These days—with the economy uncertain and all of us doing three people’s jobs—taking a moment to consider the importance of diversity within the workplace can seem like a luxury. Sure, we all talk the talk—and many of us try to walk the walk. But the truth is that fostering diversity is one of those concepts like fighting cancer. Everyone’s for it. But progress is slow, and we’re still years away from a cure. To be sure, the cable industry especially has made huge strives in the last couple of decades. In fact, it has been truly amazing to watch cable’s transformation from a mostly Caucasian, old boy’s club into something far more interesting and diverse. Women now run some of the biggest and most successful cable networks, and other female execs hold positions of great power on both the programming and MSO side. Minorities—from African-Americans to Asians to Hispanics—are starting to wield significant power across the industry.
The strides are many. And these are encouraging times for all of us. But before everybody starts patting themselves on the back, it’s important to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go (MSOs, for example, need to do better when it comes to women and minorities in the C-suite).. And in 2010, that’s unfortunate considering the increasingly diverse customer base that the entire industry now must serve and in many cases actually fight for. A more diverse workforce is the only way to ensure that the unique perspectives of that customer base are both understood and capitalized upon not only by department heads but among the C-level strategy gurus who decide where and how money gets spent across the business. And with cut-throat competition for viewers and subscribers, it’s time for a sense of urgency.
As we all gather in NYC this week for Diversity Week, we’ll attend many fine sessions at WICT and NAMIC, wine and dine each other silly (including the always fabulous Kaitz Dinner) and generally schmooze until we’re socially tapped out. But how much will our conversations and networking center around diversity? After the panels are over and influential execs and opinion-makers jump in those cabs and sedans for opulent dinners and cocktail outings this week, how many of us will actually take a moment to reflect on diversity and why this week is such an important reminder of its power and, frankly, positive impact on the bottom line? Perhaps some will. But many of our discussions will veer into other more general areas and only occasionally circle back to diversity. Some might say that it’s enough to attend panels and official events all day. We need a break during the receptions, schmoozefests and dinner/drinking outings to talk about something else. But it’s during these more unguarded and unstructured moments—during the “down time” when execs are free to express ideas and share data—that some of the best brainstorming takes place. This is when execs can share their mentoring success stories or most effective recruitment tactics. This is when ideas on how to use new Internet tools and outreach organizations to widen the hiring net can fuel new ideas that build upon old ones and ultimately improve everyone’s effectiveness. This is when the magic happens.
So let’s all try to use this week to do more than pay lip-service to diversity. Let’s all make a commitment to really put our heads together on ways we all can help each other make sure that this industry remains a leader. These things take time. And the cable industry deserves a world of credit for its attention to this important area (The fact that NCTA board sanctioned the return of Diversity Week in NYC speaks volumes to this ongoing commitment). But often staying focused on diversity amid so many other matters tugging at our attentions requires extra effort, dedication and enormous discipline. In a competitive world, however, it’s effort well spent—and the rewards can fuel not only the underlying business but also our underlying spirit. Let’s have a great time this week. And let’s remember why we’re here.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX).