ViacomCBS: No Diversity - No Commission - Anchoring Diversity To The Mission
BYP had the pleasure of sitting down with Amadu Sowe, Vice President, Business & Legal Affairs from the leading, global, premium content company ViacomCBS. Amadu reflected on his own career development as well as how responsive ViacomCBS are to employee feedback and how they are driving positive change globally in all areas of the business.
What does ViacomCBS provide to the world?
ViacomCBS delivers premium content to audiences across traditional and emerging platforms worldwide. Through television, streaming and digital content, studio production, publishing, live events, merchandise, and more, we connect with billions of people. We leverage our diverse culture to offer programs that empower, engage, and inspire our employees, audiences, and company to make a real difference in our communities around the world. Whether it's consumer products, events, theme parks, hotels, or its streaming services from paramount plus we’re a large organisation that understands our consumers and we hope that it is reflected in our output.
What's your role?
I am Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs. This means I am responsible for ViacomCBS’s business and legal affairs for International Consumer Products and LBE (Location-Based Experiences ) - this includes live shows, tours, hotels, and theme parks. I manage a Business and Legal Affairs team made up of a group of lawyers and contracts managers, based in London, Singapore, and New York. The breadth of our roles are quite broad as we operate globally - it's a complex, high-volume transactional business. We’re in-house lawyers and represent the needs of the company. We have to flex and adapt to the needs of the business. We enjoy the pace and it brings great variety as by its very nature no two days are the same. We have satellites all over the world, we have stakeholders in New York, LA, Canada, Japan, South Africa (and many more) and I did a fair bit of travel before Covid struck!
What is it like to work within such a huge conglomerate?
I’ve spent nine years at ViacomCBS and I honestly wouldn't change a thing! It has been a fantastic opportunity for development and growth. When you see others around you fuelled by their passion for their jobs you really don’t want to be part of the group of people who are uninspired! You spend so much time, effort, and frankly, tears pursuing professional development and ViacomCBS enables me to think creatively and feel like I really add value. ViacomCBS is a place where, if you’re a self-starter, the sky's the limit. If you have the ability to get on with people, have emotional intelligence, can use your initiative, know when to push and when not to push then you can really succeed. I've worked at a few places and ViacomCBS certainly stands out as an employer that provides a lot of opportunities to grow. They offer support via professional development and nurture an environment that encourages people to put their best foot forward and then be judged on the work.
How does ViacomCBS support their employees' growth? What are the learning and development opportunities?
There is a huge list of things we do to ensure our 20,000 employees can truly excel. Really it is about the individual, if the individual has identified a gap in their qualifications or something that would make them a better professional then they are fully supported by a line manager. We have lots of courses that our HR Teams have put together tailored towards professional development - no one size fits all as it depends on the individual's needs. One size fits all loses its authenticity and its relevance. We have to treat people individually to get the best out of them. If the employee is engaged, feels like they are progressing they are going to want to stay at the company and they will try hard and use these newfound skills which is a win-win situation for the individual and the organisation.
The power of networking
I had a fantastic upbringing, honestly the best parenting in the world but I didn’t have someone to discuss my career options with. I think it's really important to get an objective voice. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool and it can play tricks on you if you overthink something which can introduce elements of doubt - an absolute killer of ambition. Most people don’t try something new as they are scared of failing. I was given the opportunity to bounce some ideas off people who I respected professionally who owed me nothing but were prepared to speak candidly and advise me about my next steps. It is really important to put yourself out there. You can be the best DJ in the world, but if you’re just mixing tunes in your cupboard and no one hears them then no one is the wiser. Half the skill is about communication, raising your status, getting to know people, putting yourself out there a bit and that is how you can distinguish yourself from others.
In my role communication is everything. As a lawyer, you need to be able to take instructions and give advice. Clients need to be able to feel like they can talk to us as well as respect our opinion especially as they may not always want to hear it. But it's all connected which is why networking is crucial.
ViacomCBS, Diversity & Inclusion - what have ViacomCBS done well?
Our mission is to make a positive impact on the people and areas where we work and live, and we do so through many ongoing initiatives. We’ve won countless industry awards for pro-social action, and our initiatives lead to real results. We strive to foster a culture of inclusiveness, which holds leadership accountable for creating, developing, promoting, and championing a diverse, multicultural workforce where all employees can achieve and contribute to the company's success.
ViacomCBS has provided the conditions for us as employees to be authentic, to have honest conversations with each other and with the business in regards to representation, diversity, and things that we have identified that require improvement. We regularly ask ourselves - whose voice is missing here? That's quite unusual, in theory, every company should be providing this kind of environment, this setting in which you are able to come to work as your true self, you’re able to challenge the status quo if it doesn't feel right but not all companies actually do that. Unfortunately, a lot of it is talk.
For me, ViacomCBS does the walk as well. This is demonstrated by the way ViacomCBS has empowered its employees to bring to the table so many interesting initiatives that the company has then rolled out. Not just as a passing nice to have but it becomes the fabric of how we operate internationally. Making diversity central to so much of what we do. There is a recognition that we have a multidimensional audience and that has got to be reflected in our content, the way we operate, how we do business, how we engage with vendors, and if we identify that there is more to do than we are more than happy to have those conversations.
What initiatives have you implemented?
ViacomCBS has set up a creative task force and empowered employees to identify certain areas that needed another look in terms of gaps in diversity and how we operate. These task forces have been empowered with a real mandate to implement change - not just to talk about it. To come up with employee-led initiatives which, if approved by a steering committee, become policy. An example of this would be, no diversity - no commission. We are content producing heavyweight and we have clout, we recognise that we are in a position to influence in a positive way. We’ve got money to spend on production and will happily spend it. However, we will only engage with people and companies that can demonstrate that they have a diverse set of employees - both in front and behind the camera. What started off as just a UK project is now embedded in our international policy. Money talks and this has definitely made people sit up and pay attention.
The fact that this initiative was employee-led and is now part of ViacomCBS's international policy shows how responsive ViacomCBS are to employee recommendations. The past year has been rather turbulent - how has Viacom supported its employees throughout this pandemic?
What's been quite impressive is how adaptable ViacomCBS has been. From the outset the company ensured we had adequate desk space, the correct equipment, and access to additional mental health resources - it’s not been easy but it's a testament to how fantastic this organisation is and how incredible its employees are. Productivity hasn’t just fallen off a cliff - it’s increased which shows the type of employees we have. Furthermore, I am lucky to have an incredible team that I work alongside and I back them all the way as they are hard-working and talented. The good days definitely outweigh the bad days. I am blessed to find so much enjoyment in my job.
Regarding partnering with BYP and identifying gaps…
We understand that it's not just about race - it is also about social mobility. We recognise that we want the best talent and maybe we could be doing more as an organisation to attract diverse talent and maybe the best talent doesn't always come from the same places. Maybe it's healthy to get talent from other non-traditional sources. It's in our interest to have a broad set of voices from employees from all walks of life because that just means that the business gets our audience and gets the target market. We look like the audience, we sound like the audience and we understand what the audience wants.
That makes sense as to why you would partner with BYP Network as it is just another avenue to tap into these different voices, these different experiences, and add more colour to what is already a vibrant team!
Yes, primarily it's about talent! We are always looking for remarkable people to join us.
Give it a good think - it could be one of the best decisions of your life.