Spotlight: Ken Coleman
Entertainment Partners Board Member Ken Coleman is a visionary and one of the early Black technology leaders in Silicon Valley. Ken served on EP’s board from 2013 – 2019, and we were fortunate to have him return to our board last year. He is currently serving as Chairman of EIS Software, he was previously the founder and CEO of ITM Software and served as COO for Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), in addition to stints at both Activision and Hewlett Packard, and he served as a Captain in the Air Force. He was named one of the 10 most influential African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area and was named by the Black Enterprise Magazine as one of the top 25 Black executives in technology.
He remains highly active in mentoring underrepresented people across the technology industry and has enormous respect for our organization and interest in our plans for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He recently shared his thoughts with us on a range of topics:
What do you think the entertainment industry – and EP specifically - can learn from the technology industry? How is the technology industry similar to the entertainment industry with respect to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
In both the entertainment and technology industries, talent is the most valuable resource that a company can have. And there is no race or class of people that has a lock on creativity and talent. If you believe that talent is the key resource, you can’t afford to overlook any place that you can find good talent. When I get better talent than my competition, I’m going to win in the marketplace. So when I look at Diversity and Inclusion I’m thinking, can I find talent that others can’t find? Can I recruit them into my organization? And can I create an environment that allows them to do their best work? If I do that, I‘m going to maximize my company’s opportunity for success.
Entertainment Partners is in the midst of a conversation about DEI and creating a roadmap for the future. What do you think is the best way to create an inclusive and diverse workforce?
First, if you have an environment that is solely made up of people that share the same background, education and experiences, they will also share same blind spots, and you’ll end up missing many things. In a technology or creative company, you want to have as many different points of view to tease out the blind spots and be more creative in solving problems and building solutions. And inclusion is as important as diversity because the environment has to be safe and supportive for people to be able to do their best. Everyone needs to be self-aware about their own blindspots and prejudices. What you think is harmless may be hurtful.
How do diverse teams improve how we work?
Companies need to have the best talent, and recruiting brings that talent in. But it’s important to also create the environment that enables the best of our people to come forward. If you create that environment, it’s not just good for diversity, but it’s good for ideating, problem solving and employee morale. The way I think about DEI is it’s an opportunity to have the best employees do their best work.
Do you think it’s important for younger leaders to have role models who look like them? What do you think the role of mentoring is in developing and retaining talent?
Role models are incredibly important. If you don’t see people like you in significant positions, it can cause doubt about whether you can achieve at that level. On the other hand, if you see a role model, it raises the expectations of what’s possible for your life or career, especially if the role models are accessible. The more accessible the better.
I was in college during the height of MLK’s leadership and he was my number one role model, along with Desmond Tutu. But Price Cobb was my mentor. Whenever I had a challenging decision about my career, I checked in with Price Cobb. He was a psychiatrist and an expert in Blacks living in America and especially in corporate America. His first book, which is a good one for all people to read, is Black Rage.
And it’s important to note that I connected with Price Cobb by reaching out to him. When I was at HP, I read about him and just reached out, asking to meet with him to talk about what we were trying to accomplish at HP and about my background. He ended up becoming my friend and mentor.
Networking is an undervalued skill. I’ve always been one to just reach out - even before LinkedIn and before email. If I read about someone that I thought would be good to know, I’d write them a letter. I have a theory that there’s always an opportunity for advice or input somewhere out in the universe, but you don’t know that person and they don’t know about you. But the more people you know, the higher probability that one of your connections will know that person with that opportunity. So why not reach out and get to know more people? There’s so much to learn. The more people I meet, the more I learn, and the more I learn, the smarter I get. And it feeds on itself.
What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month”?
Two years ago, I joined the board of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. It’s part of the Smithsonian Museum. And the reason I agreed to join the board is the same reason that Black History Month is important: because the impact that Black Americans have had on America is understated and under appreciated. If you go to the museum, you realize that there is no America as we know it without Black people. The Black American story is the American story. The importance of Black History Month and the Museum is highlighting and educating white and Black people and others about the impact the country had on Blacks and the impact that Blacks had on this country. They’re inseparable. Our historical education hasn’t done a good job of pointing that out. Black History Month is one time in the year that we can highlight the importance of Black Americans’ impact on our country. Black History Month, Martin Luther King Day and the National Museum of African American History and Culture are important to point out Black America’s impact and understand what is meaningful to Black people in the history of our country.
After what happened in the past year, do you feel that Black History Month is different this year? Is it enough? What else should we be doing?
The question I get most often is whether what happened with the response to George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter just a blip? I don’t think it is. I think this is different time. But I also believe that opportunities are perishable. So as a country, as a nation, as a people, we need to seize the opportunity to deliver on the promise of equality for all, and to better understand our history and culture, and create a better America. But it requires work. Patience. Purposeful action. It requires not just being not racist. We have to be anti-racist. Everyone has to speak up when they see something wrong. If you’re quiet, people will believe you support that racist behavior. The country needs everyone to say “that’s not right. That’s not true.” We all need to not tolerate racist behavior.
This means that as a country - and within EP - we need to create an open environment where people can raise issues, talk openly and honestly about the issues, and accept that we may make a mistake and give ourselves permission as individuals to say, “I’m sorry.” As long as our intent is to be sensitive, we cannot be afraid to talk to each other. We have seen how unhealthy it can be when concerns are not addressed.