There’s nothing like a firebrand to kick-start Diversity Week. NAMIC‘s conference provided fire at 9am when DiversityInc co-founder Luke Visconti blasted cable as he began the 2-hr Town Hall session with his interpretation of results from the latest NAMIC survey on employment and diversity. In his talk, Visconti presented figures derived from cable companies participating in both the ’06 and ’08 surveys (DiversityInc administered the survey). Cable remained nearly flat on key measures like minorities in the work force, in upper management and in promotions for minorities. Cable was also flat when he measured minorities joining the ranks of highest paid people. Adding fuel to the fire, Visconti said telcos Verizon, Sprint and AT&T excelled in those areas. "Cable is better than most" industries, he said, but "you’re not making real progress." The market is changing and cable is standing still, Visconti said. For him, the main culprit is CEO commitment. "CEOs set the pace," he said. The panel of 8 cable leaders appeared slightly uncomfortable. BET chief Deborah Lee said the survey results were "a disgrace… it’s a shame we’re not making progress," and it’s evident in that "[ TV One‘s] Johnathan [ Rodgers ] and I are the only African Americans up here as heads of networks." Lee dismissed quotas but urged companies to embrace measurable "targets." She also blasted arguments that there’s a paucity of qualified diverse candidates, although she admitted companies have to work harder to find them. Comcast‘s David Cohen pushed cable’s case, noting that the survey shows improvements in non-whites in cable, minorities in cable management and lower level promotions. "This can’t be fixed overnight," Cohen said, as it takes time for diversity to filter through an industry and a company. "If we continue to focus, we will continue to see progress," he said. Visconti noted that "Cox has risen through the ranks [of DiversityInc’s Top 50 companies] quickly. It’s unprecedented, and it’s all from the CEOs. They made it happen," he said of Pat Esser and the late Jim Robbins. Said Rodgers: "We have to get to the point where we understand the intrinsic value of a diverse workforce. Send your CEOs back to business school. They’ll learn about it there." NCTA chief Kyle McSlarrow decried the lack of companies participating in the survey and argued the result "might not be a complete picture of the industry." He said he didn’t necessarily "hang [his] hat" on telcos’ diversity progress as cable should strengthen diversity "for its own sake."

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