Erika Soto Lamb, a self-described “border girl” who grew up in El Paso and took her role as vice president of social impact for Comedy Central, Paramount Network, and TV Land in the past year, detailed how a brand could evolve to appeal to more diverse audiences.
“I work for a brand and a company that has experienced a lot of evolution and I'm really proud of that,” said Lamb. “I believe that representation matters in all of the sources of power, whether that is politics or entertainment.”
She cited Comedy Central’s selection of South African immigrant Trevor Noah to replace John Stewart on The Daily Show, as well as women-led Broad City and Hispanic-American led Alternatino as examples of how the network has pivoted away from its more constrained past.
Viacom has a strong legacy of diversity in programming and production. Its executives are required to go through inclusive leadership training, and executive compensation is tied to ability to create inclusive work environments. HBO parent company WarnerMedia was the first major studio to go public with a diversity and inclusion policy last September. Both companies have programs that usher under-represented talent into their first production roles (Viacom sponsors the Nick Writing and Nick Artists programs, and will begin recruiting the second candidate class for its Viewfinder directors program this month).
Jessica Leonardo, a first-generation Dominican and mother of two from The Bronx, recently left her job as a patient care technician to work as a production assistant on HBO’s Divorce, an opportunity she found after participating in Warner Bros.’ WB Access to Action program and HBO’s PA Training Program.
Such programs help those without connections in the media discover jobs they would have had little chance to find otherwise. Leonardo, for example, chose hospital work partly for the good union wages and partly because she couldn’t imagine how to get started in TV production.
“I do not know anybody in film or have any family or friends or the connection to know anything about the film world,” said Leonardo, who faced the additional obstacles of being a single teen mom and high school dropout.
Even for those who can find them, the internships and low-paying entry-level roles that are the traditional gateways into entertainment are not practical options for people whose families cannot financially support them while they move up the ranks.
Leonardo said she had to use food stamps to feed her children after leaving her hospital job. The pay cut, she said, has been worth it. She has achieved far greater personal satisfaction, she said, earning minimum wage and working more than 60 hours per week than she ever did as a nurse.
“I want to show that we are ambitious and we are dedicated,” Leonardo said, speaking of the Dominican-American community that she is part of. “Wait a minute. I don't want to work maintenance in the freaking Motel 6. I want that job over there.”
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