Last month’s Cable Show in Boston was the coming out party for Nicol Turner-Lee, the new president of the
National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications. Turner-Lee is formerly the vice president of the
Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and also served as
its first director. She recently spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about
her plans to raise the diversity organization’s profi le and increase its standing within the cable industry as it
continues to work with cable operators and programmers to foster diversity in front of and behind the camera, as well as within
its employment ranks. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: How would you defi ne NAMIC?
Nicol Turner-Lee: I had been familiar with NAMIC over
the last seven years; I have presented at conferences and
was a strong supporter as well as a member of the association
prior to my arrival as president and CEO. And I always
saw NAMIC — and will continue to nurture the long
history that they have — as an association founded by the
cable companies to pay attention to how we cultivate and
monitor diversity and inclusion in our industry. So I look
at NAMIC as this premier organization that is not necessarily
a watchdog group, but a group that partners with industry
to ensure that we do a good job of ensuring the most
diverse and inclusive workforce and a better understanding
of an inclusive marketplace.
MCN: You say NAMIC is not a watchdog group, but given
your background, will the organization take on a greater
advocacy role with regard to diversity?
NTL: You know that’s interesting. Like I said, we’re not a
watchdog, so we’re not really there to shun the industry,
because we are part of the industry.
My background is in policy and research and I come out
of the Beltway community, where, on the consumption side,
we were very focused on ensuring that there was equal access
to all forms of media and technology for communities
of color. I think for NAMIC, obviously, to be at our most effective
point, we will have to develop research
and evidence that educates the industry as
to the state of diversity and inclusion. And
it allows us also to offer help and assistance
for how [the industry] actually improves
and gets better.
As far as the engagement of the policymakers
in Washington, certainly one of the
pillars of my plan going forward is to raise
our profile. The communications industry,
as you know, is a burgeoning industry right
now. And certainly, we’re not an advocacy
group, but there are policies that affect the
individuals that work and are members of
our association. So we need to be sensitive
to what those policies are.
[By] the same token, we need to play a role in educating
our members and, maybe in some cases, educating the industry
on how to make the proper decisions and the proper
strategies for engaging in these types of dialogues. I’m in a
beginning exploratory phase, as you know. My background
is D.C., and it’s really thinking through strategically how the
association raises its profi le in those areas.
MCN: What are you finding are the organization’s
strengths and weaknesses?
NTL: I think our strength is that we are the singular entity
for safely vetting these types of issues. And I think our
strengths are that we prepare leaders for the communications
industry and we are able to convene resources
around it. I mean, we have 16 active chapters and 2,700
members across the country that we have been able to
bring together in this industry, and we have been able to
do some signature studies that date back to 1999 that keep
us abreast of the trends.
We’ve recognized 108 companies over the course of
time, honoring them for diversity programming, multicultural
marketing, advertising, as well as their creative
fields since 2005. I think NAMIC has done a great job and
taken the time to really look at issues of concern to people
of color. In terms of areas of improvement, NAMIC is not
sheltered from industry changes. We are
now in a state where digital convergence
is somewhat infl uencing the state of our
industry. We are looking at, I think, areas
where there are obviously lower barriers
to entry for multicultural programming,
yet there is more work to do to get more
content that’s multicultural in nature in
front of people. We still have challenges
with regards to creating the right pathway
for executives of color to get into industry
positions of influence.
So what I plan to do at NAMIC is to really
to do a couple things. One is to understand
the pipeline that we currently have
and where we need to expand that pipeline
so we can be much more flexible and
meet the needs of our industry partners.
As you know, with NAMIC, we have everybody
from operators to programmers
to social-media strategists to governmentrelations
people. We’ve got to meet people
where they’re at and we have to ensure that our programming
is flexible enough to do this.
I think the other challenge is ensuring again [that] our
profile is still respected in the space, particularly amid these
changing platforms. It’s one thing to have been a NAMIC
member 30 years ago; it’s another thing to be a NAMIC
member today. And I think that’s one of the areas that I
definitely want to work on. Our return to companies is the
ability to generate next-generation leaders and to ensure that
the leaders that we have now in the communications industry
are prepared to adapt to the new business environment.
It requires a lot of moving parts, but I see that as an area that
the organization can definitely improve.
MCN: You started to touch on this a little bit earlier, but
what is your assessment of the industry’s overall diversity
efforts? We’ve seen some improvement on on-screen, but
some folks have questioned the slow pace of the industry
to employ more multicultural executives at decisionmaking
positions within MSOs and cable networks.
NTL: I think you’re right on target with regards to the diversity
that we’re seeing on-screen. I have been very impressed
personally by the creation of new content and the
creation of new, minority-owned networks. When I think
about the new minority-owned networks that Comcast
has announced, I’m really excited, because I think that is
again an improvement, as to your point, in multicultural
I do understand that we have to do a lot more behind
the screen. The best multicultural programming comes
from a diverse workforce that comes together and drives
different imagery, paradigms and scenarios that we then
distribute out to consumers. So, to your point, they go
hand in hand.
From a business side, the industry
wants to do the right thing. I think organizations
like NAMIC have the opportunity
to help them figure out how
to do the right thing and what’s needed,
as well as to provide the evidence to be
benchmarked against. In the boardroom
we have more to do; we have
more to do at the senior-executive level
and, obviously, the ownership level.
And I think with NAMIC again infusing
their presence and helping to develop
a framework that allows for that type
of growth, I think we should be able
to see increased metrics among these
companies and increased inclusivity of
the workforce, which would then trickle
into the other things that we’ll see later
or we’re seeing now with multicultural
MCN: You had also mentioned that
you wanted to raise NAMIC’s profile
and awareness. If we’re having this
conversation a year from now, going
into the next Cable Show, how will
NAMIC look different, if you are able
to accomplish all of your goals?
NTL: I don’t know. We’ll see. Our ability
to increase and expand the pipeline
of multicultural leaders will be a plus
and a win for us if we’re able to get people
while they’re in the industry to stay
in the industry, and if we’re able to generate
a new energy of leaders that come
into our industry and catch them at even
earlier stages of high school and college.
I think the second success of NAMIC will be our
ability to help companies articulate how to capture
this market of people of color and how to do it in a way
where it makes good business sense. I am a firm believer
that as our industry evolves to offer content any
time, any place, on any device, that NAMIC needs to
be on the cutting edge of those conversations. I know
we’ll be successful when people see NAMIC at the table
and ask, “What would NAMIC think?” As long as people
keep asking me those questions, I know we’ve done the
right thing in terms of positioning ourselves as thought
leaders in this space.
And then I think our ability to grow our membership
and to grow our industry’s support will be very significant.
We want to be a player and we want this to be a
true partnership between an industry that cares and an
association that represents the people that they are investing
in on a daily basis. And if I can get people to understand
the nature of that relationship and the depth
and the importance of that relationship, Tom, I have
done my job.