Jul 23, 2019

“Playing into stereotypes … does everyone a disservice. And it doesn’t make for good content, either.”

Diversity and inclusion is a must-have for media companies hoping to win with audiences and attract top talent. But, moving from a traditionally homogenous industry to one that prizes diversity on both sides of the camera isn’t a swift or simple process.

Which is why events like this week's sixth annual ColorComm Conference in Miami, Fla., are so important. The business conference—which focuses on women of color in the communications, marketing, media, and advertising industries—enables business leaders to discuss tactics and share strategies to pursue progress.

“The most significant thing that all people can do to embed diversity and maintain it in the workplace is to abandon the idea that diversity ends once a hire is made. Inclusion must be made a priority,” says Tiffany Williams,  executive producer at MTV.

At the “New Era of Storytelling” panel at ColorComm, Williams is slated to appear alongside Michelle Alberty, Viacom International Media Network’s SVP of production management, and Niki Lopez, the creator and producer of Nickelodeon’s Santiago of the Seas. The panel will be moderated by BET Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Jeanine Liburd.

Viacom spoke to the panelists ahead of the event to get a preview of their perspective on how content can create lasting change when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion.

Viacom: Together, you have more than 40 years of experience creating content at Viacom. Have you made a conscious effort to prioritize diversity in your work?

Michelle Alberty: At some point in my career I realized that we needed more diversity among our writing and producing teams. They were primarily lead by male points-of-view; there were not a lot of women. Little by little we expanded to include more female and LQTBQ+ [perspectives] in the workplace and in our storytelling.

Niki Lopez: My upbringing was rooted in a culture that celebrates its diversity. I have always felt that it makes any environment richer, with multiple perspectives bringing depth and balance.

V: Your ColorComm panel relates specifically to the role of storytelling. How does content create change?

Tiffany Williams: As the demographics of America shift toward a more racially and ethnically diverse society, inclusion and diversity have to be central to the storytelling in order to resonate. We can never just consider one moment or one action without thinking about that person’s life in context, which is especially important in unscripted reality. Working with real people is a great responsibility that I take seriously. Playing into stereotypes or not taking into account the depth of a person’s life experience does everyone a disservice. And it doesn’t make for good content, either.

"Storytelling is the ultimate social glue that connects us."

Niki Lopez

Creator and Producer of Nickelodeon’s 'Santiago of the Seas'

MA: Telefe, our open broadcast network in Argentina, which is a predominantly conservative family channel that appeals to a very broad audience, aired La Pelu in 2012. It was a mid-day comedy show whose main character and host was a transgender person. It was the first time that Argentina had seen something like that on TV and the show ended up being number one in its time period and sold really well in international markets. That was a cultural turning point for Argentina and marked an age of change and transformation. 

It is up to us as content creators to not only to show these stories but also show the deliberate transformation of someone that is non-inclusive through their journey of becoming inclusive. We try to do that in a lot of our shows. This helps start a conversation about these topics in the household.      

NL: Storytelling is the ultimate social glue that connects us. With that in mind, I created Santiago of the Seas because I wanted to highlight to younger audiences that our differences make us stronger and unique within our communities. It is a world that includes and celebrates them, while also keeping them engaged with empathy. 

V: What advice would you give to diverse women who want to encourage diversity in the workplace?

MA: Look for opportunities to work internationally or outside of your home city.

I love traveling and learning about new cultures, different ethnicities, architecture, food, and music—and getting to know people from all walks of life. You bring these new experiences and cultures into your work without even realizing it.

NL: Be firm in your convictions and do not be afraid to lead with compassion.

Make it a priority to help build a space where people from all backgrounds actually feel heard and included. At the start and end of the day, it is inclusivity that keeps diversity well and alive within the culture of a workplace.

"The single most important thing a woman of color can do is to find a mentor and advocate."

Tiffany Williams

Executive Producer, MTV

TW: The single most important thing a woman of color can do is to find a mentor and advocate with whom she can speak honestly and openly about concerns as they come up.

V: What role do conferences like ColorComm play in advancing the conversation around D&I? Why are you personally interested in attending?

MA: I’m looking forward to hearing new voices and shared experiences from other industry professionals and how they approach diversity in their workplace and via content creation. 

TW: While I am delighted to see that so many companies—large and small—in entertainment place a high value on diversity, we need to think more holistically about what that really means. How can we create environments that promote inclusion so that we can retain and nurture a truly diverse culture across the industry? I hope to raise awareness for the need, and see a cultural change take place.

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