BLACK WOMEN IN THE CROSSHAIRS SERIES PART TWO: CASE STUDY
Is Sony Corporation Committed to Black Women Consumers?
By Anita Estell, Esq.
Stakeholder is not synonymous with shareholder. The economic and social purpose of the corporation is to create and distribute increased wealth and value to all its primary stakeholder groups, without favoring one group at the expense of others. Wealth and value are not defined adequately only in terms of increased share price, dividends, or profits. – Max E.B. Clarkson
To whom much is given, much is expected, according to the Gospel of Luke. Such also is the case with major corporations. In fact, there are several terms that describe the role and relationship major corporations cultivate with stakeholders, including consumers and the communities where they live. “Corporate citizenship, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and corporate performance” are just a few of the terms often used.
As a second installment of the Black Women in the Crosshairs Series, we profile Sony Corporation and provide a scorecard, based on an online audit and case study of the multinational conglomerate. We also look at Sony Corporation of America, a subsidiary of the global enterprise.
Through our research, we conclude that recent missteps involving the Sony brand, including management of sexual assault controversies (by artists on its record labels) related to black women are attributable to the absence of black women in key positions. The absence of black women in senior positions across the Sony enterprise is attributable to the absence of a strategic commitment from the c-suite to a comprehensive and globally-relevant diversity and inclusion plan that addresses the needs and issues of black women and other women of color (WoC) from underrepresented groups.
Sony’s tagline is “Make.Believe,” as in pretend play, an intentional diversion from reality. In terms of who it hires and promotes, the company has mastered making consumers believe there is a commitment to all stakeholder groups, when the realty is quite different. The numbers suggest Sony’s commitment to black women as a community of stakeholders across its various platforms is truly “make-believe.”
The XXTRA Special and Free, Black Women in the Crosshairs Scorecard follows.
The Sony Corporation of America website proclaims the brand “creates and delivers more entertainment experiences to more people than anyone else on earth.” Too bad — even with a few recent diverse executive-level hires — Sony cannot assert it is one of the most diverse and inclusive places in the world to work. In fact, Forbes magazine’s list of The Best Employers for 2019 ranks Sony at #440 out of 500 companies. With $77.1 billion in sales, as reported by Forbes, such a low ranking should trouble black women and women of color generally, as consumers, shareholders, executives and policymakers. At least 8 out of 10 of the people in the world are persons of color, and 50 percent are women. Thus, a significant number of the company’s global consumers include women of color who contribute to the company’s revenue and profit streams.
Our Sony Case Study reveals black women professionals and leaders are noticeably absent or woefully underrepresented on Sony’s various websites, executive leadership chain of command and in global engagement efforts related to diversity and inclusion. See the photos below, which include the 2017 Global Summit for Women in Tokyo and the Global Diversity Forum (picture on the right).
On January 11, 2019, I wrote a letter to the CEO of Sony, Kenichiro Yoshida, raising concerns related to the Lifetime documentary,#survivingrkelly. In that letter, I wrote:
Black women and other women of color spend a lot of money. Some of which enhances ROI for your company. Women of color represent an estimated eight out of ten women in the world. They soon will comprise a collective majority in the U.S. This group has a buying power of $1 trillion and controls more than 80 cents for every dollar spent in their communities. Black women are so influential, a marketing term has evolved to capture the group’s essence, “black girl magic.”
A copy of that letter can be found on the XXTRA Special Free and CELIE websites. Specifically, I requested an opportunity to meet with Yoshida or his designee to discuss ways to engage black women and other women of color executives, leaders, business owners, students and consumers more constructively across Sony’s divisions. Items to be discussed include: the establishment of a Women of Color Advisory Committee reporting directly to the CEO and the various heads of each division, and other matters.
The framework for analyzing and evaluating a corporation’s social performance, created by Max E.B. Clarkson over 20 years ago remains relevant today. He pointedly concludes that “a corporation’s survival and continuing success depend upon the ability of its managers to create sufficient wealth, value, or satisfaction for those who belong to each stakeholder group, so that each group continues as a part of the corporation’s stakeholder system. Failure to retain the participation of a primary stakeholder group will result in the failure of that corporate system.”
For Sony, PlayStation is king. The company’s most recent quarterly report reveals gaming and network services as leading revenue generators, and notes a decline in revenue across multiple segments, including pictures, home entertainment, and mobile communications.
The one who holds the purse holds the power. Clarkson’s observations are relevant to Sony and other corporations who have yet to invite and connect black women to participate more robustly as primary stakeholder’s in the enterprise’s value chain. If Clarkson’s pronouncement holds true, for Sony, it is just a matter of time before black women exercise the power of the purse by placing the purchase of PlayStations and other items on pause.
Members of this community, as much as any, deserve a right to participate in conversations and strategies relevant to overall corporate responsibility and community engagement. While black women appreciate Sony artist Alicia Keys hosting the Grammy’s and the special program saluting Aretha Franklin, black women have relevant professional competencies and a keen interest in securing positions as senior executives in various areas, including biotechnology, computer science, corporate finance, engineering, financial services, law, advertising, marketing, research, and the c-suite generally. It is just a matter of time before WoC exercise their collective power to shutdown their support of enterprises that refuse to make a turnaround in areas relevant to advancement of this group.
For the next installment, Part Three of the Black Women in the Crosshairs Series, we will explore exemplary practices of other brands, and specific steps Sony can take to advance the sustainable engagement of black women and improve its diversity and inclusion efforts.
Special note: In 2018, Sony Music hired two women of color to fill senior executive human resource positions (Dasha Smith Dwin, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer and Constance Williams, Senior Vice President for Human Resources). More recently, on April 1, 2019, another diverse executive, Jon Platt, joined Sony ATV/Publishing as CEO. Sony ATV is the #1 music publisher in the world, owning more than 3 million copyrights. These are steps in the right direction, but more intentional strategies and steps are needed across all business segments. Also see, article in Vibe magazine addressing need for additional work in the record industry and at Sony.
About the author: Anita Estell is a history-making lobbyist and attorney at the national level. She owns a full-service government relations firm, the Estell Group, LLC. In 2016, she founded CELIE (the Civic Engagement and Leadership Institute for Everyone), a nonprofit in Washington, DC, to develop multicultural leadership programs and the best in next practices related to civic engagement, women and girls, and diversity and inclusion. CELIE also supports an online news and public affairs platform for women of color, XXTRA Special & Free.