The new head of NBCUniversal’s news operations pledged to make the workforce that staffs NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC more diverse, calling for the unit’s employee base to be 50% female and 50% people of color over an undefined period of time.
“The demographics of America have been changing for decades… and that change is accelerating. Women today make up nearly half of the American work force and already earn well over half of all bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. This year, for the first time, a majority of Americans aged 18 or younger, will be people of color. In twenty years, more than half of all Americans, will be people of color,’ said Cesar Conde, who was named chairman of NBCU’s News Group in May “The NBCUniversal News Group is not going to wait for change to happen and just react to it. We’re going to lead. ”
The initiative is one of the first of the executive’s to be unveiled publicly – and likely not the last. NBCU’s news operations are among the nation’s biggest, rivaled in size and scope only by AT&T’s CNN. Conde replaced former chairman Andy Lack, who did not have oversight of CNBC.
Conde will have an array of challenges ahead of him, including weaving together the resources of the business-news cable outlet with MSNBC and NBC News. He will likely want to boost “NBC Nightly News,” which has in recent months ceded viewership among viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic most coveted by advertisers – to ABC’s “World News Tonight.” And he will have to determine when and if to move forward anew with an international newsgathering project NBCU put on hold during the pandemic. All the while, he will no doubt need to continue the extension of the company’s news outlet’s into digital while striving to maintain or increase viewership for flagship programs like “Today,” “Squawk Box” and “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
But attending to employees may be paramount. NBC News staffers have been buffeted by a number of internal initiatives in recent years, including controversies surrounding an investigation of Harvey Weinstein by former contributor Ronan Farrow and the ouster of former “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer.
The news industry has been grappling with questions of diversity and inclusion in the wake of protests in response to the recent death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minneapolis. Those events have sparked a new national conversation over how Americans treat one another, particularly people from different races and backgrounds. ABC News in June placed a senior executive, Barbara Fedida, on administrative leave after allegations surfaced about the way she talked to staffers, including prominent anchor Robin Roberts, and sparked complaints to the Disney unit’s human-resources staff.
According to a memo Conde sent to staffers Tuesday, NBC News Group’s employee base is “currently 26.5% diverse” – 8% Black, 8% Hispanic, and 8% Asian. “That’s better than most in our industry – but it is not good enough.” The unit’s workforce “is nearly 50% women,” he said.
Conde outlined plans to enlist more candidates of color for NBC News Group’s associates program and to invest in long-form investigative efforts devoted to issues of diversity. “These are not only Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American issues. They are simply American issues,” he said. Starting in 2021, he added, senior executives will be judged on the progress they have made on diversifying the employee base, along with other measures such as ratings or operating cash flow.
“Executing on this plan will not be someone else’s job, it is everyone’s job,” Conde said.