Backtalk: The Gender Thing


Nearly 1,000 people made the trek to Washington, D.C., lastweek to pay their respects to Kate McEnroe, American Movie Classics' president andthis year's honoree at the annual Women in Cable & Telecommunications black-tiegala.

As these shindigs go, this one was a winner on all fronts.It was a great party, but it was a party with an important cause: gender equality, whichthe organization works on throughout the year via a variety of programs -- especially itsimpressive management-development program, the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute, whichis now in its fifth year.

WICT, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year,has finally found its voice, and it is now truly the advocacy organization for women inour industry that it was intended to be.

That wasn't always the case: In years past, its boardwas at odds over what its mission should be. Cooler heads have prevailed in recent years,which has not gone unnoticed by the cable and telecommunications companies that nowwholeheartedly support its agenda.

Tele-Communications Inc.'s seemingly ever-presentpresident and chief operating officer, Leo J. Hindery Jr., was there with a pointedmessage. Warming up the crowd, he shared a slightly ribald tale about McEnroe'slegendary negotiating prowess, referring to the time when she sent flowers to his home andhow he had to explain the note -- which read, "Romance is in the air, see youtomorrow, Kate" -- to his wife.

Hindery adroitly switched gears and talked about theimportance of WICT -- a subject that seems close to his heart and his checkbook. Thisyear, TCI will put five of its female employees through the Betsy Magness training program-- a grueling, yearlong commitment, which most graduates who I've heard fromdescribed as a life-changing experience.

Hindery spoke frankly about his personal shock over arecent survey that WICT and our sister publication, Cablevision magazine, conductedon salary disparities among men and women working on the technical side of our business.

The survey concluded that female techs earned $6,774 lessper year than their male counterparts. If that in itself wasn't bad enough, thatnumber also represented a steady decline from earlier years.

Hindery was especially shocked over that disparity becauseon all measurable scales -- whether using educational background or years on the job --men were pulling in higher salaries than their female counterparts.

Hindery challenged the powers that be who where inattendance that night to go back to their respective companies and immediately conducttheir own internal salary reviews among men and women to insure that everyone is beingpaid what they deserve.

Josh Sapan, who heads up Rainbow Media Holdings and who isalso McEnroe's boss, praised her for not only doing what she does -- running acompany -- exceptionally well, but for how she spends a lot of time fighting for herpeople and bringing them up the ranks.

And that's what WICT is really all about, when youthink about it. It's about time this industry had its "good-old-girlnetwork."

You can sit around and talk about the female brain drain incable, if you will -- about how bigwigs like Kay Koplovitz and Geraldine Laybourne haveleft the cable industry to pursue more entrepreneurial gigs.

But the good-old-girl network is getting bigger by the day.Think about this: 100 women have completed the Betsy Magness program, during which 25 eachyear bond, sharing their business and private aspirations and learning the skills toadvance.

Those 100 grads will impart what they've learned andbond with this year's just-named class of 25 fellows, who went through a vigorousscreening process to get into the fold.

More so than anything that happened during the gala night,you could see and feel the electricity in the air among the Betsy Magness fellows. Those100 women now really know each other, as they share similar goals and tell stories of howthe program has helped them and how they have all helped one another to succeed.

As for the 25 new members, their excitement was contagious.Maybe I felt it more than others did that night: I witnessed the Magness fellows inaction, having been invited to speak at one of their very candid meetings earlier in theyear.

So again, congratulations to McEnroe; to this pastyear's class of Magness fellows; to this year's new class of 25 fellows; and toWICT for making all of this wonderful stuff happen. Kudos to all.