Tyler Perry is teaming with LinkedIn for some real talk about race in the American workplace.
The renowned director, actor, screenwriter, producer and philanthropist is joining LinkedIn as the lead-off guest editor of Conversations for Change, a new content and community discussion series the business social-networking site is launching to drive engagement.
Starting Monday (Feb. 8), Perry will serve as guest editor for the full week, working with LinkedIn’s editorial team to curate content across different channels around the topics of equity, inclusion and representation in the workplace. As part of that, LinkedIn is presenting an interview with Perry by “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King, in which he discusses his own path to success in Hollywood and the guiding principles that got him there.
“I wanted to be a part of LinkedIn’s Conversations for Change because there’s so much that is going on in the country that we need to talk about,” Perry told Variety. “The word ‘conversation’ means a dialogue between people, and in dialogue is where you find all of the truth, all of the pain, all of the nuance, and where you get to the heart of what’s really affecting so many of us.”
As part of the guest-editor gig, Perry also will answer questions directly from LinkedIn members who have lost employment in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. (LinkedIn is paying Perry an undisclosed sum as an editorial contributor, a rep for the company said.)
“I really want to be a light for anybody out there who is looking to make their own way in the world, and to let others know that you can do it, too,” Perry said.
In business, Perry noted, people tend to hire people they know or people who look like them. “As a result, many people get left out of potential opportunities,” he said. “These patterns tend to perpetuate a lack of diversity that sets Black professionals back.”
Other notable Black professionals who will be featured on LinkedIn this week for the inaugural Conversations for Change series are Dr. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center in Atlanta; Carla Harris, vice chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley; and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist” and founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research.
Among the subjects the duo discuss, Perry talks about his first experience with racism in the workplace. He went to interview for a job at a hotel as a parking valet, and on the streetcar there he met a young white kid about his age who also wanted to apply for the job. Perry had a driver’s license — and the white guy didn’t.
“I go in first and the person who was interviewing me said, “No, no, no. You’re big and strong. We need you in housekeeping,’” Perry recalls. He was told the valet job was already filled, so Perry gratefully accepted the housekeeping job. On the way home, he saw the same white kid — who, it turned out, got the valet gig after Perry’s interview. “I realized that there were no Black people in the front of the house. It was all white people. It was all white. White staff, bellman, everything,” Perry tells King. “The Black people were only in the back of the house.”
Another formative experience in Perry’s life that framed how he thought about his future career was seeing his father work as a housing construction subcontractor for a white man.
“Every Friday, my father would get paid $800, and he would be so happy about it, and then I would watch the white man sell the home and make $80,000,” Perry told Variety. “I never understood why my father didn’t sell his own houses — it didn’t make sense to me. But he just never thought that was something that he would ever be able to do in the Jim Crow South. So watching that happen, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be the man who owned the house.”
For the launch of LinkedIn News’ Conversations for Change campaign, the company tapped Nadia Hallgren, the award-winning director of Michelle Obama’s documentary “Becoming,” to produce a series of spots featuring notable Black professionals across different industries sharing how they achieved success in their own right, as well as the obstacles they encountered and still face, and why representation matters. The videos will run across digital platforms through the end of February.
LinkedIn is repped by UTA Marketing, which brokered the partnership with Perry. LinkedIn, which Microsoft bought in 2016 for $26 billion, is leveraging LinkedIn News to present “conversations that have traditionally been kept out of professional settings,” said Mel Selcher, LinkedIn’s SVP of marketing and communications. Subsequent topics in the series will include the impact of COVID on women in the workplace and mental health.
LinkedIn News, which comprises a team of 75 editors across 15 countries, publishes a daily newsletter with 46 million recipients, which makes it one of the world’s largest business-news media outlets, according to Selcher.
The business goal of Conversations for Change, of course, is to bring more members to the platform. “Linkedin is about creating economic opportunity for every member,” said Selcher. “When things work best on LinkedIn is when communities come together — connecting, finding jobs, getting skills.”