Chief Executive or Diversity Chief? Nielsen’s CEO Is Both.


Nielsen Holdings

NLSN 0.44%.

PLC’s diversity manager retired after 12 years and the business started looking for new employees.

His new director,

David Kenney

– at this stage of high office for just a few months- has raised his hand.

Mr. Kenney won the extra title in February 2019. Fifteen months later, the murder of George Floyd by police led to massive protests and a national debate on race. Since then, leaders from all sectors have promised to do more to promote racial equality in the workplace.

Kenney, 59 years old, who won his title of Head of Diversity last year, puts his reputation on the line. Mr. Kenney, who is white, said he wants the racial representation in the workplace to get the attention it deserves. You get a big mic when you become CEO, he said.

Diversity is at the heart of Nielsen’s trade mission, he said. As a company that quantifies how people buy and consume television and other media, its destiny is tied to helping marketers understand different demographics.

After starting his second role, Mr. Kenney gained a thorough understanding of the challenges and complexity involved in building a culture of inclusion for both junior and senior staff. Some employees also asked him if he was the right person for the position of Diversity Manager.

Some analysts also wonder if a CEO facing a range of business challenges shouldn’t juggle these two roles. Is it really him who plays and leads, or is it up to others? says Douglas Arthur, Managing Director and Analyst at Huber Research Partners.

Kenney estimates that he spends about 10-15% of his time on tasks related to his primary diversity function.

Nielsen, known for its television results, has struggled in recent years to keep pace with the rapidly changing consumer environment and the desire of marketers to understand audiences at a more granular level. His shares are 26% lower than when Mr. Kenney joined the company.

International Business Machines Corp.

as CEO in December 2018, despite the fact that Nielsen has exceeded analysts’ earnings expectations over the past quarters.

Kenney says he has regular meetings with diversity leaders, but he relies on others to help him achieve his priorities, including Sandra Sims-Williams, a former colleague and head of diversity at Publicis Group, who is now senior vice president of diversity and inclusion at Nielsen. There’s a team that supports me, he says.

Nielsen has already compiled a series of lists of the best jobs for diversity. The New York-based company of 46,000 employees has 11 career support networks for women, minorities, employees with disabilities and other groups from similar backgrounds, representing approximately 16% of the company’s global workforce. A Minority Leadership Development Program was established in 2013 and since 2017, persons with a minority background must be on the roster for every position in the United States.

Nevertheless, some current and former employees say that racial problems have stabilised. Last year, shortly after Kenney took over as head of diversity management, a white senior executive indignantly called a subordinate black woman a slave at a company meeting, according to these employees. The Executive Director then called a number of black employees present to apologize. Nielsen and Mr. Kenney refused to comment on the matter.

During a job interview Kenney conducted around the same time, members of Nielsen’s Black Employee Resource Group met him and expressed concern about what they see as racial differences in pay and promotion rates, according to a person who attended the meeting. In June, Chicago Vice President Cheryl Grace sent a letter to Mr. Kenney in which she made slavish remarks and expressed concern that black leaders like her were not being promoted and were afraid to speak out. Mrs. Grace, who worked at Nielsen for 16 years, sued the company this fall for discrimination. In her complaint, she stated that Mr Kenney had initially responded promptly to her letter and that he would contact her personally for follow-up, which he never did.


How can this affect the CEO’s performance if he or she takes on a second management role? Take part in the discussion below.

Mrs Grace stated that he could not comment on the specific details of Mrs Grace’s allegations, referring to the ongoing court cases, but that he took these concerns seriously. I strive to run a company where every employee is always heard and respected, he said.

Mr Nielsen added that he examines issues of unfair treatment and raises all compensation issues using internal and external benchmarks. The company stated that it found no evidence of racial differences in wages.

Schnell Blanton, the black coach from Arlington, Texas, said she was skeptical that Kenney would be the diversity leader. How will he know what I’ve been through as a black woman, she remembers thinking.

The changes in leadership since then have helped convince them that Mr. Kenney takes this work seriously. Of Mr Kenney’s eight direct reports, three are from ethnic minorities and four are from women. Before he became CEO, among Nielsen’s ten executives were two women and one man from South Asia, the only ethnic minority in the group.

Mr. Kenney has held executives more directly responsible for promoting diversity in the workplace and plans to link part of the company’s management bonuses to their work on diversity and inclusion. According to Kenney, managers are evaluated based on criteria such as mentoring of various employees and data from staff surveys that reflect the culture of their team. Approximately 20 percent of the top 500 U.S. listed companies also list a growing number of criteria that can help determine executive bonuses, according to Equilar, a firm that researches company data.

Kenney said that in his second role he learned a lot about his staff and the challenges they face. According to Nielsen’s data for 2019, 37% of the workforce in the United States is ethnically diverse. Kenney notes that much of this diversity is concentrated in his frontline staff, many of whom work in the field or in call centers. They sometimes meet racist people, he said, and added that he wanted to create forums for employees to discuss these experiences with their colleagues and superiors. The company says it is also encouraging more frontline employees to join the raw material groups and is planning initiatives to help them explore other career paths within the company.

Ronjan Sikdar, senior vice president of media analysis in Nielsen, said he was used to hearing about diversity, but rarely saw it in practice. This changed in 2012, when he moved to the business unit founded by

Kartik Rao,

American Indian, who worked under Mr. Kenney, was promoted to Chief Operating Officer.

In talks with his current director, Mr. Sikdar said that promoting diversity was one of his main objectives. David’s indictment gave us the green light to say these things, he said.

Email Te-Pin Chen at [email protected].

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