From the Chairman's Desk: Remarks from the 2016 NAMIC Conference in New York

Each year, the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC) and Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) team to offer some of the most compelling and motivational events around diversity. Taking place during New York City’s “Diversity Week,” hundreds gather from the media and entertainment industries to advocate and empower diversity in communications. 

Our CEO and Chairman John Martin co-chaired and delivered the keynote address at the NAMIC Conference. In addition, he co-chaired and presented the honorees at The Kaitz Foundation dinner, which occurs at the end of “Diversity Week” and produces significant funding and support to build opportunities for minority communities.

His remarks at NAMIC were well received, so John agreed to let us share his prepared remarks for the blog: 

Prepared Remarks:

National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC)
Annual Conference
Tuesday, September 20, 7:30 a.m.
Marriott Marquis, New York

John Martin, CEO and Chairman

I am proud and deeply honored to be the honorary co-chair of the 30th Annual NAMIC Conference with Debra Lee, a true leader in our industry and a champion of diversity.  What started as the Urban Markets Seminar has now become the cornerstone of Diversity Week. Three decades of advocating, educating and empowering multi-ethnic diversity in the media industry is no small task – so congratulations on all that you have accomplished. 

As truly humbled as I am that you chose me to open this year’s conference, I wish none of us had to be here.  Not because what we’re doing isn’t vitally important - because it absolutely is - but because these conferences are still necessary.

I read an interview with the actress Natalie Portman a few weeks ago about her directorial debut for a film she shot in Israel.  The reporter asked her what it was like to be a female director in Israel, and she said she, “felt lucky to make the film in Israel because being a female director there isn’t unusual.”

I have really been thinking about that simple but profound statement a lot, especially knowing that I was coming here to talk to you today and because I am also going to the Black Filmmaker Foundation Summit next month, so it’s really been on my mind.  What is it going to take to make what Natalie said true here, for women and people of color?  And a question I keep asking myself, that really we all need to be asking ourselves is, are we thinking big enough?

Without a doubt, real progress has been made and we continue to push forward.  For the last eight years, we’ve had an African-American president, and for the first time a woman is a nominee for President.   I do see a lot of things that make me believe this ideal is in reach, despite some of the vitriol we sometimes see in our public discourse.  So clearly we’re not there yet … which is why this conference, and the work of NAMIC and everyone in this room, is so critical.

We all know how important diversity and inclusion is to our industry.  More than almost any other business, our success depends on how culturally relevant we are, and how plugged in we are to the audiences we need to reach.  In order to be truly authentic, our content – and our organizations - need to be reflective of what is going on in the world around us.

And we know that diversity of thought and people fosters creativity and that diverse companies have greater ROI.  We know that. But yet we’re still not all the way there, where diversity just IS the way things are, not unusual.   This is not just a challenge for the media sector.  It’s a challenge for the corporate world as a whole.  Less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, less than 1 percent are African American and less than 2 percent are Asian.

So we need to constantly ask ourselves – are we doing enough and are we acting with intent to make change? Are we thinking big enough?

At Turner, it’s our job to entertain and inform the world.  That’s an exciting responsibility that we take very seriously.  And we know that the choices we make, big and small, day in and day out about who we hire, the content we create, the talent we put on our air, all communicate something to our audiences and to our employees.

There are a lot of things I am really proud of at our company, like our investments in training and development, and reaching beyond what is common in recruiting, and our commitment to bringing in the best and brightest, most diverse talent possible -
gender, race, sexual orientation, and skill sets.  And our new all female anchor line up on HLN, and the diversity of our CNN team covering the elections, but one in particular is Samantha Bee’s show, Full Frontal. 

Sam made a conscious - and big decision - to have women behind the camera and then sought out talent she believed in and trusted.  She then created a blind writing submission process with no names or resumes attached to the submissions.  A seemingly small decision, but it ended up having a huge impact by leveling the playing field and letting talent come from anywhere, with no pre-disposed bias. 50 percent of the writing staff are women and 30 percent are non-white, and there is a mix of experience level as well.   The show is fantastic and proof that diversity on the inside helps us create the content that makes us diverse on the outside.

At the Emmy’s last week there were a record 21 non-white acting nominees, 3 African-American winners, and for the first time ever people of color were nominated in every leading acting category. This is something to celebrate, and it shows that there is real progress being made, but we need to do more.

While I am not telling you anything you don’t already know, I do want to encourage you to think actively during the rest of the conference and beyond about how we can all evolve or expand what we are already doing – in big and small ways.  Think about who we are casting, who we are hiring, and what skills we are looking for… Constantly challenge ourselves to see if we are doing everything we can. 

Because if we do our jobs right, then at some point we won’t need conferences about diversity anymore, because it will just be.

But until that happens this conference and the dedication and hard work of NAMIC and the people in this room will continue to be vital to getting us where we need to go. 

And I truly believe that if I am doing MY job right, one of the best and brightest diverse individuals we are cultivating is going to replace me. Maybe it will be one of you.  I know that many of you will become the CEOs of the future.  And when you do become a CEO, keep me in mind, because I’ll be looking for a job!

Seriously though, thank you Eglon, and everyone else at NAMIC, for letting me join you today. Have a great rest of the conference and I am looking forward to the great ideas that I know will come from getting this talented group together. And remember, think BIG…