This week’s Women in Cable Telecommunications gala in Washington, D.C., will be slightly different from the group’s previous 21 black-tie functions. In addition to honoring deserving women and naming companies that the latest PAR Initiative Survey found to be the best places for women to work, WICT will unveil a multipart initiative, dubbed the WICT Tech It Out Program, whose main goal is to increase the number of women in cable’s tech sector. (To help get the ball rolling, we’ve compiled our first ever nod to cable’s top women working in technology as part of our 2006 Top Women in Cable honor roll.)

The program will also attempt to encourage female middle school and college students to consider careers in cable technology. But Tech It Out will be more than an outreach program. One of its programmatic components, while not yet formally scheduled, will likely be modeled on WICT’s Executive Development Seminar and Betsy Magness Leadership Institute, intimate retreats where “women can have an experience, mentor each other and learn from professionals,” says Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, WICT’s president.

Another programmatic effort concerns women already in cable who don’t have traditional tech backgrounds. WICT will be urging companies to set up programs that encourage nontechnical female managers to transition into project management of tech-based services.

The program’s first-year budget is $75,000, with additional in-kind support from key partners, such as BET. Cable’s tech organization, SCTE, and human resources group, CTHRA, are working cooperatively with WICT on Tech It Out, WICT says.



EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT TECHS, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

An early taste of the WICT Tech It Out Program will come during the Nov. 15 WICT Gala in Washington, D.C., where WICT’s 1,000 guests in attendance will be the first to see a series of BET-developed PSAs cleverly dubbed “Techs in the City.” The animated PSA features stylish characters named Cassie and Dina, both of whom work in tech. The piece aims to create a positive image of female tech workers.

A bit light, you’re thinking. Not necessarily, WICT argues. Indeed, Tech It Out is backed by hard data from WICT’s yearly PAR survey that tracks Pay equity, Advancement opportunities and Resources for work/life. In WICT’s 2005 PAR study, women made up just 26.5% of corporate/HQ tech workers. Not a terrible figure considering it is roughly the national average and just a bit off from the 37.3% of all female cable workers.

“Where the numbers fall off badly for cable is when tech employees in the field are counted,” Mosley says. “For IT project managers, engineers and technicians the number drops quite significantly,” she says. PAR 2005 showed women were just 19.9% of IT managers/project directors. “For an industry driven by technology, this is a bad trend,” she says, adding that the 26.5% figure for female tech workers in corporate HQ needs to be addressed, too.

Still, you might be wondering, why begin a campaign with a PSA series that makes women feel good about careers in cable technology? Again, WICT has a convincing answer. A major part of Tech It Out will be a public relations blitz to excite middle school and college females about careers in cable technology. The videos will be shown and distributed at WICT’s new annual leadership conference in March, at local chapter events and on its website.

WICT also plans to use videos to highlight the careers of women who’ve had successful tech careers. These “ambassadors of technology” also will be sent around the country to speak at WICT chapters and other groups that WICT plans to work with on the program. WICT will also be pushing trade publications to run stories about these women. “We won’t miss an opportunity to promote” the program, Mosley says.

WICT VPs Tom Quash and Parthavi Das, who will be heading Tech It Out, will be reaching out to groups like Girls Inc., Women in Technology International and Boys and Girls Clubs of America to leverage their membership rolls and meetings. “Many groups already are promoting technology [to students and young women] and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we want to work with groups that have been successful,” Mosley says. Partnering with these groups will be a crucial part of the program, Das says.

But is it really worth WICT’s effort to encourage young women to consider a career in cable technology? On this, Mosey speaks from experience: “I wish I had someone to connect the dots for me when I was young, to show me how exciting technology could be and how it could result in better consumer products. Girls need that.” In fact, the Olympics gold medal winner has an industrial engineering degree and worked part-time for defense contractors while she continued to compete in athletics.


TECH JOBS FOR NONTECHS?

Part of Tech It Out will be getting female managers already in cable but who are not necessarily tech people to think about moving to tech management positions. “Unlike men, women are not likely to try jobs that they don’t have experience in. They need encouragement,” Mosley says. Of course, this will require companies to set up training and mentoring programs and trust that nontechnical managers can succeed in technical environments.

Sound far-fetched? Not really, Mosley says, pointing to Comcast’s Catherine Avgiris. Ms. Avgiris, who is not an engineer, is SVP and GM of Comcast Voice Services. In addition, Mosley notes Time Warner, Advance/Newhouse and HBO as examples of companies that are encouraging women to excel in information technology via traditional and nontraditional paths.

Advance/Newhouse’s 2005 PAR responses noted its career planning, mentoring and retention programs for women in IT. As new services are offered, Advance/Newhouse is allowing women to gain hands-on experience with new technology while learning about operating duties. The company is testing formal mentoring across its systems and implementing career planning and retention programs for middle managers and IT women. In its 2005 PAR Survey response, HBO described its mentoring and external development programs for women, resulting in multiple paths for success in IT. Time Warner is aggressively advancing women in IT, particularly in new projects for digital services and content delivery.


TECHNOLOGY, THE LARGER ISSUE

WICT was also moved to begin the Tech It Out Program for reasons beyond the number of women working in cable technology. As an engineer, Mosley is concerned about the country’s decline in graduating scientists and engineers (see chart, above).

In addition, Quash says the program attacks part of a larger problem for cable, namely hiring and retaining good technology personnel, which is becoming a problem for a few reasons. The U.S. production of engineers has been stagnant during the past three years, Quash says. During the same period China and India have doubled production of three- and four-year degrees in science and engineering, according to the National Science Foundation.

Moving back to the gender-based issue, getting more women to study engineering would theoretically provide a larger pool for cable. Yet women represent just 17.5% of engineering students in the U.S., NSF says. While the number of women obtaining engineering degrees has risen, the proportion of women receiving such degrees has declined in recent years.

Cable is beginning to feel the crunch, Quash says, as cable’s skilled tech workers are lured away by DBS and the telcos. The recognition that cable needs to excite young women and men about technology, help train them and provide challenging career paths is becoming painfully obvious to HR directors, like Comcast SVP of human resources Charisse Lillie, an early supporter of Tech It Out.
Check out the rest of CableWorld’s 2006 Most Powerful Women issue – click here.

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