Fantastic Four With last week’s announcement of Multichannel editor-in-chief Marianne Paskowski’s retirement, the industry says goodbye to yet another woman leader. But earlier this month, with the announcement of Debra Lee’s new role as CEO of BET, an unnoticed but monumental shift took place in our industry. And it didn’t involve a corporate merger or a new technology. Rather, it is a small indication that our industry’s workplace culture might be on the upswing. Since March ’04, four women in cable have ascended to the CEO rank: Discovery’s Judith McHale, MTV Networks’ Judy McGrath, AETN’s Abbe Raven and most recently Lee. What is monumental about that? you might ask. The results from the recent WICT Foundation PAR Initiative tell us that women make up only 27% of senior-level executives. The data from all of corporate America is far bleaker: this year there are only eight women CEOs on the Fortune 500. When four women in any industry are named CEO in a span of fewer than 18 months, you can see why it is reason to pause. Amid the disproportionate numbers, I believe these recent promotions are hugely significant because they provide inspiration. Inspiration for other women senior executives diligently working toward their own number one spot. Inspiration for all employees at all programmers and operators, by supporting the sentiment that hard work, passion and a keen business sense still are requirements for the best candidates, regardless of gender. Inspiration for the estimated 1.2 million ’05 college graduates searching for jobs this summer, particularly the young women who now have more visible role models with which to identify. Who can say that each of these four women aspired to become CEO two years ago? Or five years ago? Or longer? Regardless of their own succession plans, their new role is the reward for a history of stellar performance and for embodying the qualities of leadership. While the individual accomplishments and career paths of these four women are extraordinary, they were each introduced to cable in a capacity that brought them close to developing a comprehensive knowledge of the business. McHale joined Discovery in 1987 as general counsel. McGrath has been with the MTV family since 1981, starting as a copywriter. Raven began her cable career in 1982 in production for Daytime and Arts (later spun into Lifetime Television and AETN). And Lee joined BET as vice president and general counsel in 1986. Each of them earned increased responsibility over time, eventually rising to the number two spot before taking the helm at their respective companies. Perhaps there is a woman coordinator, manager, director, vp or evp who can imagine how the successes of today may help shape her own dreams for tomorrow. The editor-in-chief of this publication, CableFAX Daily, is another recent promotion for a woman, Amy Maclean, who previously worked as a reporter for the AP. WICT’s tagline is: Creating leaders. Together. It’s the "Together" part that is so meaningful. While these four women are just as savvy, strategic and smart as their male counterparts, we would be remiss to forget they have also inspired the men who championed their promotions. John Hendricks, Tom Freston, Nick Davatzes and Bob Johnson selected women they have partnered and in whom they have great confidence in to carry on the business. While there is no industry pressure or threat to choose women CEOs, companies that implement balanced succession planning practices ensure they build upon their talent pool to fill vacancies as they arise. I’d like to think this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many women executives with proven track records and many more just starting their careers. To see these fantastic four women recognized for their talent and success reminds us that while there is a long path to equal the playing field, we are making great strides. Together. Benita Fitzgerald Mosley is president and CEO of WICT.