Backtalk: WICTs Class of 1997-98

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This past spring, I met 25 of the brightest and mostoutspoken women in this business, who just last month graduated from the 1997-98 class ofthe Betsy Magness Leadership Institute, which is run by Women in Cable &Telecommunications.

C-SPAN's Susan Swain, Discovery's Chris Moseleyand I were there to participate on a panel on the rather stodgy sounding topic of businessethics.

We really didn't know what we were getting into at thetime. But in retrospect, I have to say that it was one of the most rewarding experiencesin my eight years of covering this industry as the editor of Multichannel News.

Quickly, the panel became a lightning rod, as all of the"fellows" spiritedly and candidly chimed in with problems that they had or thatthey were encountering in their work lives.

It was a brainstorming feeding frenzy, where one story ledto another. One of the fellows, on the programming side at a cable company, complainedabout how salaries there were artificially deflated for positions like hers because hercompany took into account freebies and trips from networks as part of the totalcompensation package.

Another classmate shared the fact that her MSO had strictpolicies about accepting junkets from programmers because it was unethical and it couldtaint future negotiations, and she urged her colleague to rally for instituting such apolicy at her company.

I later learned that it actually happened.

Another classmate at the system level told us how hersystem was addressing, "The customer is always right," when, in fact, he or sheis not. Hers was a story about a cable subscriber who did not want a black installer tocome to his home. She told us that in the end, the system reached a compromise and sent awhite technician along with the black technician -- something that she was not entirelyhappy about.

The two-hour session flew by. Since that panel, I'verun into about one-dozen of the fellows at various industry events and heard howthey're faring and what they got out of the program.

Getting in, for starters, is no slam-dunk. For example, forthe upcoming 1998-99 class, 155 women have already applied for the 25 slots. Theenrollment process is probing and grueling, and each application is reviewed by threeindustry veterans.

"We want them to get used to looking at themselvesfrom different views," explains Pam Williams, WICT's executive director.

For example, last week, I caught up with Rori Peters, vicepresident, national accounts for Court TV, who was one of this year's graduates. Inspeaking about the course, she bluntly says, "It strips you down to the core and,until you do that, you cannot lead anyone else."

That's a pretty profound statement, but it'spretty universally shared by Peters' classmates. Terri Karam, regionaladvertising-sales manager for Cable One Advertising in Biloxi, Miss., gives the program aringing endorsement, saying that she has had mostly ups, but some downers, with WICT.

"The Betsy Magness experience gave me a more valuablenetwork than my entire 18 years in WICT, and in the telecommunications business, for thatmatter," she attests.

Another fellow of this year's class, BeverlyGreenberg, vice president, community/government relations for Time Warner Cable inMilwaukee, says she cannot believe how much the class accomplished in such a short time."As we interchanged ideas and experiences, there was such clarity andconflict-resolution," she says.

Although it's a yearlong program, there's not alot of so-called face time.

The program kicks off in the fall, when the fellows attenda one-week workshop at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. Then, threemore two-day session are held during the course of the year, culminating with graduationand a reunion dinner for all alumni, which now total 100.

But in between the face time, the fellows have assignments,like developing a comprehensive life plan, covering professional and personal goals anddeveloping a formal leadership role within the business. All this for $7,500, which doesnot include out-of-pocket expenses for travel.

But that's money well-spent, according to TomSharrard, president of Time Warner Milwaukee, who has now put three of his senior-levelwomen executives through the Betsy Magness Institute during the past two years. And hehopes that his candidate for the upcoming course will be one of the lucky ones chosen.

Sharrard says he has seen change in all three of theemployees who he has sponsored for this program. "They take things to the next level.They're more proactive and focused. In every case, the change was dramatic," headds.

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