- Warner Bros. Discovery’s C-suite steps in diversity and inclusion have raised some concern among staffers.
- WarnerMedia has a DEI team of more than 50 people, while Discovery’s inclusion efforts are fueled largely by employee volunteers.
- “You wouldn’t rely on volunteers for something you thought was mission-critical,” said an insider.
Every merger or acquisition of a company comes with a culture shock: maybe one company offers worse health insurance than another, or the parent company is more in control than its new subsidiary.
As the structure and strategy of the newly merged Warner Bros. As Discovery takes shape, certain cultural differences between the combined companies become more apparent, with some longtime WarnerMedia employees concerned that Discovery’s corporate philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is an unwanted departure from their own country.
And amid continued pressure on Hollywood to live up to its obligations after the 2020 racial reckoning, moves that may seem like business nuances could have significant ramifications for the entertainment industry’s efforts to improve representation and fairness — in front of the camera and in the studio.
At WarnerMedia, a team of more than 50 full-time employees have driven powerful DEI initiatives. And while WarnerMedia and Discovery’s inclusion initiatives haven’t yet combined, the corporate structure around DEI is clearly shifting: WarnerMedia’s now-defunct Inclusion chief reported solely to retired CEO Jason Kilar, while WBD is now looking for a leader at Diversity, Equality and Inclusion officer to report double to Chief People and Culture Officer Adria Alpert Romm, who heads Human Resources, and CEO David Zaslav.
That significant change, along with others, has left members of the existing WarnerMedia DEI team wondering about their future, though WBD insiders are cautiously hoping their efforts will be supported under Discovery’s new leadership.
‘You wouldn’t count on volunteers for something you thought was mission critical’
Historically, DEI initiatives have sprung from HR, which can breed distrust among employees, critics say, especially when their concerns relate to the company’s handling of DEI in the workplace. This structure can also give the impression that the company is just trying to tick boxes and fill quotas, as several people who spoke to Insider put it.
“When you have the role that reports directly to the CEO, two things happen: it takes away that HR feeling and it sends a very clear signal to the company that this Chief Diversity Officer is as respected as the CEO is to his or her. table as one of the business leaders,” said a senior DEI manager at a separate major media company. “Both on an org chart, optically, but actually as the person sitting at the table, existentially, that’s a huge change from the way these roles were traditionally seen.”
Unlike WarnerMedia’s large in-house team, Discovery’s inclusion efforts are centered on employee workforces driven by HR, with no separate DEI division or employees dedicated to these initiatives. Discovery has grown a 300-strong group of employee volunteers to fuel an initiative called Mosaic, which tackles issues such as unconscious bias, career advancement and supplier diversity.
Based on this structure, some WarnerMedia employees have questioned Discovery’s commitment to the effort. “You wouldn’t rely on volunteers for something you thought was mission-critical,” said a senior WarnerMedia insider. “You wouldn’t have a volunteer work on the distribution.”
Who Should Own a Company’s Inclusion Initiatives?
Discovery’s ethos, according to someone familiar with the company’s thinking, is that inclusion is every employee’s responsibility, and employee ownership of initiatives like Mosaic means they feel involved in the effort.
Sheereen Russell, senior vice president of ad sales and inclusive content monetization strategy at Oprah Winfrey-founded network OWN, said Mosaic grew out of the events of 2020.
She described it to Insider as “a really thoughtful effort around measurable ways in which we could influence not only our content and our stories, our supplier diversity initiatives, but also immediately [space] for communities for healing, for responses to the incidents that happened, and growing more opportunities from there.”
The impact was significant.
“I think it was personally the first time I felt safe in my entire 20-year career to probably show up at work with my full self, and not apologize for every nuance and specificity of being black at work. , and a woman,” Russell said.
A WBD spokesperson told Insider that “Warner Bros. Discovery is committed to amplifying the strong DEI efforts of both legacy companies by advancing existing efforts and building on already existing programs, including internationally focused initiatives and programs that create pathways for more diverse voices in content, careers and storytelling. We look forward to appointing a CDO soon to lead our DEI agenda.”
Responsibility for who is on screen and who is behind the scenes
According to Parrot Analytics, more than 70% of Discovery’s programming is reality fare from networks like HGTV or Food Network, while WarnerMedia’s power is made up of scripted series and movies from subsidiaries including
, CNN and Warner Bros.’ TV and movie studios. In scripted TV and film, research into on-screen and off-screen diversity — and efforts to improve representation — has increased in recent years and has been approached with added urgency by many Hollywood companies after the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders. year ago.
WarnerMedia released an in-depth report on equities and inclusion in late 2021, noting that the company was pushing its on-screen display so that 36% of original scripted TV shows featured women, while 29% of those series featured people of color. In film, the proportion of women on screen fell to 30%, while the proportion of actors of color in Warner Bros. films increased to 29%. (Behind the scenes representation grew in the single digits on all fronts, in TV and film.)
Some Warner employees are concerned that there is less fire under the seat of those who work in reality, documentaries and competition programs.
“The unscripted world doesn’t focus on this, so there’s a perception that this work is a kind of luxury, as opposed to a critical business benefit, not just for the workforce but for the talent,” said the legacy WarnerMedia- insider, who has direct knowledge of WarnerMedia’s efforts. “One of the things many leaders of the [WarnerMedia] networks and the studios is, ‘Are we going to lose this advantage?’ [we’ve built]†
Focusing on equity and inclusion in an industry where ‘hire diversity’ has negative connotations
After AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner in 2018, AT&T chief John Stankey enlisted CAA vet Christy Haubegger a year later to grow WarnerMedia’s DEI team from the ground up, with Haubegger reporting to him until Kilar in 2020 joined the company. Haubegger, who also led communications for WarnerMedia, started with an inclusion team of 20 that eventually grew to over 50 by the time she quit.
Haubegger’s title, Chief Enterprise Inclusion Officer, conveyed the weight and innovation of her role. Some WBD insiders are annoyed by the more traditional wording of the role described by WBD – chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer – in an industry where the term “diversity recruitment” has taken on a negative connotation.
The WarnerMedia Staff Philosophy: Equality and Inclusion Shape the Work; diversity is the result.
“It speaks volumes that they still use [the term] ‘diversity,'” said a second WarnerMedia insider, adding that the term “means different things to different people” and that a focus on equality and inclusion produces results. “When you have those two things, you get diversity. E plus I equals D.”
The director of the other media company praised the programs launched “in record time” under Haubegger’s leadership, including the six-month WarnerMedia Fellows program targeting executives of color and the year-long Career Advancement Program for Black, Latinx and Indigenous executives. .
Data product vp Michelle Pineda Peterson, who joined WarnerMedia five years ago, said that growing up in Los Angeles as the Mexican-Salvadian American daughter of immigrant factory workers, she never thought a studio job would even be “within the bounds of possibility.” ‘ used to be.
The CAP program at WarnerMedia provided her with a leadership skills toolkit and she emphasized the value of continuing such initiatives.
“We don’t always have the right kind of business flower talk,” she said of staffers from underrepresented backgrounds. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t just a tremendous amount of insight and contributions to draw from. Sometimes it helps to figure out how to get your message across… when we have those good ideas.”
Pineda Peterson left the program last year, feeling more confident and connected with her colleagues, especially as the company adjusted to new leadership. “For me, it gave me my heart back.”