WWE's Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon sat down with Senior Editor of Ad Age Jeanine Poggi this week and talked about what actions WWE has taken towards diversity since the statement issued out by WWE in the wake of George Floyd's death.
"WWE actually over-indexes with our African American audience. 21% our audience is African American," McMahon said. "So we've utilized our platforms to really amplify the message of inclusion and standing against racism and racial injustice. We've amplified our talents voices. We have a many number of talents who have their own initiatives.
"Titus O'Neil and former WWE Superstar, Hall of Famer and movie star Dave Bautista, they did what they call a 'Love Walk' in Tampa, which was their own march about supporting inclusion and for us to come together as a community. Montez Ford and Bianca Belair, they have a website called Culture Connection. Kofi Kingston and Big E regularly wear bands of the names who want to be recognized and [have shown] moments of solidarity in the ring. We've had some of our talent like Keith Lee wear Black Lives Matter across the back of his trunks."
In addition to WWE stars using their voices to speak out against racial injustice, McMahon discussed measures that the company is taking behind-the-scenes.
"So we've had various Superstars and talent in a number in a number of different ways use their platform and their voices to amplify the message and really stand against injustice," McMahon noted. "Then you take a look at WWE corporately, we have a number of programs. We have unconscious bias training. We have committee groups, but of course, that's not enough.
"We do work with a diversity and inclusion recruiting agency, Jopwell, and they're helping us as well,. But we're really taking a hard look and a different look from every level throughout our company from the top-down, including our board. We are absolutely taking this seriously, as we should. Everybody should because it's going to take every single person to enact change."
McMahon talked more about WWE's push for diversity, noting that almost half of WWE's champions are African American. She also talked about the Women's Evolutions and the milestones those have brought to WWE.
"Roughly 40% of our champions now are African American across the men's and women's division and across our three brands, RAW, SmackDown and NXT," McMahon stated. "I think that representation is critical. I think representation is critical not only for African Americans but also for women.
"We've had a whole Women's Evolution in our company which has absolutely changed the way our company presents our female performers, and ultimately resulting in our women headlining WrestleMania, breaking the entertainment gross revenue record. We've also had our women now perform not once, but twice in Saudi Arabia."
McMahon explained why presentation is important when it comes to diversity. She said that it not only helps bring out the best society but also the best company.
"So it is a whole women's movement that's happening as well, but I think that representation is absolutely critical, and you need to have it at every level," McMahon remarked. "You need to have employees. You need to have on-screen. You need to have your Superstars. You need to make sure diversity is real and it's not just representation but it's that those voices are really heard and that those voices matter, because at the end of the day, all of these different experiences that people have, that's what's going to bring us together - to bring the best possible society and the best possible company."
Former WWE talents ACH and Lio Rush have either criticized or have issued complaints over racial insenstivity within WWE. McMahon was asked if voices are heard from talent that feel they are under-represented, and she said they are looking at everything. She also explained that WWE Superstars have given feedback on how their characters are portrayed.
"We're looking at everything," McMahon said. "From a storyline perspective, from a character perspective [and] from an employee perspective, we really are because representation matters, and we also want to make sure our talent's voices are heard. So when you're crafting characters in WWE, it's not just, 'Hey, you're going to be this particular character and that's it. You have no say in the matter. Here's your script, and that's it.' Our Superstars have the ability to give their feedback. They help us create the character. They help with what they're saying, and we have had instances.
"We've had talent say, 'Listen, this doesn't feel good to me.' African American talent say, 'This doesn't feel good to me,' and this was actually pre-George Floyd. Those conversations happen, and I think they're important. You can't be afraid to have those conversations. You have to be willing to listen. You have to be willing to admit that you just might not know something. You might not understand each other, and the only way we're ever going to learn from each other is if you truly listen and value each other's feedback."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Ad Age with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.