WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar Tells Employees Racism Is a ‘Problem’ for Company

WarnerMedia compiled a panel to remotely address employees about issues related to race Thursday

Jason Kilar
Photo credit: WarnerMedia

In a panel on racism broadcast to WarnerMedia staff Thursday and obtained by TheWrap, CEO Jason Kilar admitted to his employees that racism is “a problem” for their company that he is committed to change. Later Thursday, the company outlined its plans to donate money and implement further changes.

“The observation I wanted to share was that we’ve got a problem. This isn’t just a problem in society or in the United States of America. We’ve got a problem at WarnerMedia, as well,” he said, repeatedly thanking those who had written to him over the weekend to share their experiences at the company.

In a company-wide email sent Saturday and reviewed by TheWrap, Kilar wrote he was “horrified by what has happened in our country recently as it relates to the treatment of the Black community.” He shared links to articles and speeches that addressed American racism and vowed to listen to employees of color as well as “lead with empathy and action in this moment.”

During Thursday’s event, Kilar went on to share three sentiments “very common” in the emails he received from employees, which he said he read multiple times: “I heard that people — whether they’d been at WarnerMedia for one year or 20 years — that in many ways they had never felt truly seen or heard. And it breaks my heart when I hear that. I know it to be true but yet it also breaks my heart.”

Kilar has only been with WarnerMedia for a little over a month, taking over as CEO on May 1. Since AT&T acquired what was then Time Warner, much of the leadership structure has undergone an overhaul. Last year, longtime heads of HBO (Richard Plepler) and Turner (David Levy) departed, while Bob Greenblatt was brought in to oversee WarnerMedia’s entertainment business, and Ann Sarnoff took over for Kevin Tsujihara as head of Warner Bros.

HBO Max chief content officer Kevin Reilly and CNN head Jeff Zucker are among the longest-tenured upper-level executives within the content side of the company. Reilly came aboard in 2014 to run Turner networks TBS and TNT, while Zucker has led CNN since 2013.

The second common sentiment expressed to Kilar, he said, was that Black WarnerMedia team members do their jobs every day with fear for their husbands and sons.

“I don’t know what that feeling is like. I don’t fear for the safety of my wife and my daughters and my son and I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to wake up every day and have fear for your spouse or your children in the world that you live,” Kilar admitted.

He went on to point out the final thing he took from the correspondence he received: “Their children cringe with anxiety when they leave the house to go to work at WarnerMedia and it’s bad enough that this impacts adults but the fact that this impacts children is something that we should never, ever allow.”

“We’ve got a problem and we need to take action,” he said, advising employees that WarnerMedia is “in the process of putting together a plan” to do that.

Thursday’s panel — accessible to employees from all WarnerMedia properties like CNN, Cartoon Network and TNT — featured Dr. Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” CNN political commentator Van Jones and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.

As for Kilar’s commitment to listening and change, by the conclusion of the panel, at least one staffer was moved. A Twitter user named Adrienne Ford sang its praises, writing, “Just got off a company wide townhall at @WarnerMedia where leaders and fellow employees discussed race. I AM FLOORED that a company and its leaders devoted SO MUCH to this cause and the ONGOING initiatives announced. THIS matters. I’ve never been so grateful to work for a company.”

On Twitter later in the day, WarnerMedia announced its plans to combat the societal issues addressed in the staff call, noting that like other companies, it already donates to social-justice oriented organizations, but “money is only a part of the solution.”

“So, in addition to our ongoing financial support, we are providing these organizations with access to our platforms to tell and amplify their message. To start, we’re giving dedicated on-air inventory to Color Of Change and NAACP LDF. Others will be added in the weeks to come,” wrote the company after a review of the day’s panel.

“We are taking an additional step to help more Black and other underrepresented creators break through by expanding our content innovation program OneFifty with an additional $500k to seed issue-focused creative ideas from communities who often go unheard,” the company continued, adding that it will also begin “creating group discussions for those employees who are impacted by racial trauma and increasing counseling resources–including remote resources, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“This is only the beginning,” the tweets concluded.

In an email late Monday, WarnerMedia executive vice president and chief enterprise inclusion officer Christy Haubegger — also a presence in Thursday’s panel — informed staff that WarnerMedia’s brands would be participating in the #BlackOutTuesday event and making the movie “Just Mercy” available for free streaming for the month of June.

Various industry leaders and individuals participated in the blackout. Major music labels agreed to observe how the industry can support black artists, with some stopping work and agreeing to release no new music. In other industries, like at WarnerMedia, social media posts were halted. Individuals, too, posted simple black squares to their Instagram accounts and vowed not to post personal content for the day, using the hashtag #blackoutTuesday.