Election 2008 has all the makings of a hit reality show—a beloved ex-President who abandoned an elder statesman’s role to go on the attack, a woman front-runner for the presidency, a black candidate who draws stadium-size crowds and is said to have stirred up a youth movement, and voters in record numbers.
Granted, something remarkable—perhaps transcendent—is occurring in American politics. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s candidacies seem triumphal. But race and gender are hard to miss, at least on the Democratic side of this nominating process. Diversity, after all, is front and center in this campaign. Arguably, it has never figured so prominently in public life, and it’s being reported with glee on the prime-time news. We may be making headway.
Yes, the electorate remains divided. Obama needs more Hispanics, Asian-Americans and white working class women in his corner. Clinton needs more African-Americans, and both need more votes from white males over the age of 40. But there’s an aura of inevitability about their campaigns, and their battle has convinced legions of voters to join the march of destiny. It is not inconceivable that either a woman or a man of Kenyan-Kansan ancestry will stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol next January to deliver an inaugural address.
Why should any of this matter to cable? What lessons can we take away from this year’s presidential contest?
Diversity is on the upswing and it is no longer a foregone conclusion as to the gender and ethnicity of the person who will hold America’s top job. The opinions of women, minorities and youth matter more than ever, and it is a sobering reality. Notwithstanding the economic benefits of courting these groups, perhaps the most important message for our industry is change—the underlying message of many of the candidates, and one that is striking a chord with 75% of American voters.
When it comes to diversity, this message must not be lost on the cable industry. Why should it be more difficult to swell the ranks of women and people of color in cable executive suites than it is to potentially put a woman or an African-American in the White House?
Clearly, the public responds to the concept of change. Witness young voters. They “get” change. For example, the Facebook generation has formed Obama’s army, and they’re forcing candidates to listen up. Their impact has even been described as a “youthquake” and goes well beyond their numbers.
Because this crowd can help drive your business, or the competition’s, it’s best to be on the winning side—the hiring side—by building a multi-ethnic pipeline and causing a sort of “cablequake” among youth. Over the next six years, 8.4 million Hispanic-Americans, 5.9 million African-Americans and 2.7 million Asian-Americans are projected to graduate from college, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Here you will find a corp of recruits who can help position your company for change.
Can cable operators and programmers become agents of change? Why not? All too often diversity is sidelined by other pressing business matters. NAMIC and other collegial organizations push diversity messages year-round and are viewed as “owners” of the diversity arena. Until the industry as a whole takes an ownership stake in diversity, little can be accomplished.
As the election reality show reshapes the political landscape, it just might be the right time to act upon the demographic changes impacting our own industry—starting with a renewed sense of urgency among cable veterans.
Kathy Johnson is president of the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC).