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Debra Lee Interviewed by Julia Boorstin | Upfront Summit 2020

Debra Lee
Founder at Leading Women Defined
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Upfront Summit 2020
January 30, 2020, Pasadena, CA, United States
Upfront Summit 2020
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Debra Lee Interviewed by Julia Boorstin | Upfront Summit 2020
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About speakers

Debra Lee
Founder at Leading Women Defined
Julia Boorstin
Senior Media & Entertainment Correspondent at CNBC

CNBC's Senior Media & Entertainment Reporter. I cover all things content, distribution, and advertising related. I also helm CNBC's Disruptor 50 coverage; we create an annual list of the most innovative, fast-growing private companies. A former New Yorker, I live in LA with my husband and two kids.

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About the talk

Topic: Business

Debra Lee (former CEO of BET, founder of Leading Women Defined) talks with CNBC's Julia Boorstin about building diversity on boards and in the C-suite. They cover topics including Debra's experience as the CEO of BET and on boards including Marriott, Revlon and Twitter; the importance and obligation of mentorship in building wealth and succession planning; how boards can hold leadership accountable for diversity; and whether she thinks there will be meaningful change as a result of the MeToo movement and organizations like TIME'S UP.

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Good morning, everyone. I'm Julia boorstin from CBC and it's so great to be back at The Apprentice Emmett, and I'm so happy to get a chance to interview Deborah Lee. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us this morning. I'm excited. Hi, everyone is running because he retired in 2018 suicide has served on a number of boards currently on the board of Marriott Burberry and AT&T AT&T board meeting tomorrow. Sorry for the down running board. The red line in Twitter is about how to get more women

and diversity into the c-suite particularly in the making media business. But first, I thought it would be viable as soon as it seems that her to explain what you been doing, since you have to be focusing on since you left bet this is a project you've been working on for 10 years leading women defined what And what are your goals they're leading women defined is a conference. I started this will be our 11th year. I started it when I was at bet and then when I step down from bet two years ago, I took it with me and I started it because I just had the feeling that women as they

moved up on the corporate ladder or moved higher in any industry that they needed continued support that it got lonelier cuz there were fewer women and I wanted to get the most powerful women of color. I knew together and talk about issues and you know, if there were calls to action that we wanted to make this was during the Obama Obama administration. So one of my goals was to support President Obama, but I said, let's get together once a year. I try to keep it under 200. So it's not I'm it's By Invitation Only but we talked about

everything from what's going on. In Haiti to getting out the vote to eldercare to financial planning and what happens if you have relatives that aren't as successful as you are, how do we raise our black boys last year? We had bethann Hardison who's in the fashion industry for my model interview Iman. So I try to pair up women that know each other and it's really turned into something magical the women really look forward to it every year. They nominate other women to come women. I don't know

ask if they can come so it's really my passion projects and it's turned into something much more important than I ever thought and a couple of businesses have come out of the conference. We're talkin about creating a fun for tech support women of color in Tech may be a Content fund. So we're talking about doing different things but the magic comes and getting the Successful women together for two-and-a-half days. Michelle Obama has been twice once when she was in the White House and she had such a good time. She said invite me when I get out of the White House Hillary

Clinton came on super Tuesday when she was running when we had it down in Miami, you know Maxwell has been I mean, it's a y. So, yeah, I would love that if you want to know of anyone let me know the previous panel touched on it. It's important to invest in women and people of color. What's interesting is if you look at the Fortune 500 list last year, there was a record number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 list and it was 33% less than 7% of the Theo's on the 2019 Fortune 500 list for female number of women of color is still

low. I think was one or two and The first black female CEO back on the lessons Ursula Burns what's striking to me about those numbers? Is that what you look in the number of women and and diversity and Leadership? It does not match with financial incentives statistically companies that have female CEOs female cfo's. They have better financial performance diversity on boards is statistically proven to generate higher returns companies sell on or go public faster. I don't know if they have a woman at the house. So

it seems like there is a Chasm that needs to be bridged between what the right thing is to do for business. And what's actually happening. Let's go back to your experience running bet the world changed a lot in your 13 years. Running that company and continue to change but what was your experience being a very rare female CEO of color running that company is it was I don't know how to describe it. It was it was interesting. I've been on boards for over 20 years. So before I was CEO of

bet I was CEO for 10 years. So I pretty much still running the company then Bob Johnson the founder was starting other Ventures and and doing things even though you still at the company. So I came from this kind of protected area. You know, we were off 95% African American company. So race wasn't on the table or didn't feel like it was on the table. So it's surprising to me when I first realized that being a female was an issue and that wasn't until I was appointed a t o o And all the

women and the company kept coming up in the hallways giving me high-fives and saying they never thought anything like that would happen and how proud they were of me. I got a lot of media attention. And so I knew there were fewer women Executives at bet than male Executives, but I never thought being a female was a hindrance to being a CEO. I never drive to be a CEO that wasn't in my game plan. I was General Counsel for 11 years. So I thought I was as high up at the company as I was going to go. So when I was appointed CEO, oh that was

a surprise, you know, I had a big learning curve to do in terms of business issues and areas, I didn't know about and then in the midst of all this fire, acquired Us in 2001, and I was still CEO at the time so all of a sudden I'm thrown into a bigger company and bet was just a division, but I think even more so as Viacom I started realizing that sometimes you're treated different as a woman. I mean as on board I'm on I could see that I remember being on the national cable television Association board, which you know, the Industry

Board, there are few women, but the men would come in at dinner and receptions and they talk to each other and the women were left to talk to the staff people. You know, we were never include it in the conversations the way men were and some of my boards were like that other ones are different where they know you as an individual they get to know your family what you're interested in. I know I love basketball, you know, so you feel more a part of a group. So it was a mixed bag, you know being in the music industry kind of even though I thought of myself

really in the cable TV industry music being in the music industry was a little tougher because I was given the icon music award by the recording Academy three years ago. I was the first woman in 15 years. And since I received the award there hasn't been another woman and I'm like, I cannot be the only woman of note in the music industry when I'm really not in the music industry ran a network that played music and so it's it's tough and we have to fight harder and you know, if

you have a family that's that throws another layer on to it cuz I cannot firmly believe no matter how equal a marriage is before you have children when she have children it shifts to the woman and if you're, you know a career woman and want to move up the corporate ladder gets harder. So, you know, I have a lot of views on it. I've seen a lot of women held back. I've seen boards deal with it in different deal with the issue. Different ways but I want to get back to your point that it's proven that the more diversity you have On the Border in a company

the better it does and you don't run the risk of having these horrible mistakes that some companies have made recently and I've seen boards grow from when I was the only woman or only person of color now, for example on the Marriott board. It's 50/50 and the board operates in a much more conservative faction and focus on the consumers you joined Revlon for you were replacing Martha Stewart bored and you were one of the companies benefit from having extra

growing diversity there only two of us and she mentioned Is Martha Stewart when she went off to serve her time and unusual circumstance? But anyway, and we had all these, you know older men sitting around the table talking about which lipstick colors they preferred and it was just like they would pass it around and they would all have opinions about it or the packaging or the feel and I was like, you know, it would really help his company. Is there more women in his room and put more

women on on the board? I think Ron perlman's daughter has taken over as CEO, but it and it doesn't only have to be companies that are targeted at women, you know, it's just the more opinions you have in the more diverse opinions you have of the better company runs and I've been at certain companies like Twitter where when I went on the boy. Or they were moving out the board members that have come on as BC. And when you see a company going through that transition, they're looking for board members with more experience in corporate governance

and you know management and all the things you want in a very mature company. So I think it's important we were talking about this earlier to one have more diversity in your industry. So there you have more women to pick from to put on board than the early stage. But then when companies get to a certain point in space that the company's fine board members and I we talked about how Goldman has just said that they won't take a company public unless there is a female on the board. I mean you shouldn't have to do that. But if we've been talking about this for

so long that I understand why they did it. I understand why California, so that's is California a lot which mandates Please have at least one female board member as of this year. And then three female board members in a number of years. Do you think these laws are good thing or are you concerned about their a good thing? Because the companies are going to do it. Otherwise we've been like I said, we've been talking about it for 30 years and for a company to have a board now with no women or no people of color. They should be truly embarrassed but there's still a lot

out there and I do a lot of speaking on the need for diversity on board and in teaching women, you know how to get on a board because a lot of women or people color don't even know where you start and that's one of the things we do at leading women defined kind of educate the women they are if you're interested in a board. This is what you do, but you know, it's sad to see that we have to implement either California or Goldman, but we really have to hold these companies feet to the fire. Involved in time's up particularly and the Focus right hand boards.

Well on X up when they have when the organization was first started they came up with 10 to 11 subgroups and one of the subgroups that I join was there a corporate board subgroup and they realize that it was important to have women on boards and that we were never going to have a quality unless you have women on board unless you have women in the c-suite. I mean all the issues that time's up was investigating the harassment the new no Revenge the retribution the in a women being harassed those

things can't happen. If you have women in decision-making rolls, you can't have a casting couch. If you have women in the c-suite at the studio that mean you can but it's less likely if men have all the power they can do whatever they want. So I think X up realize that they couldn't just focus on the executive ranks. They had to focus on the corporate boards, and the great thing is as and I think the prior panel mention is Jim Lowry. If you have diverse people on your board, they're going to hold you accountable. I'm not going to sit in a boardroom where I'm

the only black woman and not ask why they're on other black women or why they're on other people of color, you know several boards. I'm on the nominating committee at Twitter. I chair the nominating committee at Kodak I chair the nominating committee and I'm going to ask a question when a search firm provides a slate of candidates. You have to have diverse people on it. I didn't hire a search firm that was trying to get Twitter's business cuz I Told me there were no black male CEOs. I was like don't you know Ken Chenault don't you know Ken Frazier, you know, I

was made me people off the top of my head and then cuz I said to them, you know, I'm a black female. It'd be nice to have a black male on the board. So once you have one person in the room or a couple of people you can hold the company's feet to the fire, you know, when the issues come up you can make sure they're dealt with in a more equal way, you know, if it's a discrimination suit or harassment suit, you can ensure that those kind of things aren't swept under the rug. So boards are really important, you know board not only oversee, you know, strategy

and financials and all of that but they also oversee succession planning unit 1 questions. I asked on the boards all the time is you know, what did People coming behind the CEO look like Are there women are there people of color for some boards to actually color code, you know, they have charts and squares with who's coming up the rank like what you got to tell me who they are and what they look like so I can ensure that it's going to be a diverse group that's ready to take over you mentioned your

work with X that focus on board and it seems like you can't talk about CEOs in the media industry or diversity media industry without talking about the transformation that we've seen over the past several years with me too and time's up. I was thinking of the Harvey Weinstein trial going on right now is how the departure of Les moonves at CES Kevin tsujihara. And now I guess the question is do you think there's going to be meaningful change continue? I mean you seen some of these

men replaced by women. Do you know it's opened up more opportunity for an turn off at Warner Brother and Sarnoff and the woman who heads up CBS News who replaced a man? So you've seen some opportunities on the other hand. I've heard some men stay and it's really disturbing that. Okay well to the prevent this issue. I'm not going to hire any women, you know, I'm going to leave the door open when I have meetings with women. I don't want to be accused of inappropriate behavior, which I think is totally the wrong

answer and I really hope there's not that kind of pushed back as a result of this. I hope people boards and hiring committees and CEOs think more about it think more about diversity as they're thinking about succession planning. I was honored by the Advertising hall of fame maybe six months ago and I was very honored but I looked out at the audience and I looked at the other people being honored and it's still a white male industry and I challenge the CEOs in the leaders in that room had to take

someone of color or a woman, you know under under your as a mentor and not just a mentor to give them advice but a mentor to make sure they're they are a successful through the system to make sure they own Equity to make sure they end up as wealthy as you I mean, if you're not thinking in those terms if you're just making, you know, I need a woman in the room. I need a black person in room. That's not being a good Mentor that's not changing the playing field. You need people who have power not just

diversity officer is not just you know, 1hr you need people who have operating Authority can obtain stock options can be successful can be you know recruited by other companies you want it, you know, there's nothing wrong with having someone grow up at your company and having them go to another company and you know, it looks good for you. Yeah. Yeah. So I think they're still not enough of that thinking and corporate Suites men are afraid to Mentor women. They don't want to be alone with them and you can truly Mentor a woman

if you can't have dinner with her lunch with her in a public place. So what would your advice be for your hubby in terms of how mentorship changes or expands going forward? So it doesn't fall prey to those traps not kind of back. But it may be people are signed. So it's not just who you like over, you know someone else but it's got to be something that's up out in the open and people aren't afraid to have dinner with a female alone or you don't have it have a group of guys

and invite some women to the Rose Bowl to see if football game how about that? I love sports, you know, that was I never play golf but I always love basketball and football and so, you know a lot of the activities at bet or somewhere around sports events. So I made sure that the women were invited that it wasn't just an all-boy outing. So you saw it just takes more planning a man and you know, but people shouldn't shy away from it because you know, you can't be successful. If you're not part of the Inner Circle, it's funny that a

company I work at. We had a diversity Consulting come in and say well there it most companies there's an inner circle and it's usually white men then there's the Outer Circle which is some other white man, and then women and people of color the people in the Outer Circle have to work harder cuz they have to do their job, but they also have to prove that they can fit in with the Inner Circle. So they have to act a certain way or dress a certain way or you know, they may not be able to be themselves. And in that room. The question was asked how many of the women felt like they

were Outsiders and there were four five female Executives in their very high-level CFO general counsel. They all raise their hand. And nothing was ever done about it. They all raise their hand and said they felt like Outsiders that even though they have these very powerful positions that they felt like they weren't in the Inner Circle of decision-making and power at the company. What is the financial opportunity in changing that in breaking up the Inner Circle? So it's not so hot. Right? Well those of the

biggest financial success that comes out of that is, you know, hopefully getting higher positions getting higher salary getting more stock options or Equity or or being in the room when people decide to start another company, you know, knowing feces and and you know, thinking about starting your own company, they're not enough women who have done that you see more of that in the tech space and other areas, but we need more of that and in your not I feel confident confident enough to do that. Unless you have a

sound financial footing at the company you're at that's another great thing about boards as you get back up and an equity and you know, the company goes public if it's not public or visits stock goes up. It's a way of creating well, so I think it's all about wealth and Jim Lowry mention that in the black community creating wealth is sometimes seen as a bad word, you know, and women aren't used to that they're used to making enough and and not asking or rocking the boat and I love the fact that now women and men are

discussing their salaries that's has to be out in the open and women have to know their worth and not be afraid to ask for it because that's the only way you create wealth and none of us want a salary and then when we pass away, we don't leave our kids anything we wanted. Well, and that should be the norm with women and with people color we shouldn't be afraid of it. So we are the importance of transparency the importance of mentorship that inner circle and what it would be just in time any other last thoughts on either best practices. You've seen

it companies that have been able to expand their diversity or things that you you would like to see other companies do well one thing I would like to see and I think you started with this is have more female CEOs when I became CEO, I brought a different perspective to the position and sometimes I will always say that I used to hate to go to my own staff meeting cuz it was mostly men. There's a lot of testosterone in the room. They weren't necessarily supportive of me. I didn't have a lot of people I could trust in the beginning cuz I inherited a team but over time I

hired more women in ie Send out the room and I gave women more opportunities than they would have had under someone else. So I think the thing I would focus on the most is making sure there more female CEOs and creating a work environment where female CEOs can be successful, and that means some flexibility if they have kids or other interests and not making it so hard for women to break that glass ceiling. We need to break the glass ceiling. That is a perfect. Thank you.

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