Business Case Study
US media conglomerate Viacom is a good example of a multinational company implementing progressive corporate diversity policies in line with ‘the other way’. With media networks reaching approximately 700 million global subscribers and the largest portfolio of ad-supported cable networks in the United States, its dedication to promoting diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion is reflected in all content and across its brands.
To highlight the importance of diversity and to ensure that inclusion is a reality rather than a mere concept, the company established an Office of Global Inclusion (OGI), led by Marva Smalls, Executive Vice President of Global Inclusion Strategy, Viacom. The office is responsible for running the successful Employee Affinity Group (EAG) programme, where groups of employees with something in common are given company support to establish greater visibility and presence within the company.
The EAGs allow employees to better connect with ‘the other’ by promoting social and economic diversity across several key groups, including ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and age. For example, the current affinity groups include The BEAT for African Americans, Somos for Latino/Hispanic employees, AMP for Asian Americans, Emerge for LGBT employees, Thursday Think for individuals starting their careers, HERE for women and The ParentHood for Viacom’s working parents – all aimed at promoting a more diverse work culture.
But diversity is more than just a commitment at Viacom. It underpins everything the company does – filtering down from the top level through to its newest recruits. By holding leadership accountable for championing a diverse, multicultural workforce, Viacom can focus on not only diversity, but also on inclusion – that important ‘extra’ element enabling it to bring in the voices of all its staff, develop all its employees equally to their full potential and determine its strengths, which in turn translates into greater profitability.
Marva Smalls, Executive Vice President of Global Inclusion Strategy
Viacom’s current market cap (market capitalization – a measure of the business’s stock value) as of June 2017 is $15.75 billion USD with an enterprise value of $27.8 billion.The NASDAQ-listed company saw a recent value of $35.79 with a quarterly margin at 3.72 per cent. Turning to return on assets, which measures the net income generated from the total company assets, Viacom has a current ROA of 5.3. These figures indicate the magnitude of the company, and illustrate that its shares are stable and safe compared to lower market capitalization companies.
‘Our mission statement places emphasis on holding leadership accountable for developing employers so that all feel they are an equal contributor to the success and growth of Viacom. Looking at Viacom’s diversity and inclusion model, if you have high diversity and low inclusion you haven’t really gained anything. So these two must go hand in hand in order to be successful,’ says Marva Smalls. A woman of colour, Smalls brings her own intuitive knowledge of diversity on a personal level to be able to articulate the journey around diversity and inclusion in a corporate environment. However, she says those who want to bring diversity into the workforce should do so regardless of gender or colour.
‘I grew up in the segregated south, so I have a perspective. But at the same time, I don’t want to make the point just because I am African American. I don’t want to have to be the one to remind everyone that I’m the only one that knows it. I lived the journey, I’ve seen the adverse impacts of a lack of diversity, but have also seen the impact of an inclusive society in the workplace when you are invited to the table.’ Diversity for Viacom, therefore, means a population and workforce that not only cut across all the traditional strands of race, ethnicity, culture, age, gender and religion at the top of the iceberg, but that are also cognitively diverse – bringing together the different experiences, backgrounds and personal interests that the workforce has.
"I grew up in the segregated south, so I have a perspective. But at the same time, I don’t want to make the point just because I am African American. I don’t want to have to be the one to remind everyone that I’m the only one that knows it. I lived the journey, I’ve seen the adverse impacts of a lack of diversity, but have also seen the impact of an inclusive society in the workplace when you are invited to the table."
Marva Smalls, Executive Vice President of Global Inclusion Strategy, Viacom
‘For us, it’s more than an idea; it’s part of our business. Being open to all voices and viewpoints behind the screen helps us connect with audiences and retain the best talent, who know that they can bring their full selves to work,’ Smalls says.
However, while the company is firm about adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to inclusion and diversity, its strategy in implementation is anything but – instead, policies and business efforts consider the demographics of all staff and are carefully tailored, traced and tracked directionally across various offices to enhance career development, celebrate cultural heritage and build ties with the community, as well as increase networking opportunities – this is how it drives its bottom line.
Key examples of this can be seen across its focus groups organized by The ParentHood, which informed the creation of the NickMom website aimed at young mothers; Pride Month events staged by Emerge; a Get Schooled college prep session for local students offered by Thursday Think; and a career panel tour featuring Viacom employees at area high schools hosted by Somos. Inclusion is practised by Viacom in other areas as well – most notably in tax equalization policies for same-gender domestic partners.
The Federal Defense of Marriage Act requires benefits for same-gender partners to be counted as taxable income. To offset this additional burden and equalize the tax impact of benefits coverage, Viacom gives payments equal to 25 per cent of the value of health benefits to those employees covering same-gender partners on their plans. This payment is made automatically without the employee having to fill out any forms.
In terms of gender diversity, Viacom is leading the field with a 56:44 female to male ratio of employees in its US office, while in the UK Viacom has an even larger female to male employee gender ratio, at 64:46 female to male. Likewise, it addresses ageism by ensuring a diverse mix of employees: its Generation X employees versus its Millennials population is relatively even. In this respect, the company says it is constantly looking both at gender diversity and underrepresented populations for recruitment.
In May 2016, the company surveyed all employees in the UK, asking them to self-report voluntarily against a variety of diversity characteristics including disability and sexual orientation. The results show that the make-up of its local workforce broadly reflects the UK population, although it acknowledges that there are areas it under-indexes, including disability. Results indicate as follows:
In addition, Viacom’s senior leaders are given ownership of the recruitment process through mentoring and leadership development schemes to promote awareness and diversify inclusion among senior managers. In 2016, the company rolled out Inclusive Leadership training across the management team in the UK.
Reflecting audiences in its programmes
Just as it does with the people it employs, Viacom also ensures that it fully represents the make-up of society in its programmes and content, by bringing its passion for diversity to its partners and the companies that it acquires. It does this by making sure that diverse perspectives influence decision-making and by considering the culture of the territories it works in.
Viacom’s acquisition of Channel 5 is an example of where the company put its best practices forward in terms of implementing its diversity and inclusion growth strategy. Viacom is a funding partner of the Diamond Project, a new diversity monitoring system by the Creative Diversity Network (CDN). Channel 5 was previously not a member of the CDN – Viacom acquired the company with the goal that it should fully represented the make-up of UK society, and it is now committed to driving content that reflects and promotes the more inclusive attitudes in society at large.
In February 2017, Channel 5 joined the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky in monitoring on-screen portrayals within all its originally commissioned programmes. All on-screen contributors were asked to supply information on their gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, and all producers have been asked to report on the perceived diversity of anyone appearing in their programmes. The data received will help inform the continuing efforts of the Channel 5 commissioning team to improve diverse portrayals in its programming.
In this respect, the company says it’s important that viewers today see themselves, their lives and their perspectives reflected back at them when they turn on Viacom’s TV channels, as its success ultimately relies on staying relevant to the audience it serves: ‘We don’t talk about challenges, we say we have opportunity areas,’ says Marva Smalls.
With a work culture firmly focused on evolving and improving its diversity practices, the company is committed to continually reassessing itself: ‘If you employ majority and minority populations, and you’re trying to have more visibly diverse people around the table, you need to communicate that to management in a way that answers: what does it mean for me? Are we still hiring the most qualified? Are we balancing this with, for example, being ethnically diverse and gender diverse? Because these are not always going to be mutually exclusive,’ Small says.
Having this conversation at the executive level allows those in senior roles to tap into their thought leadership – to think about how their managers are turning up to work and performing – and dispel the notion of privilege versus inclusion. The company as a whole can then figure out how it can become better at recognizing bias and ensuring that it’s not getting in the way of the world we want.
In this respect, the focus must not just be on implementing diversity at the top level, but also, as Viacom has demonstrated, growing the pipelines internally – casting the net wide for a cognitively and visibly diverse population, which includes managers below the senior level so that they understand and promote the case for a diverse business model as well as strengthen the global talent.
This is about focusing on what individuals can bring and undertaking more comprehensive workshops that tackle unconscious bias at the senior level across both executive boards and internal recruitment processes. This is vital in order to create workplaces that understand that difficult conversations about inclusion and diversity are sometimes necessary to drive that bottom line to corporate success. For multinationals wanting to be part of this growing diversity discourse, Viacom says getting involved is the key step: sharing best and unsuccessful practices with other multinationals to collectively move the needle on diversity.