“Exclusion by familiarity” here at FBE led to racism, sexism, and all the other “-isms” over the years. It was a hard pill to swallow. We needed change. Many problems stemmed from former leaders who are no longer with the company. But the problems in our company culture were deep and a leadership shift was not going to be enough. We had to change not only how we did things on every level, we needed to change ourselves so that we could be better as colleagues and as an organization.
In 2019 and early 2020 we had made some progress through our hiring practices and equity policies, but not enough to truly tear down the old company culture and rebuild it in a new and better way. We needed help. Not just a one-hour workshop but a thorough examination by people who specialize in helping companies grapple with systemic issues in their culture. These consultants could call us out on the things we couldn’t see ourselves. Call us on our Sh*t. We turned to Women of Color Unite (WOCU) and the real work began. It only made sense since two of the six women on our leadership team are original members of WOCU.
Women of Color Unite (WOCU) is a social action organization and full-service consultancy that works with entertainment businesses to make sure their content and teams are truly inclusive, reflective of the country, and the world. In addition to conducting an eye-opening content audit and employee survey, WOCU Founder, Cheryl Bedford personally embedded herself into the company day-to-day for over a month to really see and hear what was going on in order to diagnose the problems and then heal them.
Cheryl met with the entire leadership team for intense one-on-one and group sessions, starting with Marc, our CEO. Nothing was held back. Point blank we had/have problems with all the "-isms". It wasn't easy to hear, but it was necessary. Now we could get to work to DISMANTLE it.
All FBE employees participated in multiple mandatory training workshops - aka “WOC-shops” (pronounced “woke-shops”):
In addition to the company-wide training, a DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) Task Force made up of FBE staffers has been established to continue to build on the work initiated in the training sessions and hold us all accountable to create and maintain a more positive and inclusive company culture. This is not an after-hours club. This team is as much a part of our company as production and post.
Here’s where we are TODAY:
This was an organic fit for Women of Color Unite. Also, if they wanted WOCU as their DEI firm, they had to be committed to doing the work. I don’t hold back. Holding back and centering around white feelings has led to this moment in time in the US. We were encouraged by the millennials and gen-z that make up 80% of the company. In their employee audit, they wanted to do the work and have been every damn day.
-Cheryl L. Bedford
In over twenty years of doing this work to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy in schools, primarily as an advocate for Black students, I am clear that centering the comfort of White people does not lead to lasting change. In these sessions, I am confronting FBE Leadership and DEI Task Force members with hard truths and they are grappling with what it will mean to take actions that lead to tangible change for marginalized people.
-Dr. Akosua Lesesne
There's a legitimate opportunity to do meaningful work in an inclusive way now. We've had some difficult conversations as a company but everyone's stepping up and you can feel a shift. As an original WOCU member along with Donna (who brought me in to FBE), it's exciting to see the enthusiasm for change and inclusivity both internally and across the new content we're developing.
-Nneka, FBE Head of Development & Partnerships (also check out this awesome write-up in Deadline about joining FBE!)
I've been working at FBE for a little over 5+ years and so many changes have been implemented over time. Working with WOCU has been great and has helped open up difficult conversations that in the past wouldn't have been spoken about. It was a real eye-opener for many and we thank them for helping break down walls and paving the way for a much safer and a more comfortable work environment.
-Kristen, FBE Project Manager
Honestly all I can say is "wow." Working with WOCU has been exactly what we needed as a company. Our sessions are eye opening, honest, and challenging in significant ways. While we still have a long road ahead of us, I truly believe we have been brought closer together as a company through this process, which is vital to implementing the changes we so desperately need. I am so grateful for this experience to confront and work to evolve and transform both our personal beliefs and our company culture. Everyone should go through this. It will make you a better person
-Sierra, FBE Producer
Seeing FBE work with WOCU has revealed a lot of promise for the future of this company. The past few weeks have been eye opening, uncomfortable and encouraging. Change will only happen when organizations are aware of an issue, accept the faults and take action to heal. I'm cautious yet hopeful about the progress being made here.
-Joshua, FBE Casting Coordinator
Lots of work has been happening in tandem to this crucial work on ourselves. Our new mission statement - We are creatives on a mission to examine and celebrate global culture through colorful, fresh perspectives and honest human stories - is as much a rallying cry for us as it is a reminder to be reflective of society and not through our own lens.
We can’t speak to the experiences of others in the past and do not invalidate their feelings in any way. We can confidently say that we have been making great strides toward change and are committed to continuing to make impactful change - not just within our company culture, but also through the content we create. We want to make sure moving forward that no marginalized person - both at FBE and anywhere in the world - feels undervalued ever again.
To donate to WOCU: https://wocunite.com/donate/
More about our leaders from WOCU:
-The FBE team