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Warner Bros. Discovery has restructured its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion group for the first time since the newly formed company’s merger was completed in April.
With chief DEI officer Asif Sadiq, promoted in late July, based in London, the new structure puts an emphasis on handling DEI issues by international region: North America (led by senior vp Karen Horne, formerly WarnerMedia senior vp pipeline programs); Europe, Middle East and Africa (led by vp Rukasana Bhaijee, who was hired from Google in March to serve as executive director of WBD’s workforce DEI strategy internationally); Latin America (led by director Niarchos Pabalis, hired from Booking.com in March); and Asia-Pacific (with a director to be announced soon). All four regional leaders will report to Sadiq, who reports jointly to WBD CEO David Zaslav and chief people officer Adria Alpert Romm.
In addition, a new trio of execs at the vp level will work across the regions worldwide and with WBD’s previously announced Creative and Business Councils (composed of the company’s top division heads) to oversee specific functional areas of DEI focus: vp workforce Christian Hug, vp pipeline programs Grace Anne Moss and vp content/productions Yvette Urbina. Senior vps MyKhanh Shelton and Samata Narra, who oversaw workforce and content, respectively, as part of WarnerMedia’s equity and inclusion leadership team, will depart the company after a period of transition.
The new WBD DEI team will work with the previously appointed CNN executive vp integration and inclusion Johnita Due, WBD senior vp ad sales and inclusive monetization Sheereen Russell, and Monica Neal, who leads DEI communications and marketing for the company.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sadiq shared some of the reasoning that guided the restructuring of his team. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What were the guiding principles behind reorganizing the DEI division?
When I joined WarnerMedia, I headed up international [on the equity and inclusion team] and I realized I can’t do international by myself, so I started establishing the regional leads. Before I came along, there wasn’t an international team. The U.S., in the past, looked after everything. It’s been difficult for that team to do everything, so this provides very specific structure. I do believe that’s important for us to drive change.
We need to focus on markets: North America, EMEA, LATAM and APAC are unique in their challenges. In the past, we tried to do everything, being the DEI team for every single region. We did some amazing things, but we want to ensure we have teams focused on the region, whose sole responsibility is driving DEI within that space and truly understand what DEI challenges and opportunities exist there. As we think about our staffing, we base it on our workforce and operational footprint in the region. The U.S. team’s going to be the biggest team based on the amount of staff and productions there, followed by EMEA, then LATAM and APAC. That is to ensure we are able to service our business as a DEI team much better rather than not having enough staff to drive change.
In WarnerMedia, we had these separate, independent pillars looking after pipeline programs, content and workforce. What we’ve done is, alongside the regional teams who are there to support day-to-day and drive change, we’ve created a central strategy team with all those pillars in one team, which will work with the Creative and Business councils to drive the business objectives across the organization.
Why are the executive titles for the regional heads different?
They’re based on the seniority and size of the team in the region: about 14 to 15 in the U.S., eight in EMEA, three or four in LATAM, and two in APAC. There will be about 14 people on the central strategy team.
The new DEI strategy heads are at the vp level, whereas their WarnerMedia counterparts were senior vice presidents. How will you ensure that the new leaders have the authority they need to effect change, especially when they are interacting with the film, TV and corporate chiefs who make up the creative and business councils?
I chair the councils. I’m going to be hands-on, and that’s a bit of a difference to the previous structure. Yes, we had svps, but they were very much operating independently. The difference here is I am part of those processes, so you’ve got someone on my level with those leaders.
The new Warner Bros. Discovery regime has already weathered significant criticism that its content and staffing decisions so far represent a step backward when it comes to diversity and inclusion. How does your team intend to address that perception?
With any merger, there’s always that period of uncertainty where it might seem like things are going backwards. Once we’ve gone through this period, we assess where we are. DEI is a never-ending journey. No company is perfect, and even when you’re good, you’re not great. How do we continue to drive and make sure we don’t go backwards in any efforts, whether it’s in content or representation at all levels of our organization? Now that the team is announced, the strategy that I want to work on is what is that long-term sustainable change that truly drives impact? And how do we build these processes to make sure that we do that?
I’ve reflected on this a lot: The biggest thing is, how do you ensure that every single person within an organization understands their responsibility and that we’re on a journey together? It’s very easy for a DEI team to say great things, but what’s important is how those messages are translated across those businesses. Are your day-to-day experiences reflected? How do you bring every single person on board to understand DEI is the right thing to do because it’s morally right but it also makes business sense?
What channels are available for employees to make their concerns heard, and what protections are in place for them to feel comfortable enough to be honest?
I’ve only been in my role for 30 days, but one thing in particular is transparency and the importance of two-way communication and to hear people. I’ve just come from the U.S. and plan to [continue to] speak to our staff so that they feel that they’re heard and express what they’re feeling. As we build in the future, I don’t have all the answers — I’m being honest. I believe this is built together. I want to build with our people.
How does a CDIO in a situation like yours work internally and externally to effect meaningful change without being used as a shield against criticism?
That’s where the accountability and shared responsibility for this goes beyond the CDIO. It’s a shared responsibility. I’m there almost as a consultant to the business, but the accountability lies with each individual, not just at the top but across the company. If we have a particular part of the business where there’s not change, I’m there to try to drive change, but we have to share that responsibility in order to truly impact change.
On the external piece, I do believe I have a job to do in the sense that I am the voice of the company when it comes to DEI, but I’m not the only voice, and the business is our voice as well. I’m keen to make sure it’s not just my voice but that over the coming months and years, you’ll hear from a number of people, everyone owning [the DEI mission] and championing it. These things are a journey, and you can’t fix things immediately. Will I get everything right? Probably not. But I’m not afraid of getting things wrong. I am afraid of not trying.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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