A longtime CBS exec, Smith-Anoa’i leads entertainment-focused diversity and inclusion efforts across the combined company on the West Coast. She played a pivotal role in helping establish ViacomCBS’ pledge to have at least 40% BIPOC representation in writers’ rooms from 2021, with the target raised to 50% by the 2022/2023 season. She’s won the NABJLA Award for Outstanding Service and the Los Angeles African-American Women’s Public Policy Award, and fully believes that actions speak louder than words. “One person can’t be ‘diverse’ and the power of one isn’t enough,” she says. “Stop with the excuses. Be deliberate about authentic change, no more aspirational hope. It’s been time.”
The conversation about racial injustice in 2020 has been… revisited, it’s not new. It has been draining, but also inspiring. We are starting to see change, but we must keep fighting & making GOOD TROUBLE!
In what ways can companies best show a sincere commitment to diversity and inclusion?
Actions speak louder than words. Often companies’ efforts can be perceived as performative because they talk about making changes as opposed to actually doing it and being deliberate and implementing new systems and structures to alleviate systemic barriers is the start. If you want to add more diversity, add more diversity. If you want to be more inclusive, be more inclusive. Invest in the lives and talent of people that have been historically marginalized.
What are some of the tough conversations this industry needs to have?
The industry needs to have the conversation on why it has taken this long in the first place, start there and go deeper into uncomfortable but valuable conversations. The industry needs to be more specific and careful with language. Too often, people from marginalized communities are seen as being a “risk,” which causes leaders to exclude them from consideration from jump. It is said, the only thing that separates talent is opportunity and I believe that to be true. We need to start asking questions such as “why not,” more often. Why can’t we cast someone with a disability for this role? Why can’t we ensure that our writers’ rooms are more inclusive? As I always say, one person can’t be “diverse” and the power of one isn’t enough. Stop with the excuses. Be deliberate about authentic change, no more aspirational hope. It’s been time.