Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Crystal Barnes: Driving Paramount's CSR & ESG Innovation


Crystal Barnes, EVP of Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) at Paramount, thrives on innovating and creating new initiatives. Throughout her career, she sought out roles that didn't exist before. Joining Paramount in 2019, her focus was on expanding the company's CSR strategy and continuing its support for underrepresented communities. In 2020, she established the Paramount ESG team, and the following year, she played a pivotal role in extending the company-wide BET's Content for Change initiative, leveraging data-driven insights to transform Paramount's creative ecosystem.
Recently, Paramount partnered with Salesforce to develop the Paramount Production Diversity Measurement Infrastructure, a platform that enhances the Content for Change initiative by monitoring the diversity and gender representation of production suppliers. This platform aims to redefine how the industry tracks diversity and ensures representation across all aspects of content creation.
Speaking about her journey and the evolution of CSR and ESG at Paramount, Crystal Barnes shared that when she took on the role, she recognized the importance of leveraging the company's superpower. This involved refining their strategy for community partnerships and philanthropy, strengthening key relationships, and building new ones in areas relevant to their industry, audiences, communities, and brands. Paramount's unique position of reaching audiences spanning generations allows them to foster multi-generational dialogue on important topics like diversity, civic engagement, and mental health.
With Content for Change as their current focus, Barnes emphasized the significance of infusing diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and mindsets into the content creation process. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all of their creations are viewed through a Content For Change lens, reflecting their commitment to making a positive impact on society. This achievement marks where she aimed to be when she first assumed her role at Paramount.

How does Content for Change align with your vision for Paramount's future and the industry?

CB: Content for Change embodies the potential we see for the future. It builds upon the excellent work of our Office of Global Inclusion and focuses on recognizing the role of media in shaping our society today. We are open about our journey of growth and actively assess our progress.
Our ultimate aim is to integrate diversity, in all its forms, into the very essence of our identity and the success of our business. Diversity is part of our culture, expected by our talent when they join us, and reflected in our events and visual representation. It should also extend to our suppliers, so that any partnership with Paramount demands a shared commitment to progress in this area. Content for Change represents a comprehensive approach to bringing about change, acknowledging that it will take time and determination. However, I firmly believe that we are on a path to achieve accelerated progress.

Can you provide more insights into the partnership between Paramount and Salesforce?
CB: We identified a lack of a centralized database or system for tracking diversity numbers within our productions, which surprised me. While Paramount could track diversity figures for its full-time employees on the corporate side, it was much more challenging to do the same for productions involving third-party staff like crew, makeup artists, extras, and vendors. Various departments were using spreadsheets, documents, and decks to record this data, and we found that other companies faced similar issues.
To address this, Tanmay Manohar, VP of people analytics and workforce planning, and his team leveraged a Salesforce infrastructure previously customized for CBS. They expanded it to accommodate DE&I production data across all of our brands. We've already begun using it for some of our TV projects, and our plan is to implement it across all our domestic television productions.
This partnership with Salesforce reinforces our commitment to making data-driven decisions regarding our content and its creation. Our Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Marva Smalls, often emphasizes the importance of measuring what matters, and this collaboration exemplifies our dedication to standardizing data collection from productions across the industry.

What insights are emerging from the research aspect of Content for Change?
CB: Content for Change comprises two research streams. First, our research collaboration with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative focuses on representation. We conducted a thorough evaluation of our programming to understand our current standing, though it is a sample, it serves as a solid starting point.
The second stream involves research with Stanford SPARQ, examining portrayals in our content. We aim to assess how our representation aligns with character portrayals on screen. If diverse roles are presented stereotypically, it can have significant consequences. This is where I feel particularly enthused, as we are genuinely taking a different approach. Our focus isn't solely on adding more diverse faces on screen; it goes deeper, analyzing the speaking roles of characters and how they are positioned and represented within storylines. We are taking responsibility for the narratives we convey, making Content for Change exceptionally impactful in this regard.

What aspect of your work do you find the most impactful?
CB: The real-world application of our work is what resonates with me the most. Our team strives to inspire and connect our employees with the purpose of our company. It's essential for people to feel that their work matters, and we help bring that to life through various initiatives, such as our annual global day of service in our CSR programs. Even during the challenging times of the pandemic, the feedback we received from people who wanted our Community Day to continue was heartwarming. It served as a unifier, fostering connections when they were most needed and spreading love and care to communities. The humanity of these efforts fuels me, and I'm deeply moved by the fact that we get to make a positive impact every single day. It's a fulfilling journey and a dream come true.

How has Paramount evolved in the ESG space?
CB: The ESG team at Paramount is filled with exceptional individuals who have built an ESG strategy and external reporting structure from the ground up. When I joined Paramount, there was already foundational sustainability work taking place across teams, particularly on our Paramount Pictures lot, but there was an opportunity to establish an ESG team and implement sustainability practices globally. We examined existing efforts, acknowledged the valuable work that had been done, formulated a strategy, and started public reporting on ESG. Transparency and public reporting on ESG have become increasingly crucial for companies, and we published our first ESG report in 2020, outlining our environmental sustainability goals and piloting greenhouse gas emission targets in the UK. Our ESG team has set up a robust infrastructure in collaboration with partners throughout the company. Paramount's board and CEO Bob Bakish have entrusted us to be leaders in ESG for the media and entertainment industry, and we are diligently defining what that means for our company and sharing that story externally.

Let's delve into your career journey. What was your first full-time role?
CB: I began my career at Nielsen as part of a rotational program that exposed me to various roles in New York, L.A., Tampa, and Chicago. At that time, management rotation programs were just starting to gain traction, and our cohort was the first at Nielsen in quite a while. Interestingly, the program's diversity resembled "The Real World" – six of us, three men and three women, from different backgrounds, but all with connections to media, entertainment, or data insights and research.

How did that experience lead you into the realm of CSR?
CB: During my time at Nielsen, I collaborated with a friend and colleague to create Nielsen Cares, a program focused on leveraging data, research, and analytics to assist non-profits in accelerating their impact. One remarkable example was during the Ebola crisis when surveyors faced dangers on the ground. Nielsen data scientists and researchers stepped in to use mobile data and technology to collect critical information remotely, sparing lives. Witnessing how data and research from a media company could save lives was transformative. Our mission of "Data for Good" made a profound connection for the company and sparked my passion for CSR.

What motivated you to join Paramount?
CB: I was drawn to join Paramount because I sought a company with the resources and history to accomplish great things while also offering an opportunity to innovate and create new initiatives. I find immense fulfillment in creating and building new projects.
During the interview process with Julia Phelps, Paramount's chief communications and corporate marketing officer, I expressed my authentic self, emphasizing my need for a supportive environment that allows me the flexibility to develop and innovate. She fully embraced this approach, making me realize that Paramount was a perfect fit for me to leverage my strengths and use my superpower for the greater good.

Q: What qualities do you seek in potential hires?
CB: When considering potential hires, I look for effective communication skills, a willingness to take on challenges and seize opportunities, as well as the ability to be self-sufficient. Additionally, being able to sell ideas is crucial, as many ESG-related topics are new to most people and can be highly politicized. Building trust in one's thinking and process is essential since ESG requires a collaborative effort to succeed.
Q: What currently captivates your interest?
CB: Boxing has become my current obsession. I discovered the profound impact that George Floyd's murder had on my mental health, both personally and professionally, as a mother and a black woman in corporate America. Boxing became my outlet, allowing me to release tension and channel emotions while training with my dedicated instructor.
Q: If you were not in the entertainment industry, what career path would you choose and why?
CB: If not in the entertainment industry, I would pursue a career assisting entertainers and athletes in establishing credible foundations aligned with their passions. I have a strong belief that even after retirement, I would continue doing this pro-bono, as small adjustments can personalize their work and elevate their philanthropic endeavors to the next level.