts outside of their own companies.

The employee resource groups inside one media company have organized social hours for employees to call state and local representatives and urge them to arrest and charge the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., in March.

“Folks in the company are making sure we’re being proactive and keeping our foot down. Whether leadership is echoing that and keeping that energy going is another thing,” said a fourth employee at a large media company.

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