Comcast's Dalila Wilson-Scott
(image courtesy of Comcast NBCUniversal)

Comcast NBCUniversal’s Dalila Wilson-Scott on Maintaining Employee Engagement, the Challenges of COVID-19, the Company’s Ongoing Commitment to Social Justice and More

Media & technology company Comcast NBCUniversal is working hard to further its commitment to diversity and inclusion. Already a DiversityInc Top 50 company (they ranked No. 7 in 2020 on our annual list of the country’s top companies for diversity), the company recently distributed the first round of RISE awards to more than 700 Black-owned small businesses across the country. The awards, which provide free consulting, media and creative production services designed to aid companies in their economic recovery following the impact of COVID-19, will help thousands of small businesses over the next three years.

On top of that, the company also recently promoted New York University alumna Dalila Wilson-Scott to executive vice president and chief diversity officer. Prior to her promotion, Wilson-Scott led the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation and directed Comcast’s community impact work — a role that she will maintain going forward. Under her leadership, Wilson-Scott spearheads the company’s charitable giving and philanthropic strategy, including its $100 million commitment to advance social justice and equality.

“Dalila is a fantastic leader and passionate advocate and supporter of our corporate social responsibility efforts, which have been at the heart of our company for decades,” Comcast NBCUniversal Chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts told The Philadelphia Tribune following her promotion. “In her new role, she will build on our strong foundation, partnering with leadership teams across our organization to continue to make our company and culture more inclusive, and to help us drive substantive change.”

Named one of the “Most Powerful Women in Cable” by Cablefax Magazine, one of the “Most Powerful Women in Business” by Black Enterprise and an “Innovative Rising Star: Building Communities” by Forbes, Wilson-Scott is perfectly suited for the important role she’s been given and has massive plans for the future. DiversityInc recently got a chance to speak with Wilson-Scott. Here’s a look at the conversation:

 

Congratulations on the new role! We hear you’re now taking on both philanthropy and diversity, equity, and inclusion for Comcast. That’s an incredible position. What are you finding similar at this point between the two roles and what is uniquely different about them?

Both of these lines of work are dependent on employees feeling like they have a stake in making an impact and that the goals of the company are ones that they understand and feel connected to. To that end, the success of either function is heavily dependent on how effective we are at embedding the values and strategy behind our work into the company’s culture. We must inspire employees to be champions for impact and work across functions and teams to build practical solutions and approaches to deliver on our goals.

 

Both philanthropy and DE&I weren’t always prominently positioned in corporations like they are today. How did you get started working in this space? 

I started my career in financial services at JPMorgan Chase, where I focused on evaluating new business initiatives and acquisition opportunities. After several years, I had the opportunity to join the global philanthropy team and to lead their foundation. It was exciting to strengthen the connection to the business and see how instrumental it was to how the company was run.

 

Is there anything you learned at that time that you still carry with you today?

My experience there shaped my belief that many layers of collaboration and a keen focus on equity should be at the core of any great strategy. That was key to several initiatives I was fortunate to launch, including JP Morgan’s commitment to inclusive economic growth in global cities; a fintech lab to support payment innovation; and a program that developed young men of color to become future leaders. These experiences and learnings are key to the initiatives I drive at Comcast today.

 

You’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot during your career and live in a number of cities. Are there any that hold a particular fondness for you?

I was fortunate to grow up in a few cities, but my heart will always go to where it all started on Chicago’s South Side, an economically struggling community but one where neighbors took care of each other. 

 

Your parents were also huge inspirations in your life. What did they teach you that you carry with you today?

My mother came to the U.S. from Vietnam. I was deeply influenced by her actions and the way she often sent money and goods back to her family there. She also helped other Vietnamese immigrants and invited them into our home. When I became acclimated with the field of philanthropy, I recognized the value of my mother’s service and the commitment to giving that it instilled in me. I also think of my father who fought in the Vietnam war while in the Air Force. He is no stranger to hard work and kept his head up as he worked his way through school. I owe him my gift of curiosity and love of learning.

 

What do you consider your mission while at work? What are you most looking to achieve?

Comcast has always been committed to giving back to the communities where our employees and customers live and work. As a company, we try to lead by example — most recently through our multi-year $100 million commitment to advance equality and fight injustice and by doubling down on our nearly 10-year commitment to digital equity. I’m extremely proud of the work we’re doing as a company, how we align our work with our values and how engaged our employees are.

 

Are there parts of your job that give you the most satisfaction at the end of the day?

Among the most rewarding parts of my work is how we are able to help people and families use technology to open more doors to opportunity because of our support — whether it’s a middle school student getting a laptop and having a safe space to participate in distance learning, or young adults learning a new digital skill that can help them advance in their careers. 

I am grateful to be at a company that can leverage its broad reach, via our platforms and programs, to make change happen on a large scale. But we still have a lot of work to do … and we need to do it together. The digital inequities that currently exist and the barriers to entry for low-income and people of color are too great for any person or company to address on their own.

 

In contrast, what are the biggest challenges you find yourself facing on a regular basis?

When you are working in a company like Comcast NBCUniversal, which is so expansive in the size and scope of our workforce, the challenge with any large-scale endeavor like this is making it stick for the long term with all employees. Fortunately, this company has been so wholly dedicated to DEI work for a decade now, and it gives me and my team a huge advantage in strategizing how to build upon this work moving forward. So, the question then is how we evaluate and evolve our current practices and step into the next frontier of DEI. 

To me, it centers on collaboration and cross-sector partnerships. We saw a surge of philanthropic giving to racial and social justice organizations and efforts [in 2020], following very public, brutal acts of violence against Black people and communities. The private sector saw the urgent need to step up and do more … but philanthropy is just one piece of the puzzle. 

To really move the needle and ensure our efforts are effective and sustainable, companies must work collaboratively to develop programs and initiatives beyond traditional funding. This requires cross-sector and public private partnerships to move forward. The progress we have made this year does not represent a moment, it’s a movement — and none of us can do it alone. Corporations have a significant role to play in advancing equity. As thousands transitioned to remote work and school, we saw an opportunity to redouble our long-standing commitment to digital equity to support communities in need. 

 

2020 was a year like no other. How has COVID-19 impacted you and how is it impacting your work at Comcast?

So much of the work we do relies on people being able to connect with each other and their communities; because of that, COVID-19 has impacted our DEI work as much as any other part of our business. But, again, this is where I’ll point to the value of having years of DEI infrastructure in place and best practices engrained in our culture. 

I’ve never seen an employee base pivot in response to a crisis so quickly and effectively as we did at Comcast. We wanted to ensure our goals were not only met but exceeded. 

Employees stepped up to create and execute virtual volunteer events and campaigns, and we’ve been able to collect a great deal of valuable information from those employees on organizations and causes they would like to see the company help them support, either through financial opportunities or sponsored volunteer engagements. 

The shift to virtual has increased the number of people we’ve been able to reach with our learning and development opportunities. This resulted in the expansion of a learning and development platform that builds greater awareness of racism and violence against Black, Indigenous, people of color and other communities that experience discrimination. 

We also have launched a curated collection of resources that are located across multiple intranet platforms. The resources help employees and leaders explore:

  • Personal identity development: How individuals’ unique characteristics, values and dimensions of diversity inform their relationship to themselves, others and leadership
  • Unconscious bias: How individuals can identify, recognize and then proactively and consistently mitigate unconscious biases that impact their ability to interact with and build trust and relationships with others 
  • Build empathetic cultural competence with others: How individuals can cultivate the ability to communicate, interact, work and lead across multiple lines of difference with respect, compassion and humility

 

What is your strategy in managing employee engagement and volunteerism? How do you work to keep your employees active and engaged in their communities? And how has that changed with so many people working remotely or working from home?

Our values as a company and the incredible generosity of our employees drive us to strengthen our communities every day. When COVID-19 hit and we transitioned to remote work for many employees across the country, it accelerated our efforts underway to move to a year-round strategy of employee engagement and more skills-based volunteerism.

At the beginning of the year, we launched a platform where employees could donate to their favorite charities through our Matching Gift Program, as well as to find and track volunteer opportunities. We also worked hard to set up virtual volunteer opportunities to meet immediate needs with several of our nonprofit partners, in addition to our employees already engaging through nonprofit board service and ERG-led and department-led activities and programs.

At the same time, we recognize that our employees are uniquely qualified to help in areas that nonprofits require and don’t have the resources. These skills-based opportunities can range from finding a better way to use data for fundraising to assessing a nonprofit’s technology landscape. For example: We are teaming up with Taproot Plus to launch a new offering for employees to lend their skills virtually through a skills-based marketplace.

 

You’re leading Comcast’s $100 million commitment to advancing social justice. Can you describe your efforts there? What kinds of changes is the company hoping to bring about?

It was important for us to build a governance framework around this commitment that allowed us to build upon the solid DEI infrastructure we’ve established over the past decade. While as a media and technology company we have some significant advantages in ensuring this reaffirmation of our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity is executed well, we knew we had to be thoughtful, open to new ideas and needed to enter this moment with compassion. 

What resulted was a structure with five focus areas that aligned with our company’s strengths as a business and as a corporate citizen: social justice; employees; media, education and awareness; digital equity; and small business. Each of these focus areas have a dedicated workstream staffed with top leaders across the company who are charged with building out plans that ladder up to the vision set by our executive steering committee.

Digital equity is also an area that we’ve been able to lean in on for the last several years, and now we are expanding this vision even further. Our criterion includes identifying BIPOC-led organizations and measuring their impact on BIPOC communities, especially with regard to economic mobility. We apply a similar lens to each area of the commitment and are focused on delivering results. Internally, we are assessing our current data and trends to determine the best and most sustainable path forward to drive the positive behaviors that will develop an equitable culture. 

 

How do you see Comcast’s diversity efforts — both those that are currently in place and the initiatives you hope to start — driving business for the company? 

Historically, we have proof points on how smart DEI strategies lead to success in the business. This isn’t a tough sell for our C-suite.

We’ve built a supplier diversity network with more than 3,400 diverse companies and have invested tens of billions of dollars with those companies over the years, but now we are taking that lens of equity to examine how to leverage our strengths to drive sustainable change. 

An immediate example of that is Comcast RISE, which launched in fall 2020 following some of the initial strategy work in the small business pillar of our $100 million commitment. Comcast RISE was borne out of the visible impact we saw on BIPOC-owned small businesses both from the pandemic and the social unrest in many cities. Through a simple application process, eligible businesses can receive one of the following marketing and technology services from Effectv (the advertising sales division of Comcast) and through Comcast Business (a leading provider of technology for businesses of all sizes):

  • Consulting: Advertising and marketing consultation with local Effectv marketing, research and creative teams to gain insights on how to grow their business.
  • Media: Access to TV advertising time, over a 90-day period.
  • Creative Production: Turnkey production of a 30-second TV commercial, plus a media strategy consultation and 90-day media placement schedule. 
  • Technology: Computer equipment and internet, voice and cybersecurity services for 12 months.

In addition, as the latest extension of Comcast RISE, we recently announced the Investment Fund, providing $5 million worth of grants to hundreds of BIPOC-owned small businesses. Eligible businesses in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Philadelphia specified areas can apply and a total of 100 grants will be awarded per city in May 2021.

This program is an example of our core strategy to align our company’s skills with core areas where we can have the most impact. With RISE, we think we will make an impact on the economic mobility small businesses can create for the communities they serve. 

 

What other projects do you have in the works, both short-term through the end of the year and longer term throughout 2021? Looking even more broadly out, what are you thinking about or what would you like to help bring about in the future, five or even 10 years from now?

I truly believe that the focus areas that are outlined in our commitment serve as a testament to the diligent work we’ve done in the past decade and our dedication to building beyond this foundation. The collective leadership across the company that are driving this commitment propels our ability to show tangible progress as we hit future milestones.

There’s been plenty of talk about this “moment” we’re in — the goal now is to look beyond this moment to ensure our plans and actions will carry us well beyond 2020 and for years to come. The key to this is mobilizing the energy of people who previously were either ambiguous or disengaged with DEI. Measuring progress and sharing data points regularly, as well as cultivating solutions to improve representation, retention, career progression and culture for our employees is imperative. It reminds employees of the overall goals and the work still required from all of us to meet them. 

I have much hope for what will emerge in a year or two from now, but as far as what I can control in our company, my hope is that the employee and leader engagement we saw in 2020 remains steadfast as we move forward.  

We need to challenge and question the unacceptable and place our energy into creating the future we aspire to, not just simply sit back and wait for it to improve with no targeted intervention. History has proven that that clearly doesn’t work. I look forward to our evolution and the sustained impact that begins with our commitment.

 

For more from Wilson-Scott, follow her on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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