Evolutionists theorize that humans may have experienced a few instances of sudden progress over the last few hundred thousand years—times when incremental improvement gave way to giant leaps forward. For the cable industry, which has made slow and steady progress on diversity for at least two or three decades, it’s perhaps reasonable to assume that we’re on the cusp of a major leap. Call it Diversity 2.0, a tipping point that could make all of those previous strides finally pay off in a big way.
Or not. As many of the incredible minority execs featured in this magazine mentioned to us, the industry’s progress—while laudable when it comes sheer numbers of minorities in entry-level and middle-management positions—starts to look less impressive when applied to upper management. CEOs and boards are still mostly white and male. No way around that. Sure, there are reasons for this that aren’t necessarily rooted in racism. For one thing, many of the current CEOs and EVP-level execs came up in the 1960s and 1970s when diversity basically meant varying up your lunchtime cocktail selections. Those execs have now reached the level of age and experience justifying their upper positions. And because of medical and health advances, they’re staying in those positions longer than ever before. Combine those factors with corporate downsizing and consolidation, and the opportunities for minority execs to advance to those upper levels remains daunting.
Of course, none of this is to suggest that cable has done a bad job. In fact, this industry has done a vastly more than most with its mentoring programs, organizations and internal diversity programs spanning across the distribution, programming and technology sides of the business. Many have deflected credit, arguing that these are merely smart business moves as the customer base becomes more diverse. That’s true, but these efforts are also a moral mission of sorts. Those of us who care about diversity understand the business benefits. But we also feel an obligation to right years of discrimination that continue to unravel slowly before us.
The cable industry—as well as many other parts of corporate America—should be proud of the strides everyone has made toward a more diverse workplace. We’ve never had so many minority executives on this list, and that’s because of those very efforts. But it’s not a numbers game anymore. It’s an opportunity game. And there’s still much work to do in the upper management ranks where minority execs can truly influence the overall strategic direction of these companies—and of course ensure that they keep those doors of opportunity open. The evolution continues.