Jul 30, 2019
“The business case for diversity is this: You can't survive without it.”
Our In the Office With ... series, gives Viacom executives the opportunity to reveal a little bit about who they are, how they lead, and what drives them in the day-to-day.
"We’re a company that serves many diverse audiences. We need thought leadership, experiences, and people who reflect those audiences."
Before Smalls started at Nickelodeon in 1993, she served as the chief of staff to U.S. Representative Robin Tallon of South Carolina for 10 years. She has deep roots in the state, having grown up in Florence, S.C., where she still has a home. South Carolina was segregated during her childhood and Smalls’ family belonged to an activist church that brought in civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, C. Delores Tucker, and Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke of California, to speak to the congregation. They had a profound impact on Smalls.
“I remember Fannie Lou Hamer saying, ‘I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired,’” says Smalls. “I have never, ever forgotten that phrase.”
Those experiences encouraged her to pursue professional roles where she could “help amplify the voices of those who are disenfranchised and have nobody speaking for them.” She looks for similar opportunities in her volunteer roles. The list of arts, education, and financial boards she sits on is longer than most people’s resumes. She stays active in politics, too. Smalls is a founding member of the Black Economic Alliance political action committee and has been a Democratic superdelegate.
When we chatted recently, Smalls was preparing for a business trip to Buenos Aires to supervise unconscious bias trainings, and then to London to deliver a speech. During our wide-ranging conversation, we talked about the business argument for prioritizing diversity, her frequent trips home to South Carolina, and morning rituals.
"The business case for diversity is this: You can’t survive without it."
You want people who understand, who can create, who can program, who have authentic experiences with different audiences. For example, if Asian Americans are the fastest-growing consumer population and consumers of digital and apps, don't you want to know that there's someone who understands that audience? It is a direct deposit to the bottom line. The business case for diversity is this: You can't survive without it.
TW: How is Viacom doing on that front?
MS: It's a work in progress. Bob Bakish has been very clear and intentional around his commitment to D&I. At a recent global inclusion advisory committee meeting he said we have to come out of the shadows and be transparent in our initiatives, our numbers, and our accountability in driving diversity.
Data can't scare you. What gets measured gets done. If the data shows you aren't skewing the right way, you have to own it and address it. It's not about quotas; you need a target. We have targets for ratings. Why not have targets around the development of people to build teams that are diverse?
As part of our short-term goals, compensation for leadership is tied to how they deliver against the diversity and inclusion goals set by Bob and the senior team, and affirmed by the board.
A number of advertising agencies have said, “If you don't send teams that are ethnically and gender-diverse to work on my account, don't even reply to the RFP [request for proposal], because I need to know that the people with whom I'm entrusting my dollars to drive this product are reflective of the audiences I'm trying to reach.”
The secret to giving a great speech: I never use a teleprompter. I like making eye contact and getting the read from someone in the audience. I want to know if I’m pulling them in or if they're saying “move on” by their eyes. I don't let anybody hear the speech before I give it. I write the outline, the key phrases that I want. I internalize it enough to go extemporaneously if I have to. Writing is remembering. I practice cadence. I practice the style of delivering.
The last person you hired: A young man named Juan Hernandez. He’s a manager on the West Coast who is responsible for helping us create and manage a TV director shadowing program called ViewFinder. It’s an initiative to create a diverse talent pipeline of directors. It's in partnership with the Directors Guild of America. We, along with a number of companies, have been called out that the number of ethnic- and gender-diverse directors could be better.
Morning routine: I set the coffee the night before. When the alarm goes off at 6:30, I typically will hit snooze until 6:50. Typically my morning routine is prayers first and then sitting still and quiet for a few moments, exercise, and news.