Earlier this year at the onset of the pandemic, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in rapid succession triggered what I will simply call "a moment." Cadent employees started reaching out to each other with the desire to do something. I know because a lot of employees, from the executive level to more junior employees, reached out to me directly wanting to create change beginning with the place they spend the most of their day -- at work.
Now it may not seem obvious (or a good idea) that people would reach out to their General Counsel to share their private thoughts about social justice issues, but the fact of the matter is that (a) I am a Black man in an industry where we are few and far between and (b) I take pride in being seen internally as an advocate for less visible employees. The question being asked over and over again, not only of me but also our CEO and our Chief People Officer was, "What should Cadent be doing during these turbulent times?" Nick Troiano and Mark Murata consulted our office leadership teams and many others at the company and decided that a good use of that energy for action was making Cadent a more diverse workplace and a better place for employees.
I've been moved by the enthusiasm displayed by all levels of employees, but I must admit that I have remained cautiously optimistic. I say "cautiously" because I want to be sure that this "moment" endures. We've all read messages and calls to action that seem performative rather than transformative — at a time when transformative action is sorely needed. I am not the only one who has had this reservation. The feedback we keep hearing is that employees want to make sure that we're going to see this through. They want to hold us accountable. They will not just passively wait for us to deliver results. They want to have a say in the process. They want KPIs and goals by which we can measure our progress. Our goal is to collaborate with our employees, harness their enthusiasm and deliver. I know creating a successful, transformative diversity, equity and inclusion program takes hard, deliberate targeted work, and that's the kind of work we're setting out to do.
What role should a company play during these times, especially in light of COVID?
The question of Cadent's role in the conversation is an important one. In the past, there have always been efforts by our employees to make Cadent a more inclusive workplace. For example, several women from our organization have been active and deeply involved with Chief, a powerful networking organization for women. We have long sponsored Reel Works, an organization aimed at mentoring underserved youth interested in media careers. But to make real lasting change, we realized we must be deliberate about coordinating our use of resources to build an infrastructure to create a lasting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion mindset. In short, we needed a DEI Plan of Action.
Building a diverse and inclusive workplace takes a long-term commitment. It's not a 30-day plan; it's a five-year-and-well-beyond plan. To help us create a long-term plan, we brought on DEI consultant Nicole Smart, head of Smart EDI Solutions. Nicole has been tasked with helping us weave DEI values into the fabric of our company and incorporate such values into the end-to-end business model. That includes creating a sustainable pipeline for new talent and dedicating resources to not only attract diverse employees, but to retain them and grow their careers. That is, not just be a more diverse, but also a more inclusive work environment, one that makes everyone feel welcomed and respected and ensures that they have the tools needed to succeed in their work. As Nicole expressed in her introduction to the company: It's not enough to invite someone to dinner, you must also make sure that there is food on the table.
Our first steps were looking at how we present to the world and how we present to our employees. We are taking a closer look at our workforce and hiring practices. Nicole will conduct focus groups to hear directly from employees their experiences and recommendations that will help management better understand the perception about culture, diversity, equity and inclusion in our workplaces. After assessing where we stand from a DEI perspective today, we can make a plan and execute for our long-term future.
I'm fully committed to our plan and believe in what the results can do for an organization. Creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment makes good business sense: diversity, inclusion and equity aren't incidental to success -- they're integral parts of it. Diverse teams approach and solve problems more efficiently because they bring to bear a wider variety of experiences and perspectives. They have a measurable positive effect on a business' bottom line. Employees who can be their authentic selves at work and feel respected and valued will be more fulfilled and, as a result, more productive and dedicated to helping their company succeed.
I know this to be true because I have seen it in action, and I am the beneficiary of such an effort to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment. I received my first job in media as a junior daytime development associate at Disney ABC Television Group in Burbank, working for then-Senior Vice President Stephanie Drachkovitch (now Co-CEO & Co-Founder of 44 Blue Productions) fresh out of college thanks to the Emma Bowen Foundation, then led by Sandra Dorsey Rice. While I was at Disney, the group's then-head of legal (now Senior Vice President, Business and Legal Affair at Fox Broadcasting Company) Lori Bernstein knew my interest in law and took the time to mentor and talk to me about what it meant to be a media lawyer. (I remember the thrill of her allowing me to see legal agreements from the hit show at the time, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.) These women believed in the value of diversity and played pivotal roles in my career development. Their values and their mindset made my career possible. I am thankful for that, and it's a moral imperative for me to do my part in ensuring Cadent shares the same values and mindset.
The great thing about DEI work is that it often has a cascading effect. To be honest, I haven't spoken to Stephanie or Lori in years, and they probably will be surprised to hear about the impact that they had on my career. However, they nevertheless planted seeds that blossomed into my career as General Counsel for an ad tech company in a rapidly growing sector. But that doesn't mean creating a more diverse, more equitable and inclusive environment happens by accident. It means that developing the DEI mindset -- where every transaction, every hire, every promotion and every partnership is viewed at some point through the DEI lens (i.e., "What are the DEI considerations for this action?") -- can have long-term lasting unanticipated benefits.
We're lucky at Cadent because there was a groundswell movement within our company to recognize and move quickly to seize the moment. It's our job as management to transform this moment into a lasting, more permanent mindset. We are at the beginning of this journey. I ask our employees and our industry to hold us accountable.
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The opinions expressed here are the author's views and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet.