Cable’s Diversity Efforts Still Don’t Reach Upper Management Suite

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With the biannual NAMIC diversity employment survey as a backdrop, several cable executives said the industry is improving its hiring of people of color, but still has a long way to go to fully reach its goals.

Speaking Monday during the 22nd annual NAMIC Conference’s opening general session, DiversityInc. co-founder Luke Visconti (click here for conference video) said while the industry is better than most industries in its overall hiring of minorities, he says the industry still has a ways to go, especially when compared to competitors like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

DiversityInc. co-partnered with NAMIC on producing the annual diversity employment survey, which revealed that cable has made gains in minority employment over the past two years, but some of its numbers – particularly in placing people of color in upper management positions -- fall well short of its telco competitors

While acknowledging that cable still has to work hard to achieve its diversity goals, Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen and NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow both said the industry should nevertheless be lauded for the strides it has made on the diversity front.

“It’s time to move on from [the argument] it’s a business case, to rather it’s a necessity because we’re a global entertainment business,” added A&E Television Networks president Abbe Raven. “Our business has to reflect that as well as our suppliers … its no longer a luxury … it’s the way we do business.”

TV One CEO Johnathan Rodgers said operators and networks have to realize how valuable a diverse workforce with a variety of experiences and ideas offers can be to the success of an organization.

“[A diverse workforce] will be more productive through the combination of different people working together,” he said. “Its making sure that everyone is represented because they bring good ideas.”

Still, BET CEO Debra Lee said it was a “disgrace” that more people of color are not among cable’s top management ranks and efforts to rectify the situation have to be implemented from the CEO down.

“It comes back to CEO commitment …it’s not about quotas, but it’s is about progress,” Lee said.

Added Scripps Networks president John Lansing: “Unless you create at the top a process that rewards divest hiring practices then things really don’t change.”

Lee added there are very qualified people of color who, if given the chance, can fill the top positions at cable operators and networks.

Comcast’s Cohen said the search for such candidates has to take place both inside and outside of the industry, but added that things will not improve overnight. “The worst thing we can do to move the needle is to just talk to everyone in the room,” he said. “You have to go to different audiences and different places where the talent is .. we’re a very insular group and we love to honor each other but we’re not doing [enough] outreach.”

Along with diversifying the employment ranks, the executives also said it’s important to reflect diversity onscreen. Scripps Networks president John Lansing said Scripps-owned Food Network’s ratings fortunes have improved since the network made the conscious effort earlier this year to add shows featuring people of color like Down Home With The Neeleys.

In fact, Discovery Communications president David Zaslav said the company nixed plans to create its own urban-targeted, Food-oriented channel once Scripps began offering such programming.

Lee said the best way to affect change onscreen is to hire more people of color to greenlight projects. “There’s still a real bottleneck on the creative side ... There’s still a lot more to be done,” she said.

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