We recently spoke to Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, EVP, Entertainment Diversity, Inclusion and Communications at CBS and posed a few questions.
The list of diversity initiatives you’ve implemented within the Entertainment Division of CBS is varied and multi-targeted. How have the external partnerships you’ve forged yielded changes within CBS?
Smith-Anoa’i: Diversity and Inclusion are ingrained in every department within CBS Entertainment – from casting, to production to development to marketing, to publicity and the Current Department. I’m very excited by the synergies that have been developed and how we’re all collectively working towards a common goal.
CBS On Tour has proved to be one of our most successful initiatives. We take CBS executives to colleges and universities across the country, first outlining what a career in entertainment entails, and then soliciting interns to work at CBS. What we want to offer is a window that allows the interns to see what they want to do, as well as what they don’t want to do. Our interns work in executive suites and learn the business from the inside out. Since implementing CBS On Tour five years ago we’ve seen a 40% increase in applicants of color, and of that number 23% have secured entry-level positions with us. It is entirely conceivable that one, or more, of our interns could be the next CBS executive, and I’m incredibly proud of each of them. What we are doing is offering these young people three things – access, exposure, and opportunities. My belief is that the internship should benefit the intern even more than the company.
Tell us about your work with Easter Seals and the Disability Film Challenge? How did that come about?
Smith-Anoa’i: Through the CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase, I met comedian and actor Nic Novicki. Nic is the founder and director of the annual Easter Seals’ Disability Film Challenge, and he encouraged our participation. Diversity and inclusion are many times focused solely on ethnicity and race, and performers with disabilities aren’t included in the conversation. Our partnership with the Disability Film Challenge exposed us to numerous performers in front of and behind the camera. CBS entertainment was recognized by the Ruderman Family Foundation as leaders in hiring and auditioning actors with disabilities. (In 2017, according to the Ruderman Family Report, CBS led in employment with 11 series and pilots having hired performers with disabilities).
How do you work with organizations like the Walter Kaitz Foundation to achieve your goals within CBS?
Smith-Anoa’i: The Walter Kaitz Foundation and CBS Entertainment share a common goal of promoting diversity and inclusion within our industries, and together our tentacles are far-reaching. WKF is a wonderful partner and, it is a decided benefit when two organizations work together to fight the good fight.
What words of wisdom would you like to share with them as they are preparing for their 35th Annual Dinner this October?
Smith-Anoa’i: The Kaitz Foundation has been a force within the telecommunications industry for nearly 40 years. Many think efforts around diversity and inclusion just popped up within the last 10 years or so, but Kaitz has been at this for a long time and they should be recognized and honored for the work they do.
Finally, are there any business principles you picked up from the sport of wrestling that apply in television? (Smith-Anoa’i’s husband is the CEO of Knokx Pro Entertainment, and hails from the infamous wrestling family, THE ANOA’i Family, a Samoan Dynasty.)
Smith-Anoa’i:I came home one day, after a very challenging day at work and defeatedly said: “No one cares.” I distinctly remember my husband standing calmly in the kitchen, eating an apple. He took a big bite, looked at me, and said “But you’re there, do something about it,” and he walked out. It was what we in the business call a ‘drop the mike’ moment. Wrestling is all about showmanship and being confident, and sometimes that’s what it takes to get the job done. I often walk into work with theme music in my mind to power me through the day, I learned that from my husband. What’s your theme