Like millions around the world, Shona Pinnock was shocked to the core by the killing of George Floyd. “It was just traumatic. In the days after the killing I was just literally sitting at my makeshift desk and sending emails through tears,” revealed the Diversity and Inclusion Director of Meredith Corporation, as she discussed doing a hugely important job during an extraordinary time at FIPP’s World Media Congress 2020. “I was just numb, but then I had to figure out what it means for the work that I do.”
Pinnock, who is responsible for all Meredith’s diversity and inclusion programmes, found that the initiatives she had been planning had been accelerated. An important first step in refocusing the company’s efforts for a more equitable work environment was drafting a message of support to black employees from the CEO.
“Working on that was helpful in terms of feeling at least we are doing something and making a statement,” said Pinnock. “It helped get the ball rolling in a different way and reset us on our path.”
Listening with intent
As the company pursued diversity and inclusion with vigour, a listening session hosted by its Employee Resource Group (ERG) for Black Employees proved very impactful.
“For a lot of our white colleagues this was the first time they were hearing very raw accounts of what it feels like to live in this society, to see some of the acts of violence, to work and push through that and the emotional impact of that,” said Pinnock.
“I think the work we all have to do – and I include people of colour in this – is provide a little space and grace for people to begin that process of educating themselves and then figuring out how we need to do the work to make change, and what the responsibilities are for everyone in that.”
Let’s focus on the competencies for the role, not my comfort with the person. Make space for people you might not have as easy a language around.
Not so fast
Pinnock stressed that, in terms of recruitment, companies need to slow down and not go for the convenient option.
“You might have a manager who, when there’s a position open, says, ‘my college roommate’s son would be perfect for that role’,” she explained. “I’m not saying that person wouldn’t be great, but let’s look at some other people. It’s about asking people to slow down and widen their net of the talent they are funneling in.
“Let’s focus on the competencies for the role, not my comfort with the person. Make space for people you might not have as easy a language around. And that difference can be anything – ethnic, racial or how you approach work. There will be a time when it will become second nature so it’s about how we create that muscle memory.”
Another focus area for Pinnock is staff retention. “I want to make sure that if we make these great strides in recruiting diverse talent that everyone has equal access to opportunity, growth and development,” she said.
Learn from history
Before moving forward, it’s important to first look back and learn lessons from the past, said Pinnock. “There has to be education of the impact of racism that exist in almost every realm of life. I think (people) educating themselves on how this came to be – all of the little pieces that built over hundreds of years to get us to where we are – is important.”
Meredith is currently rolling out inclusive leadership sessions – first to senior leaders and then to middle managers and the rest of the staff – that explore the concepts around diversity and inclusion, like unconscious bias.
“It’s around creating understanding, creating shared language around a sense of belonging, growth and development, objectivity and how we mitigate bias,” said Pinnock. “And bias is something we all have – it doesn’t discriminate.”
I have to have the understanding that there are some people we have to bring along in this discussion – and I’m fine with that.
Dealing with pushback
Meredith has also run two sessions built around the history of racism and how to dismantle it. While the feedback was largely positive, there were a few comments that were not as supportive – especially after the discussion that got into historical facts.
“I understand that with everything there is going to be a spectrum of where people are in accepting this and where people are in that journey,” said Pinnock. “Everyone is not in the same place and I can’t make that assumption. I have to have the understanding that there are some people we have to bring along in this discussion – and I’m fine with that.”
“In terms of the diversity discussion there are structures and strategies that you can create, but there is also a very emotional discussion around these topics. You have to give people a safe space to come along – or not. We have to figure what happens to the people who don’t. They will show that they don’t fit into that culture in other ways.
“In general we know where we are as an organisation. We have positioned ourselves as an organisation that is moving this discussion and process forward. My vision is that Meredith is the thought leader in this space as a media brand.”
Changing your story
The changes happening at Meredith include the content of its magazines, with Pinnock having conversations with editors to make sure stories are reflective of the audiences they serve.
“We are looking at how to expand the contributors creating the stories and showing that we have a wider net of freelancers,” she said. “Food & Wine has done an audit looking at their issues over the past two years – looking at the stories, the contributors, the photographers, the recipes and ensuring they’ve got a good mix of representation, and how they can expand that over time.”
Meredith has also carried out an audit into its benefits system to see how it can support diversity and inclusion goals.
“When it comes to parenting we have access to in vitro fertilisation that includes wavers,” she explained. “There’s a six-month waver where you are supposed to try as a couple to naturally have a child. But if you are in a same-sex partnership no matter how much you try you are not going to be able to produce a child. So, if we can wave that six-month period for a same-sex couple that’s a tweak to our benefits that ensures easy access to all couples. It’s creating a benefits mix that feels reflective of the employees we want to engage with.”
We can create practices that are more inclusive today. You have to keep working.
Time to change
Pinnock is realistic when it comes to a timeframe for change. “When it comes to the diversity and representation of our workforce, that part will take time,” she said. “In our company we are about 77 per cent white and about 23 per cent ethnically diverse. So, to move the needle in terms of what that looks like and be representative of the US population, which is about 60 per cent white, that will take time.
“But in terms of the inclusion and equity part, those things can happen immediately. We can create practices that are more inclusive today. You have to keep working. There are many things that happen that knock you down so resilience is a big part of this journey.”
Pierre de Villiers