We maintain our tradition of ending magazines with a roundtable. Naturally, we’ve decided to focus on WICT’s first 30 years and issues that it will face going forward. Our panel includes women who witnessed WICT at its start as well as those active in cable today. CableFAX’s Seth Arenstein questioned this distinguished group of Maggie Bellville, Partner, Carter – Baldwin Executive Search Services; Yvette Kanouff, Chief Strategy Officer, SeaChange International; Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, President/CEO, WICT; Abbe Raven, AETN President and CEO; and Gail Sermersheim, Founding President of WICT and a retired SVP at HBO.
CABLEFAX: THE MAGAZINE: When you meet cable women today, do they ask about WICT’s early days? What do you tell them?
MAGGIE BELLVILLE: I wish I could say yes, but no — it’s such a different time and place in our industry. Women in cable today want to be so current, they don’t think about yesterday.
GAIL SERMERSHEIM: A few ask about the early days but for the most part young women today seem to take for granted the reasonably unlimited opportunity they have. They don’t think about what it took to gain them those opportunities.
When we started WICT there were only a handful of women in the industry who even knew each other. Once we sat down and started talking, however, we quickly realized that working together through an organization could do a lot more to open doors and opportunity than going it alone.
At the same time, we also knew that the male – dominated industry would probably not welcome and financially support the idea unless we positioned our objectives very carefully. Therefore, we started with the stated mission of helping women to develop their business skills.
A decade later we finally felt secure enough to say that our objective was to empower women to realize their true potential. Unless you lived through it, you can’t realize what a pivotal change that was and the pride we felt in having gained enough respect and confidence within the industry to be able to boldly present our true intent.
ABBE RAVEN: We have come a long way. When I started out in cable, I often remember being one of the only women in the room at my company. Back then, I would have never imagined that today I would be running it.
CFTM: You’ve seen WICT from the start. Has it met your expectations?
AR: I believe so…I think it’s incredibly important for women in our industry to come together and support each other. WICT has played a major role in women mentoring other women and cultivating leadership in our industry.
MB: Yes, but I think it took a sea change; it’s when The Betsy Magness Leadership Institute started. That really created a network for women for sharing, development and personal and professional advisement that was just not out there. More than ever, BMLI has given women the strength that nothing else has so far. Also, Benita’s focus on chapter growth has brought women to the organization who might not have joined.
GS: WICT has helped thousands of women gain needed skills, confidence and contacts. Equally important, its very existence…opened the eyes of the male leadership to the positive benefits that could come from hiring and promoting women.
The breadth of female involvement in our industry, the leadership on the programming side, the equality of respect and opportunity that women now have, in part because of WICT, all greatly exceeded our expectations. However, there’s still inequality on the operating side of the business and problems with equal pay, which is disappointing.
CFTM: Is WICT still relevant? Would it have been so had a woman been elected to the White House, as either president or vice president?
MB: WICT remains relevant if for nothing more than the exposure it gives to women. For women, it doesn’t matter what happens anywhere else, including the White House. It has to happen in our industry.
AR: Absolutely! WICT remains relevant regardless of who’s in The White House. WICT is not only a powerful voice for women in our industry but for the cable industry as a whole. I believe WICT can and should be a driving force for the critical issues that are facing our business and less about family/work balance – we have moved way beyond that.
BENITA FITZGERALD MOSLEY: Women are poised to become the majority of the American workforce, yet representation in our industry is only 36.4%. Fewer than one in four senior executives in cable are women. Nationally, women earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Against this landscape, WICT is not just relevant, it’s a necessity.
And I agree with Abbe and Maggie, I don’t believe that having a woman in the White House would have had any effect on these issues, at least not in the near term.
GS: WICT is especially relevant in these economic times. It has to help make sure that women will be prepared to change fields and to put focus on the potential problem of losing much of the ground we’ve gained in the last few years. On a macro basis, if women were the last in, they could well be the first out.
CFTM: What are the most important changes for women working in the cable since you’ve been in the industry?
AR: Since I started out 25 years ago, I am incredibly proud of the number of women running cable networks today. And it’s not just CEO or GM level, there also a number of women running key divisions at major cable networks, programming, ad sales, distribution, marketing, digital, etc….
MB: In my opinion Women’s Liberation has become a double – edged sword. Women are expected to be great in business, as wives, mothers, homemakers, stylists, cooks, and nutritionists, care givers, all the while being incredibly pleasant, supportive and nice.
I can’t think of anyone else in the ‘zoo’ of whom so much is expected, " so little is acceptable to compromise and where imperfections are not tolerated.
BFM: Although the percent of women in cable has declined since I began in the industry in 2001, I have seen some positive trends related to the adoption of new policies and programs that benefit all three areas of PAR: Pay equity, Advancement opportunities and Resources for work/life support.
It’s also exciting to see a new generation of women leaders taking the helm of some of the industry’s most popular cable networks, including Kim Martin, Nancy Dubuc, Eileen O’Neil and Salaam Coleman Smith; women heading the development of technology, including Vicki Lins, Padmasree Warrior, Nomi Bergman and Cathy Avgiris; and women rising to the top of major media companies, including Anne Mulcahy, Judy McGrath and Abbe.
GS: The biggest change was the ascendancy of programming networks as the driving force in cable’s reaching its full subscriber potential. These were new companies run by young, creative people who cared more about the ideas than the gender of the person presenting the idea. They were growing so fast that they grabbed talent wherever it resided and women reaped the reward.
Since their major asset was their people, they were receptive to listening to how to keep that talent happy. Many times that listening took the form of sensitivity training that would eventually bring women the respect of their colleagues, which they so deserved. The programmers sort of set the example and made the operating side of the industry see that it was missing out on a significant talent pool.
Of course, we can’t neglect to mention the women’s movement as a whole. As women started to pour into the work force, they looked for industries that would give them a fare shake. We always felt that when they looked at cable they would see that the Industry supported an advocacy organization for women and that that fact would make cable even more attractive.
CFTM: What should WICT’s primary goals be now?
YVETTE KANOUFF: Helping to get more women into the industry, especially into cable technology. Our industry is so welcoming of women, but many women aren’t exposed to its opportunities.
AR: WICT should really be focusing on the critical issues facing our industry. Mentoring and leadership are still incredibly important. But we should also be focused on tackling issues like government regulation, a shrinking economy and cable getting a bigger piece of the ad sales marketplace from broadcast.
MB: In this new economy, for the first time, more women than men will be employed, so we can expect new kinds of businesses and business models to be developed. Women will be the next ‘inventors’ to bring forth positive industry changes as we saw in the ’70s with new companies like FedEx, Microsoft and SAP. That’s what’s coming and that’s what WICT needs to prepare us for — leadership with a difference, leadership that can take all the change dynamics that are coming and mix them with a feminist point of view to be incorporated across business and society.
BFM: While developing women leaders is our mission, WICT’s primary goal continues to be striving toward parity for women in the three aspects of PAR: Pay equity, Advancement opportunities, and Resources for work/life support.
For 2009, WICT issued a challenge to cable to reverse the trend of declining numbers in nearly all measured categories and reclaim at least the position achieved in 2003, when the PAR Initiative began.
CFTM: Is there still a large gap between men and women in cable in pay, promotion, opportunities and respect?
MB: A large gap? Well, that’s debatable, but yes, there’s a gap. Yet we are seeing more and more women quietly rising in the ranks – they are getting in there.
YK: The truth is that there are still so few women on [the technology] side of our industry. Once we have more parity of women in the field, we’ll see more parity in pay and promotion.
BFM: All one needs to do is look at the latest PAR results to see there remains a huge gap between men and women on almost all levels in cable. While WICT doesn’t track women’s specific salary data, we know that just roughly 56% of participating companies reported having a formal pay equity policy. With only 36.4% of women employees and 22% of women senior executives in our industry, we still have a long way to go to reach parity there as well.
As for respect, I have always felt that the women and men in the cable industry enjoy a great deal of mutual respect. However, that mutual respect doesn’t necessarily translate to equitable hiring and promotion practices as evidenced by the PAR data.
CFTM: Women have made larger gains on the programming side of cable than on the operations side. Why? Will that ever change?
BFM: Cable operations is more technology driven, and women are underrepresented in all cable technology positions. Women make up 15.1% of all cable technology employees. But what we see in cable mirrors other tech – driven industries. The good news is New Media continues to provide opportunities for tech – oriented women.
The technology services deployed by cable operators have precipitated a steady decline in the number of female CSRs who often lack the technical expertise necessary to support these functions, so the overall percentage of women on the operations side is impacted as a result.
Cultural changes may need to take place before we see significant increases of women in technology on both the programming and operations side of the industry. Technology schools are implementing programs aimed at attracting more women. This may become a catalyst for more women in cable technology.
Another catalyst for change could be the recession. As qualified women seek promising career opportunities, technology could attract that talent – even into a new division of one’s current employer, which is what we’ve seen in New Media divisions across cable.
MB: It will change as companies realize that management has to reflect the customer — and it’s not just about women, but diversity and inclusion.
It’s interesting to note my experience in the world of telecom operations, which is much more open to women leadership than cable. That’s why I came from telecom to cable; yet even today you can count the number of women operational leaders in cable on one hand. Other industries are much further along.
CFTM: Speaking of technology, what’s the status of women on the tech side, Yvette?
YK: Unfortunately, the number of women in cable technology does not yet reflect the number of women in technology as a whole.
We need to focus on that, and we’re trying by reaching out to young women and letting them know that cable is a great career choice with challenging technical positions and great opportunities. Cable technology still has some association with "the cable guy" and we need the world to understand that this association needs to change to "the cable engineer". We will get there. I must say that I cannot imagine a place where more opportunity exists for women in technology.
BFM: Yvette’s right. In 2008, WICT worked with McKinley Marketing, Inc. on a Study of Women in Cable & Cable Technology. Four focus groups emphasized that to motivate women in cable to transition to technical roles companies needed to do a better job of communicating the benefits and opportunities associated with working in cable technology.
They found the most appealing attributes of working in cable technology to be the dynamic and fast – paced work setting, a highly collaborative and social work environment, the opportunities to expand their knowledge and grow professionally, and the ability to apply skills and knowledge to new product development.
CFTM: What steps are being taken to get young women interested in careers in cable technology? Is the industry doing enough on this front?
YK: I don’t think we are doing enough to get young women interested in cable technology. We are trying with programs such as Tech – It – Out, but women still represent fewer than 6% of workers in cable technology. Why? We need to do more to show women that we have interesting areas of work, cutting – edge technologies and, most important, great career paths for women.
CFTM: Is the work – life balance still the toughest hurdle for working women?
MB: No. Women have figured out how to do it. It’s just having their bosses and companies trust and believe that they can. And most important, women having the confidence to do it!
YK: Isn’t the work – life balance a tough challenge for men and women? Of course it’s a difficult challenge for women, especially in raising children, but I see more and more that it is a challenge for everyone.
BFM: Right, the work – life balance is less a women’s issue and more an employee issue. For many male and female employees, particularly those under the age of 35, work – life balance is the number one issue related to workplace satisfaction, ranking above pay.
Gen X and Y employees are attracted to careers and companies that allow them to work smarter to achieve their business goals, but also allow them to pursue their interests outside of work, including taking care of their families, hobbies, education, travel/leisure activities, etc. Flexible work schedules, telecommuting — driven by cable – supplied technology — onsite wellness centers and other benefits are offered by many of the Best Companies for Women in Cable.
GS: Women still have the primary responsibility and the primary instinctive desire to nurture their children full – time while at the same time many have a very strong motivation to achieve their ultimate business potential. Many find themselves the primary supporter for their family. That’s a lot of stress.
And with the multiple problems business faces today, corporate focus is shifting even further away from helping to ease that stress.
Organizations like WICT that can bring these related issues to the forefront again are going to become increasingly important.