Tonya Cornelius

Cornelius is throwing doors open for people of diverse backgrounds to join and be elevated at ESPN. Her recent actions as advisor to senior management on DEI efforts have driven ESPN as a whole to form strong bonds with HBCUs and expand programs that increase diversity across the company. She launched the MORE Program in August 2019, a one-year mentorship meant to increase opportunity, readiness and exposure for a diverse group of next-generation leaders across ESPN divisions, functions and locations. She also hasn’t waited for formal invitations to start helping colleagues. For nearly two years, she and other Black senior leaders at ESPN identified emerging and mid-level Black leaders and provided them with informal and formal mentorship/sponsorship. “The pandemic and social injustice have awakened more people to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and that has led to significant progress. The question is will the efforts be sustained,” she says, adding that she sees positive signs such as greater transparency of organizations’ diversity data and increased investment in DEI staff and programs.

 

Do you think there has been significant progress on DEI in the industry in the past year?
Yes. The pandemic and social injustice have awakened more people to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and that has led to significant progress. The question is will the efforts be sustained. There are promising signs – greater transparency of organizations’ diversity data; positive activism among employee resource groups; increased investment in DEI staff and programs; more diverse and inclusive storytelling; and recruitment/promotion of women and people of color in key decision-making roles. Leader accountability, equitable HR/organizational practices, and social responsibility are three areas where the industry should continue to focus.

Best initiative to come out of one of your company’s Employee Resource Groups?
ESPN has nine employee resource groups and four affinity groups. Over 2000 employees participate in one or more of the ERGs. These groups represent the various dimensions of diversity, including race/ethnicity, gender, veterans, disabilities, mental wellbeing, emerging leaders, and families. The ERGs are integral to the company’s employee recruitment, engagement, development, and retention efforts. During this time of the pandemic, our ERGs have led over 70 Inclusive Conversations, creating a safe-space for employees to share their concerns and ideas for change. They were also instrumental in helping the company launch its newest mentoring initiative – Mentoring Circles – which allows employees to receive mentoring from a leader and 3-4 peers. Nearly 300 employees are actively participating in the first rollout of the Circles.

My best advice for fostering open, honest communication…
The best advice for fostering open, honest communication is first to set the intention for it. We have to want open and honest dialogue. The way to demonstrate the intention is to be curious, have an open-mind, listen deeply, inquire more and tell less, and seek first to understand.

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