Maria Contreras-Sweet has big plans for her next company, and they aren’t by any means the status quo.
You may remember Contreras as the former head of the US Small Business Administration under the Obama administration. But these days, she is better known for her groundbreaking leadership in the private sector. She founded the first bank specifically tailored to provide services to Los Angeles’s Latino community and started her own consulting team to expand access to the country’s growing Latino consumer base — what now is a $1.7 trillion market.
And if she succeeds in her next commercial venture, her impact is liable to be just as head-turning. Contreras-Sweet wants to buy the embattled Weinstein Company, and she’s already figured out who will run it: women.
Women fill less than a quarter of the seats on film and TV boards. According to a 2016 study by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the UC Berkeley Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, gender and racial diversity is an across-the-board problem in the film and TV entertainment industry. But it is at the corporate level, in boards and c-suites that have the last say to the kinds of entertainment that is funded in the U.S., say the researchers, the challenge is most evident.
Only 19 percent of board of director positions are filled by women. C-suite gender disparity is almost as great: with 21 percent of positions filled by women. Executive management teams, when evident, comprise 19 percent women.”[As] power increases,” the researchers state, “the participation or representation of women in the executive ranks decreases.”
Racial and gender disparity also play out at the director and actor level, where Latino and Asian representation drops dramatically. The ratio of white directors to “underrepresented” directors (those not specifically white) is more than 6 to 1 (87.3 white versus 12.7 percent underrepresented minorities) in the film industry alone, and all underrepresented minorities are far below the U.S. population norm of 37.9 percent, the study reports.
“I believe we have now reached a crossroads where it is imperative that a woman-led board acquire control of the company and create content that continues to inspire audiences from around the world, especially our young girls and boys,” Contreras-Sweet told the Weinstein Company in her Nov. 8 letter.
Her offer comes with some sizable benefits for the company, notes Mike Fleming Jr, writer for Deadline Hollywood. The proposal comprising a 51 percent female board comes with 4 solid backers and a cadre of well-known financial advisers, including Loeb & Loeb and Roy Salter from FTI Consulting.
“This could erase what seemed like an indelible stain of scandal and could reignite the company by removing the stigma on assets that include library titles,” and other historic series and titles that made the Weinstein Company famous.
In principle, it’s also received the blessing of Gloria Allread, the women’s rights attorney that has been representing many of the plaintiffs suing Harvey Weinstein for sexual abuse.
“What her endorsement means is that the bid comes with properly set aside contingency funds to make whole the coming wave of plaintiffs,” said Fleming.
But it also allows for the Weinstein staff to continue in employment, minimizing the painful need for layoffs and more shareholder angst as the board is systematically replaced.
According to an Oct. 2017 report by Business Insider, the Weinstein Company is currently valued around $150 million, far below the $275 million being offered by Contreras-Sweet. And as Forbes notes, with declining profits in the past, these scandals and looming lawsuits will make it even harder to find a buyer with very deep pockets that is ready to take a risk on the now-waning Weinstein legacy.
“The Weinstein Company will have a tarnished name that will make it an unpopular pick for directors, financiers and stars,” notes Forbes staff writer, Natalie Robehmed.
The Weinstein board will likely hear challenges from media companies that have virtually built Hollywood and see an optimum chance for expanding their assets. But few will be able to come as close as Contreras-Sweet to giving the company what it really needs right now in order to protect its investments: a pathway to redemption.
Flickr image: US Department of Agriculture