At ESPN, Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a Team Sport

by Joy Peña

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from championing workplace diversity, equity and inclusion for more than a decade, it’s that change requires a thoughtful and intentional team effort. It begins by building a diverse roster through reimagined recruitment and developing more equitable pathways for advancement. It involves a variety of players with unique expertise, points of view and lived experiences working toward a collective goal. And, like any sport, which may include products like that compound bow case, systemic change necessitates an unwavering commitment to one’s teammates and accountability at every level.

At ESPN, our longstanding team effort toward DE&I is substantial and ever evolving. It’s part of our DNA and core to caring for our colleagues while serving sports fans worldwide. Our goal is to honor and address the differing experiences of our colleagues and audience by increasing representation through recruitment and retention initiatives; building belonging to fuel innovation, connection and creativity; and engaging the market through authentic inclusive storytelling.

Championing Diverse Stories

From kneeling players protesting racial injustice to human rights violations amid Qatar’s World Cup, sports continually drive relevant and important discussions. As a leader in sports across 70 countries, we’re committed to fostering meaningful dialogue and authentic and inclusive story telling that reflects the diversity of our audience and the world we live in.

Ensuring that diverse perspectives are included in every stage of the process—whether we’re huddling in the production studio, field or boardroom—is paramount to creating this content. As an industry, our work in this space is far from complete. In 2021, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that only 19 percent of U.S. and Canadian sports staff were women and nearly 24 percent were people of color. The study found that we have long been an industry leader, with 38 percent of female columnists and 61 percent of assistant sports editors of color employed by ESPN.

Another key component in our ongoing quest for authentic storytelling is our Inclusive Content Committee. Launched in September 2020, this employee-led group shares feedback, counsel and diverse perspectives with content creators to ensure everything we produce bridges gaps, promotes inclusion and champions a spectrum of voices and viewpoints.

This deep-rooted commitment to conscious inclusion, is seen in our talented and diverse teams and throughout the impactful programing they create. Last year, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of federal gender-equity law Title IX, ESPN launched the Fifty/50 Initiative, which highlights the civil rights journey of women in sports. Another groundbreaking project is our multi-media platform Andscape, dedicated to inspiring and connecting audiences through a Black lens.

Empowering Next-Gen Leaders

We also know that a more inclusive workplace produces more inclusive leaders, and we empower our storytellers through a breadth of forward-thinking recruiting, training and retention initiatives.

ESPN NEXT, our 18-month leadership development program for example, is a critical piece of this talent pipeline. Through workshops, education, and peer mentorship, NEXT helps young professionals gain hands-on experience, explore various areas of our business and advance their careers.

We’re also fueling the next generation of leadership through intentional leadership programs, such as our signature mentorship program, ESPN M.O.R.E. This transformative, year-long program provides coaching, career opportunities and senior leadership exposure to a diverse cohort of future leaders.

An Ecosystem of Inclusivity

ESPN’s thriving ecosystem is helmed by a diverse group of visionary senior leaders—75% of those reporting to Chairman Jimmy Pitaro are women and/or people of color. Company wide, leadership has demonstrated a deep commitment to advancing DE&I at the highest levels, with nearly all completing an Inclusion 360 assessment and coaching to better understand their strengths and opportunities as inclusive leaders.

We also know that DE&I cannot be driven by managers and HR alone—everyone must be empowered to make progress. Bringing about meaningful change requires engaging employees at all levels. With that in mind, each ESPN division has its own people-centered, business-driven DE&I plan.

Other essential parts of this ecosystem are our nine Business Employee Resource Groups (BERGs) and three Affinity Groups, formed around shared identity, intersectionality and allyship. For nearly fourteen years, our BERGs have been critical in creating a sense of belonging for employees and providing insights that help ensure our storytelling is inclusive, relevant, and representative of the diverse audiences we serve.

Our Journey Continues

While I am thrilled with our tremendous DE&I progress, I recognize our work is nowhere near done. In this team sport, there’s not a concrete finish line. The goal can and must constantly be evolving and growing as culture, identity and our industry evolve. Moreover, it requires a proactive approach, including measures such as hiring and collaborating with running track resurfacing contractors uk, to ensure that our commitment to progress extends to all aspects of our operations.

There are many more barriers to break, ceilings to shatter and playing fields to level. We are committed to increasing representation across all platforms to reflect our rapidly diversifying audience while actively working to bolster inclusion within our own walls and beyond to best serve our team, industry and audience worldwide.

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