To maintain the CableFAX: The Magazine tradition of ending each issue with a beginning — a look ahead — we’ve assembled a trio of senior executives to discuss trends in diversity and take a gander at what an Obama presidency might mean for groups like NAMIC.

Our panelists: ADRIA ALPERT-ROMM, Senior EVP and Head of Human Resources, Discovery Communications; RAYMOND R. GUTIERREZ, EVP, Human Resources, Showtime Networks Inc., CBS Sports, CBS College Sports; and KATHY JOHNSON, President, NAMIC.

CABLEFAX: THE MAGAZINE: The argument is that cable’s made good progress on diversity in its lower and middle ranks, but there’s still plenty of work ahead before upper management is justly diverse. Does that continue to be the case?

RAYMOND R. GUTIERREZ: As a long-time NAMIC board member, I’m familiar with the statistics. While great strides have been made on the diversity front, yes, there is still much more to do. A basic problem is that companies are pyramids in structure, and the top executive ranks are fewer in number and harder to penetrate for everyone — not just people of color and women. The good news is the cable industry has been focused on increasing diversity at all levels for many years and will continue to do so. As the pool of diverse candidates at the lower and middle levels increases, we’ll inevitably see more diversity at the top.

KATHY JOHNSON: Ray is right. Simply by looking at the number of minority CEOs in the industry we know there is a lot of work to be done. The results of NAMIC’s latest Employment Research Survey will be announced at the annual conference. Prior to that, I can say that although many of our industry’s business leaders have demonstrated a commitment to diversity that has led to increased multi-ethnic representation within the general workforce, there is still a great deal of advancement that needs to be made within senior management ranks. A multitude of factors contribute to qualified professionals of color successfully earning seats at the executive table.

CFTM: Has your company tried something new in the past year to enhance diversity? Has it worked?

ADRIA ALPERT-ROMM: For some time, Discovery has made diversity training mandatory for all employees. In the past year, we also established three employee resource groups: the Multicultural Alliance, the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Network and the Veterans Group. These will further foster diversity by providing insight into the unique needs of employees, consumers and business partners. These groups have been successful in contributing to Discovery’s business growth by assisting in the hiring and retention of qualified candidates through internal education and community outreach, and serving as a resource to demonstrate and strengthen Discovery’s commitment to diversity. More recently, Discovery also added a Talent Diversity role to ensure that our commitment to diversity is reflected not only behind the scenes, but also on the television screen.

GUTIERREZ: Showtime has a very long track record of making diversity a priority. Matt Blank’s predecessor, Tony Cox, was very attuned to the need to make Showtime more diverse, and Matt and the whole company have been focused on this ever since.

As far as the past year is concerned, there are a number of new steps we’ve taken. Matt is a longtime board member of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a pioneering, nonprofit that works to enhance the quality of life for children and families in Harlem. One of the organization’s goals is to have more inner-city kids attend college. Showtime has employed several college students in its summer intern program who have come through the Harlem Children’s Zone and T. Howard. Our summer intern program is highly competitive. So we wanted to make sure that more students of color — and particularly inner-city students — are given opportunities and entrée into the business world.

As more students in Harlem set their sights on college, we have been hosting workshops for high school seniors. Our executives explain career options, the skills and education needed for a successful career and even the nuts and bolts of resume writing and interviewing to motivate the kids and give them a glimpse of potential careers.

JOHNSON: NAMIC recently launched DiversityLive: The NAMIC Video Network in conjunction with Motorola. Our goal is to keep diversity at the forefront of the digital culture. Developed exclusively to serve as an online destination where our members can share and access user-generated content, DiversityLive has proven to be the ultimate tool for meeting that challenge.

CFTM: Does the prospect of an Obama presidency reduce the urgency of cable’s diversity initiatives and organizations like NAMIC?

JOHNSON: Absolutely not. It has taken a great deal of time and diligence to establish the pipeline of multi-ethnic professionals in our industry. The fact that there is a prospective Obama candidacy is evidence of the progress organizations like NAMIC have helped foster. Change occurs at the corporate level through the involvement of CEOs and the powers that be in the boardrooms. Due to social and economic variables, not everyone enters the workforce on a level playing field.

Organizations like NAMIC, that produce programs and initiatives that foster workforce diversity and inclusion, will continue to be a necessity no matter who is in the White House.

GUTIERREZ: I agree. We’re at a very unique point in the history of our country. Will we be able to overlook race and judge the candidates on their merits? Are we all doing the same with job applicants?

Like Kathy, I think the prospect of an Obama presidency actually highlights the importance of the work of NAMIC, the Walter Kaitz Foundation and the T. Howard Foundation. Our industry is fortunate to have these organizations that have fostered diversity. More industries should do likewise. The challenge is to maintain the momentum and, of course, do more.

Cable can provide opportunities and experience. We can be role models and mentors. We can give people their fair chance.

CFTM: What’s the biggest threat to diversity in the workplace today?

JOHNSON: There continues to be a sentiment that diversity is not an important business metric and diversity is only a concern for people of color. Industry consolidation is also a threat. Many make the case that consolidation is great from an economic, financial, marketing and regulatory standpoint. However, the decreased workforce that has resulted adversely affects the number of employment opportunities for professionals of color at every level, but particularly at the senior level. This is especially daunting when you look at the creative side of the industry, such as network programming, where hiring diverse talent is so integral to producing content that reflects the general marketplace.

ALPERT-ROMM: The biggest threat is the tendency to be reactive rather than proactive — addressing diversity recruitment only when a position opens rather than all the time. That’s the wrong approach. We need to always be networking to identify candidates for open positions and opportunities now and for the future. It’s an ongoing commitment and must be approached in a proactive way to have success and make a difference. Developing early career programs will help build the pipeline for our individual companies as well as feed the industry which, in the long run, will benefit us all.

GUTIERREZ: Certainly the economy is an issue and the availability of jobs. Aside from that, the challenge is to keep diversity top of mind. We’re all busy at work, and it’s easy to become complacent and think progress will happen on its own. If you look at the history of civil rights in this country, whether it’s women getting the vote, or the struggles in the 1960s, things didn’t happen without attention being paid. Segments of our population have been traditionally disadvantaged, and we need to rectify this. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but our industry has been, and will continue to be, on the right track.

CFTM: Cable’s competitors, particularly the telcos, seem strong on diversity. Will diversity be a competitive issue for cable in the years ahead?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. Visionary companies view diversity and inclusion as a source of competitive strength. With Millennials at the forefront of the rapidly changing composition of minority representation in the marketplace, achieving and sustaining a multi-ethnic workforce will be key to serving a customer base that continues to diversify year over year. Companies that have diverse decision makers and work beyond recruitment to achieve greater retention and talent development will gain the competitive edge.

CFTM: If you ran cable for a day, what steps would you take concerning diversity?

JOHNSON: Every company would have multi-ethnic representation on its board of directors. Every company would appoint a chief diversity officer who reported directly to the CEO. Executive management teams would include at least one person of color at the SVP level or higher. Every company would have an inclusive culture that fully engages and retains a multi-ethnic workforce, which reflects a range of talent and perspectives. CEOs would participate in diversity councils.

ALPERT-ROMM: My focus would be on ensuring that diversity is represented on screen and off. Our companies and our programming should more closely reflect our audience and the communities in which we work.

GUTIERREZ: Ideally, I’d like to convene the heads of companies and get their input on what we can do to keep diversity top of mind and create more opportunities. While we all attend the Kaitz dinner and other functions to support diversity, the next day we’re back at our jobs and may be focusing on other concerns. I would also ask companies to support the efforts of organizations like the Harlem Children’s Zone that are working at the grassroots level to make education a priority, keep kids in school and provide opportunities.

Back to table of contents for CableFAX: The Magazine‘s 2008 Most Influential Minorities in Cable issue.

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