Now that we’ve all survived a busy but enlightening week in NYC to discuss diversity and related issues, it’s time to reflect on what we learned. Here are a few takeaways:
1. We’ve Come a Long Way… Maybe – Mercer’s Workforce Diversity/PAR study jointly conducted by NAMIC and WICT was an eye-opening and somewhat depressing commentary that cable can’t rest on its laurels. Everyone was talking about it, even NCTA pres/CEO Michael Powell who acknowledged that euphemisms like “mixed results” really mean there’s far more work to do. Interestingly, the problem doesn’t seem to be recruiting anymore; it’s retention of existing employees and advancement into the higher ranks. Perhaps telling was that many execs declared that the problems outlined in the study aren’t an issue at their particular companies, even bringing stats to prove it. But like Congress, which we all acknowledge is a dysfunctional mess, we do ourselves a disservice if we pretend that the problem is “just everyone else’s representative, not mine.” Diversity in cable is far from dysfunctional. And there’s plenty to celebrate. But it’s a collective effort, and the PAR results make it seem like something is teetering off balance. It’s everybody’s responsibility to right the ship.
2. LGBT Issues Entering the Mix – It’s hard to remember a Diversity Week in which LGBT issues came up as often, perhaps suggesting that gay and lesbian representation could at some point become a bigger part of the diversity discussion going forward. The central question: Is diversity all about ethnicity and gender…or is it also culture and lifestyle? The issue came up during NAMIC’s big Town Hall discussion, with Comcast EVP David Cohen and others acknowledging that the issue has gained in importance with employees and customers. But Cohen noted that unlike ethnicity people must “self-identify” in order for companies to track LGBT recruiting, retention and advancement. That’s also a hurdle when it comes to potentially including LGBT stats in the Workforce Diversity/PAR study as suggested by one audience member. Kudos especially to NAMIC for devoting an entire breakout session to LGBT diversity, with former Logo gm Lisa Sherman talking about how much better her work got when she finally came out to corporate colleagues years ago. Could it be that encouraging employees to self-identify could be good for business? Seems that way. And as for cable’s support of LGBT issues, look no further than GLAAD’s study just out this week. While the number of gay characters on broadcast shows seems to be declining, scripted cable shows include 42 regularly seen LGBT characters, up from last season’s 35. The premium nets have the most, with 11 recurring characters on HBO and 8 on Showtime.
3. Work-Life Balance? Meh… — It wouldn’t be Diversity Week if several WICT panels didn’t address the age-old issue of “work-life balance” for women. There’s no doubt that such balance matters when assessing employee morale, increasing retention and, you know… just generally fostering a corporate environment that doesn’t chew through people like a meat grinder. But more and more female execs seem to question the entire idea of work-life balance, at least its almost exclusive application to women. The basic consensus is that men—who may indeed covet work-life balance as much as women—don’t want to be seen as “weak” by bringing it up. And that whole perception is a huge problem for everyone, exposing sexism still inherent in our system. Here’s the truth: In a free market, men and women both compete for jobs and promotions. So why do women seem to worry about it more? Because research shows that working women still do the majority of housework and child-care (when it’s not farmed out to someone else). If more men did their share, work-balance might become more of a gender-neutral discussion—and that would probably be better for everybody. So perhaps we have more of a cultural problem here than a corporate one.
4. The Kaitz Dinner… Wow – What was it about the Kaitz Dinner this year? Other than the traditional crowded reception that made trips to the bar and adventure in elbowing colleagues, the event seemed to significantly up the ante with a rousing performance by R&B It-Girl Jennifer Hudson, followed by TV One’s after party featuring 1980s icon Chaka Khan (Hudson showed up at the after party herself, taking a front row position on the dance floor to watch Chaka rock as her security detail hovered protectively). And how about those incredible shadow dancers who entertained us during dinner and before Hudson’s performance? Not only does the Kaitz Dinner remain the only place to see EVERYONE who is anyone in cable in one very compressed space (CEOs can’t avoid you when you’re literally running into them), but it’s also getting to be pretty darned glitzy. Here’s to a wonderful evening that celebrated diversity in considerable style this year.
5. Don’t Go Into the Cement Business – During the CableFAX-NAMIC breakfast on Tues in which we had a wide-ranging Q&A with David Rone, Time Warner Cable pres, sports, news and local programming, he mentioned in passing that he had spent 6 horrible months as a lawyer for the cement industry. It was a light moment, and we moved on quickly. But it’s also a reminder that all of us are privileged to work in an industry that’s fun, vibrant and growing. Other industries don’t hold conferences about diversity and work so cooperatively to improve every year. Other industries don’t foster an environment of inclusion that brings together so many creative people. And other industries don’t produce so many lifetime friends who mix business and pleasure so seamlessly. The entertainment biz—and especially cable’s sizable corner of it—has never been this transformational and exciting. It’s unique. And when we’re all complaining about all the travel and long hours, it’s perhaps comforting to remember that at least we don’t sell cement.