CableFAX: The Magazine: It seems cable’s made good progress on diversity in its lower and middle ranks, but there’s still plenty of work needed to make upper management more diverse. Does that continue to be the case?
Adria Alpert Romm, Senior EVP and Head of Human Resources, Discovery Communications:
Encouraging diversity at all levels, from entry-level to leadership, should continue to be a top priority for the cable industry. Diversity is at the top of the consideration set when hiring candidates at Discovery, along with experience and values. By making diversity a priority, Discovery has been able to attract a diverse group of employees at all levels, from top executives to channel General Managers to front-line employees.
Raymond R. Gutierrez, Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Showtime Networks Inc., CBS Sports, CBS College Sports:
As a long-time NAMIC Board member, I’m familiar with the statistics. While great strides have been made on the diversity front, 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, President, NAMIC:
Simply by looking at the number of minority CEO’s in the industry, we know that 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 assessing that analysis, 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 the senior management ranks. A multitude of factors contribute to qualified professionals of color successfully earning seats at the executive table. The Survey results will determine the current variables.
CFTM: Has your company tried something new in the past year to enhance diversity? Has it worked?
AAR: For some time, Discovery has made Diversity training mandatory for all employees. In the past year, we also established three Employee Resource Groups – Multicultural Alliance, Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Network, and Veterans Group – to further foster diversity by providing insight into the unique needs of employees, consumers, and business partners. These Resource 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 and concern for the various communities the groups represent. 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.
RG: 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 long-time Board member of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a pioneering, non-profit 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. While our summer intern program is highly competitive and we actually receive several thousand resumes for a limited number of slots, 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 also have been hosting workshops for high school seniors to hear 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 – all in an effort to motivate these kids to go on to college and give them a glimpse of potential careers. We would love to have more companies host students in this way.
Showtime is also a big supporter of the T. Howard Foundation and we employ interns from that organization and support the Foundation in every way we can.
KJ: 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: What’s the biggest threat to diversity in the workplace today?
AAR: The biggest threat to workplace diversity is the tendency to be reactive rather than proactive – addressing Diversity recruitment only when a position opens rather than all the time. That is the wrong approach. We need to always be networking to identify candidates for open positions and opportunities now and for the future. It is an ongoing commitment and must be approached in a proactive way in order 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 will in the long run benefit us all.
There is tremendous value for a team and an organization to have people from different backgrounds and points of view come together working toward the same set of goals and objectives. These different points of view strengthen and improve our company, our products, and the industry as a whole.
RG: 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 1960’s, 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.
KJ: “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.”
CFTM: Cable’s competitors, particularly the telcos, seem strong on diversity. Will diversity be a competitive issue for cable in the years ahead?
AAR: In order to remain competitive as an organization and an industry, diversity at all levels is critical. At Discovery, diversity is a corporate value which is directly tied to individual and business performance. Diversity training is mandatory for all employees. At all levels, on the television screen, behind the camera and in our corporate offices, we strive to be inclusive and representative of all people. Diversity will continue to be an increasingly important competitive issue for the cable industry – and all industries – in the years to come.
RG: There was an article on the front page of The New York Times last month about how in the next generation minorities may become the majority in the U.S. We all know by now that forward-thinking companies embrace diversity.
Traditionally, the cable industry has been way ahead of the curve in recognizing the need for a diverse workforce. It’s great that the telcos are strong on diversity too. The fact that both cable and telco management recognize it’s important to have a diverse workforce is a win win for everyone.
KJ: 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?
AAR: I would focus would be on ensuring that our diversity efforts are represented on the television screen and behind the camera. Both our companies and our programming should more closely reflect our audience and the communities in which we work.
RG: Ideally, I’d like to convene the heads of companies in our industry 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 get on board and support the efforts of organizations like the Harlem Children’s Zone that are working at the grass roots level to make education a priority, keep kids in school and provide opportunities.
KJ: Every company would have multi-ethnic representation on its Board of Directors. Every company would appoint a Chief Diversity Officer that reported directly to the CEO. Executive management teams would include at least one person of color at the Senior Vice President 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. CEO’s would participate in Diversity Councils.
CFTM: Does the prospect of an Obama presidency reduce the urgency of cable’s diversity initiatives and organizations like NAMIC?
RG: We’re at a very unique point in time in the history of our country with Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for President. Will we be able to overlook race and judge the candidates on their merits? Are we all doing the same with job applicants?
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.
We in the cable industry can provide opportunities and experience. We can be role models and mentors. We can give people their fair chance.
KJ: Absolutely not. It has taken a great deal of time and diligence to establish the pipeline of multi-ethnic professionals currently in our industry. The fact that there is a prospective Obama candidacy is evidence of the progress organizations like NAMIC have helped to foster. Change occurs at the corporate level through the involvement of CEO’s 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.