Marketing Executive Bozoma Saint John Shares Workplace Wisdom With Viacom Employees: “Assimilation Is Not Necessary to Get Ahead”

Bozoma Saint John, self-described “force of nature in fierce stilettos” and newly minted chief marketing officer for entertainment company Endeavor, came to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in May to share career wisdom and empowering life advice with Viacom employees at an event organized by the company’s Office of Global Inclusion.

Michele Thornton Ghee, BET Her senior vice president of Ad Sales, moderated the discussion with Endeavor’s chief marketing officer Bozoma Saint John at Viacom Headquarters in May 2018.

Saint John is a woman of color – and a woman in power. She’s an agent of change in the business world, having held executive positions at major tech and media hubs including Spike Lee’s ad agency (Spike DDB), Pepsi, Beats by Dre, Apple and Uber.

At Viacom’s employee event, Saint John strutted in wearing six-inch designer heels, looking every bit the #girlboss: poised, commanding and unapologetically stylish. In an ebullient exchange with long-time friend and moderator Michele Thornton Ghee, BET Her senior vice president of Ad Sales, Saint John traced her non-traditional life and explained how the unique worldview that it formed drove her success in a traditional business world.

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Going Places: Viacom Intern to Full Time Employee Success Stories Features Samantha Kestenbaum

Viacom’s Campus to Career department oversees Viacom internships, post-graduate programs and entry-level opportunities. Going Places is the department’s latest series on intern success stories, featuring interns who have achieved full-time employment opportunities at Viacom and Paramount Pictures. In the first installment of Going Places, Campus to Career interviewed Samantha Kestenbaum, Office of Global Inclusion (OGI) Coordinator, to chat about her experience. Kestenbaum interned at Viacom during the fall and spring of 2017.

Samantha Kestenbaum, Office of Global Inclusion (OGI) Coordinator, started off as a Viacom intern in 2017. Now, she’s a full-time employee.

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Viacommunity, VH1, Comedy Central and EMERGE Werked the New York City Pride Parade

On Sunday June 24, roughly two million revelers filled the streets of downtown Manhattan to celebrate the culmination of Pride Month: the 49th annual New York City Pride March.

Among them walked a contingent of nearly 350 Viacom-affiliated marchers, a procession of employees, media and corporate partners amidst a pair of Comedy Central- and VH1-branded floats. EMERGE, Viacom’s employee resource group focused on LGBT employees and straight allies, and Viacommunity, Viacom’s social responsibility arm, had helped rally the boisterous crew.

Fans at the 2018 New York Pride Parade. Photo by Sarah Stone.

“June is a special month for EMERGE as we have the opportunity to bring awareness, engage, and celebrate with Viacom employees while we have the spotlight on us this special month,” said Emily Albertson, a senior manager at Comedy Central and EMERGE leader.

“We always see an influx of new members joining in June, which help us lead the charge in continuing to fight for LGBTQ rights for the rest of the year. We love having the opportunity to show employees that Viacom supports all of their employees regardless of sexual preference or identity.”

The day’s weather forecast predicted thunderstorms and scattered showers, but as a harbinger of positive energy, clouds parted around noon –  just in time for the parade to begin.

VH1 sponsored the parade with a float for the first time, choosing its award-winning show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, to represent Viacom with a glitzy, purple contraption emblazoned with show’s sassy catchphrase, “Sashay Away.”

VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race float “Sashay Away” was a fan-favorite at the 2018 New York City Pride Parade. Photo by Sarah Stone.

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Yes, Women Can Have It All: Viacom and The Girls Lounge on Thriving in the Workplace

On a recent Friday, more than 600 Viacom employees, clients, and partners joined Viacom executives, as well as speakers from JP Morgan Chase, ColorComm, Refinery29 and WIE Network for The Girls’ Lounge. Co-hosted by Viacom and The Female Quotient, the event included a full day of panel discussions and professional coaching focused on work-life balance, leadership and diversity. Plus, attendees could schedule professional styling and headshots.

Viacom EVP and Chief People Officer Fukiko Ogisu (L) and Nickelodeon EVP and Chief Creative Officer Kim Rosenblum discuss the keys to leadership at Viacom’s The Girls’ Lounge panel event.

‘Having it all’ on your terms

The first panel, “Career on Fire: Engineering an Integrated, Rewarding Lifestyle,” focused on living mindfully as a professional with responsibilities outside the workplace.

The panelists: Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) Senior Vice President Kate Laverge, Drop the Ball author Tiffany Dufu, Viacom Catalyst Senior Vice President Cheryl Family, and Human Resources Vice President Lisa Sipress. Brooke Ozaydinli, senior manager Viacom Marketing Strategy, moderated.

“How do you define having it all?” asked Ozaydinli to kick off the panel. “Do you think it’s even possible to have it all?”

Viacom hosted The Girls’ Lounge, a pop-up empowerment seminar, at Viacom Headquarters in May.

Laverge offered her opinion: having it all depends on individual objectives, values and ambitions.

“The question of ‘having it all’ usually speaks to the idea of wealth and riches, romance and family, and spiritual fulfillment, all at the same time,” said Laverge. “If that’s what ‘having it all’ means to you, that’s fine – but it should be an individual question versus a generalized notion.”

Sipress shared her views as a working mother.

“I struggle to have it all,” said Sipress. She discussed feeling guilty, and how she combats this guilt. Her resolution is to have a constant internal conversation around balancing work and personal responsibilities. Some days, Sipress said, work must come first. Other days, parenthood is the priority.

Dufu has evolved to believe this is an important question, especially for women. After connecting with women one-on-one, the author (who is passionate about helping women and girls advance into different levels of leadership) realized how much time women spend juggling different, unrelated tasks.

“Women are managing a lot of different things,” said Dufu. “Women are constantly negotiating between their ambition, their desire to get to the highest level of leadership and achieve mastery of their craft…I think it’s important to define ‘having it all.’ For me, it means having a career driven by my passion and purpose, having a healthy relationship with my partner, raising children who are conscious, global citizens, and being joyful and fit.

“I want all of those things at the same time; I feel I am entitled to all these things at the same time. But I can’t do it all in order to have all of that. I think it’s important to us to get really clear on what matters most.”

The takeaway: There are only 24 hours in a day so prioritize what matters most. Learn how to outsource the lower priorities. Avoid self-imposed perfection.

Drop the Ball author Tiffany Dufu speaks at Viacom Headquarters for a lifestyle panel at an employee event co-hosted with The Girls’ Lounge.

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Nine Quotes From Viacom’s Code B.L.A.C.K. Executive Panel On Building A Successful Career

 

My parents were born in an era where there were no African-American astronauts or African-American women CEOs, but as a millennial, I am blessed to live in era where representation is constantly part of conversations.

When The Beat, Viacom’s employee resource group devoted to the African-American experience, hosted Code B.L.A.C.K.: A Panel of Black Executives as part of its wide-ranging Black History Month celebration, I was grateful to be able to sit in this room of insightful leaders:

Trudi Patrick, Moderator – Executive Assistant –Advanced Advertising

Kodi Foster Senior Vice President of Data Strategy

Nadja Webb – Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Business & Legal Affairs

Michael Armstrong – General Manager of BET Networks

Ericka Wright Tomlinson Vice President of Human Resources for BET Networks and Viacom’s Finance, Core Services, Marketing & Communications teams

While we discussed the challenges of corporate politics, we also joked about things like reading The Shade Room for news. Representation matters and being in a room with other people who care about seeing and hearing from black executives was just what I needed this Black History Month.

Overall, I learned a lot from these executives. Here are my 10 favorite quotes from the event:

Viacom employees at the Code B.L.A.C.K. executive panel. From L to R: Gerald Yarborough, Essence Dashtaray, Georgette Pierre, Trudi Patrick, Nadja Webb, Destiney Bishop, Michael D. Armstrong, Kodi Foster, Ericka Wright Tomlinson and Ezinne Kwubiri.

“In 2007, I had a boss who was a control freak and was very territorial over her work and typically gave me work to do and she would present it in meetings. An opportunity came to launch a huge project and present it to [former head of MTV] Judy McGrath. At the time of this meeting she was traveling. Despite the fact that I did all the work, she told me to postpone the meeting. I spoke to my mentor who encouraged me to present the project I had been working on. So, after going back and forth, I made the executive decision to present it. After presenting it in front of so many senior people, they complimented me and told me I’d lead the project. I thought I was going to get fired, but that was the pivotal moment that I decided that I would present it and ask for forgiveness later and it ended up working out. I could have been the quiet little black girl in the back or decided to step up and do it and I decided to just do it and after that project, I presented it, and ended up getting promoted, which led me to the position I am in now.” – Wright Tomlinson

“Working on Wall Street, I was working late one day. I happened to answer the phone in the area known as the pit, even though I usually don’t answer calls, but I ended up having to explain to a couple in Iowa why their life savings was gone. It was kind of heavy. I was a kid, looking at numbers on spreadsheets and not putting human beings behind the numbers. That was when it hit me, that I wasn’t doing something constructive to better the world, which I feel like we do here by delighting people with entertainment and I decided to change careers.” – Foster

“It took me a long time to understand that you have to have agency over your career. No one else is going to do it for you. I made a classic mistake of trying to always work hard and expect people to notice and lift me up and give me opportunities but it’s on you. You have to identify what you want. If you’re stuck, you have to first identify what you want or think you might like to do and second is to communicate that to the stakeholders involved.” – Webb

“I think being ‘stuck’ in your career is relative. There’s a difference between you’re stuck versus it’s just not your time. Some of us are ready for the next step almost immediately while others are in the same position for over 20 years. There has to be a level of self-examination. Appreciate where you are, are you achieving your goals, and if you’re ready for the next step and not because you think you deserve it. Determine what your ultimate goals are.” – Wright Tomlinson

“I think managing corporate politics is simple. While it can be difficult and political, the easy part is if you show up as your true and authentic self, you don’t have to remember when you’re faking it and when you’re being real. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to calibrate. Knowing the environment, you’re operating in, if you need to adjust your authentic self, the people around you will let you know.” – Armstrong

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Viacom Welcomes Diversity Consultants for a Stirring Workshop on Transgender Inclusion

“Hey, guys!”

This is a fairly acceptable way to address teammates, regardless of gender. Right?

Well, it’s complicated.

In March, Viacom’s Talent Acquisition team invited employees to an event called Building Empathy and Awareness: Lessons from the Transgender Community. The session, which was held at both Viacom’s Times Square and Los Angeles offices, was a poignant exercise in reflection and understanding helmed by diversity consultants Marnie Florin and Kevin Perry. The event, which was aimed toward recruiters and hiring managers, broke down some of the issues and terms that are vital to understanding the transgender community: intersectionality, gender dysphoria, pronouns and advocacy, among others.

Viacom is a safe space, but how can it improve?

Florin and Perry explained further: Viacom scores 100 on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) index for workplace protections, including having trans-inclusive health benefits and diversity training (such as Lessons from the Transgender Community). However, the company is always seeking to improve its diversity and inclusion efforts.

Viacom is a longtime supporter of LGBT rights in the workplace.

At the New York session, Florin and Perry solicited questions from the audience about Viacom policies and overall TA best practices when it comes to hiring trans employees. Some situations, they explained, can still be difficult, even at progressive companies like Viacom.

As a cisgender woman, the following situations are not difficult: showing my ID at the desk when welcoming a guest; enjoying perks like the Wellness Studio workout classes; taking advantage of on-site massages or hairstyling; flying for business travel; using the restroom.

But for trans employees, these are situations that can cause anxiety, depression or downright terror.

Florin and Perry didn’t take too much time pointing out blind spots like this. Throughout the lecture they offered myriad facts and lists, but let the audience know that they could find more information online. The goal was to re-orient us to see our work lives through the eyes of a trans employee, and help us align ourselves to be an ally.

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Exploring the Trump/Hip-Hop Conundrum at Viacom HQ

“How can the country that elected Donald Trump president be the same country that rates hip-hop as the number one mainstream genre?”

This is the question that opened Viacom’s Hype & Influence panel, moderated by Marketing Strategy’s Brooke Ozaydinli and featuring MTV’s Wanda Coriano, BET Music & Talent’s Bianca Edwards, and rapper Maliibu Miitch. The exploration of the state of Hip-Hop in today’s culture was a Black History Month event organized at the company’s Times Square headquarters by The BEAT (Viacom’s employee resource group devoted to the African-American experience), the Marketing Strategy team, and the BET Music Meeting.

“It’s not surprising,” Edwards said to Ozaydinli’s opening question, “because hip-hop thrives in environments with oppression and adversity.”

The Hype & Influence panel built on a video series of the same name, created by Viacom’s V By Viacom platform to explore cultural trends. The first edition, featuring BET’s Connie Orlando, 300 Entertainment co-founder Kevin Liles, and Miitch explored the same themes as the panel, which opened with a viewing:

Here are a few other highlights from the afternoon, from thoughts on the authenticity of Cardi B to the power and potential perils of hip-hop:

“People are used to everything being cookie-cutter”

Miitch addressed why she thought people connected with Cardi B, whose Bodak Yellow video has been viewed nearly a half billion times on YouTube. “People are used to everything being cookie-cutter,” she said, “but with an artist like Cardi, who doesn’t filter herself, people connect with her because she says out loud the things that people are thinking.”

Sparking a love of music

Coriano grew up in The Bronx hearing hip-hop on the streets, forming the foundation of her love for music across genres. “Living in the Bronx, hip-hop was my music and it was the music of that time.”

Maliibu Miitch and members of her Atlantic Records management team at the Hype & Influence panel, held at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters in honor of Black History Month. Photo by Pound & Grain.

Should children listen to hip-hop?

During the event’s question-and-answer portion, I sparked an extended debate when I asked about the relationship between kids and hip-hop. Miitch argued that parents do a lot of things in front of their kids that could be deemed worse than what artists rap about. “People rap about their truth and it’s not something to hide from children,” she said.

Coriano made the point that kids don’t always understand what is being said, and sometimes just like a song because they can dance to it or it has a nice beat. You can keep kids away from that sort of music, or give them a censored version, since many elements of hip-hop can be educational – she pointed to Logic’s 1-800-273-8255 or Kendrick Lamar’s songs about Injustice.

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Viacommunity Hosts a Screening of Selma in Honor of Black History Month

On Feb. 21, 40 high school students from New York City and neighboring public schools made their way to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters to celebrate Black History Month with a screening of Paramount’s critically acclaimed Selma, a crucial film about the African-American experience.

Viacommunity hosted the event, which featured members of The BEAT, Viacom’s employee resource group focused on the African-American experience, on a post-screening panel. To coordinate this celebration in honor of Black History Month, Viacom worked with nonprofit organizations The Opportunity Network and Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF), which provide academic support to students from underserved communities.

Selma depicts Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for equal voting rights during the Civil Rights Movement, a momentous part of American history. Paramount’s re-telling of this visceral moment encapsulates the spirit of Black History Month.

Students and Viacom employees at a screening of Paramount Pictures’ Selma in honor of Black History Month – Photo by Esthefania Rodriguez

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2020 Has a Lofty Goal – Viacom Is Already There

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Diversity and inclusion is a top priority at Viacom. We incorporate this into every aspect of our business, whether it’s via culturally resonant programming on MTV or by sweeping the top three spots in the Directors Guild of America’s list of best programs for hiring women and minority directors. But that commitment goes beyond the shows that drive our networks and filters from the very top of our company, as 2020 Women on Boards recently acknowledged, including us on its list of Fortune 1,000 companies whose boards comprise more than 20 percent women.

With four female board members – Shari Redstone, Blythe J. McGarvie, Cristiana Falcone Sorrell and Deborah Norville – Viacom has for years surpassed 2020’s goal to increase the percentage of women on corporate boards to 20 percent by the year 2020.

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Viacom Chief Technology Officer David Kline Named to STEMConnector’s Top 100 CIO/CTO List

David Kline CLOSE

Viacom Chief Technology Officer David Kline.

Viacom Chief Technology Officer David Kline was recently honored as one of the leading executives among his peers in the world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). STEMconnector, a coalition of industry leaders spanning more than 150 entities, unveiled the fourth segment of its leadership series with 100 CIO/CTO Leaders in STEM, and included Kline on their list. The organization defines STEM leaders as those who proactively encourage the implementation of STEM education and development within their companies and industries.

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