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NBCUniversal Head Explains His 50% Diversity Challenge

Jul 10, 2020
Originally published on July 10, 2020 8:18 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We have been reporting about how the national reckoning on racial inequality has been spreading to every corner of the U.S. And newsrooms, including here at NPR, are having this conversation internally themselves. Journalists have long pushed their employers for greater diversity in their ranks and pushed back on the ways their organizations have historically covered stories on race, on gender or on sexuality.

One news executive has announced a bold response. The NBC Universal News Group will push for 50% of their employees to be people of color and 50% of their employees to be women. Cesar Conde is that executive. He leads NBC News, CNBC and MSNBC. Welcome.

CESAR CONDE: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: So is this 50% goal a concrete promise? This is an actual vow that you are making?

CONDE: Yes, this is an initiative that we announced earlier this week. And, you know, look - we're an organization that's focused on the future. And we have seen the demographic change that has been occurring in the country for decades, and we think that change is only accelerating.

CHANG: But I ask, is this a promise? Meaning, this isn't just an aspiration; you are committing to this.

CONDE: We're obviously not going to undo centuries of systemic inequality overnight. But we're not going to wait any longer to get started, and that starts today.

CHANG: I guess, how does NBC Universal hold you responsible for meeting this benchmark of 50% if it turns out that goal ends up being a long-shot goal for years and years and years and the organization doesn't come close to it?

CONDE: Well, we have a plan which has five pillars. One of the important pillars is measurement. When we take into account the performance of our leadership team, we look at metrics such as, in our industry, ratings and operating cash flow. Starting next year in 2021, we want to add progress on diversity to that portfolio of variables that we're taking into account when we measure the success of our teams.

CHANG: Well, let's get to the question of how you can implement this. There has been a question kicking around journalism for quite some time, and that is how do you find candidates who are people of color? Like, let me ask you - where are you going to look for these new hires?

CONDE: First, I've mentioned is we have a five-pillar plan - investment, content, education, partnerships and measurement. We believe we have to do all of these things to be able to build the pipeline of qualified individuals from all walks of life at all levels of our organization. We have to ensure that we're investing in recruiting and retention.

And so we're definitely going to focus on bringing folks in at our entry level and internships and associate programs, but we're also building on a great program we have at NBC Universal called NBC University, where we're going to create education and training for journalists, either at our company or outside of our company, to make sure that we're evening the playing field when it comes to access, to education and training that people may not have had access to in the past.

CHANG: What about the ascension of journalists of color? I mean, I bet both you and I have seen the same thing - a lot of talented journalists of color leave the organization or even the profession. So how do you keep the people who come in - how do you keep them, and how do you set them up to succeed so that they can ascend, so they can get promoted through the ranks?

CONDE: I think, one, it has to do with ongoing training, which we hope to do through NBC University and the new programs that we're launching. As we begin to see some great individuals rise to great positions in front and behind the camera, not just at NBC Universal but I think across the industry, those individuals, I think, serve as examples. Joy Reid became the first African American woman to be in prime time in cable. And so we're very proud of the incredible professional that Joy is, and to be able to have that as an example is also important in the overall development and recruitment of the next generation of leaders.

CHANG: Well, obviously, representation in the newsroom matters, but the real goal of bringing in all these different people is to produce content that better reflects the range of ideas in the U.S. and in the world. So how do you ensure that a diverse newsroom means diverse news coverage?

CONDE: We are making a commitment to invest in long-form content and documentaries that speaks to the experiences of Black America and other communities of color. They're not just Black or Hispanic or Asian American or Native American issues; they're simply American issues. But I think we have to ensure that, in our daily coverage across all of our networks, we're also speaking to some of these important issues.

CHANG: So are you hearing any resistance from any employees at your organization to this 50% challenge?

CONDE: The initial reaction has been very positive. The plan that we developed was developed based on a lot of the feedback and the suggestions that we heard from our team. This is not one person's responsibility; this is everyone's responsibility. And hopefully it sets a positive standard for the rest of the industry as well.

CHANG: Cesar Conde is the chairman of the NBC Universal News Group. Thank you very much for joining us today.

CONDE: Thanks again for the invitation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.