'Commitment' is Much More Than a Word

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Today, our industry finds itself in an unenviable position. Research indicates that talented and qualified women are not moving up the corporate ladder and instead are looking outside the telecommunications industry for professional happiness and success. This has implications, not only for women, but for the future growth and profitability of the industry as well.

Changing these unfortunate facts will require a visible, top down commitment by this industry to address its shortcomings. Words alone will not suffice.

BY THE NUMBERS

In the Women in Cable & Telecommunications Foundation's recently released "Diversity Through Investment" white paper, the results of its Best Practices Initiative Survey revealed that female employees across the industry are underrepresented compared to the national average of 46.3 percent.

More troubling is the fact that the industry falls further behind when comparing positions farther up the corporate ladder. Overall, women occupy only 31 percent of executive offices (senior vice president and above). Women of color are finding the barriers are greater. While they make up almost 12 percent of the workforce, they represent only 3 percent of executives in the telecommunications industry.

Other research supports the perception that women are not provided the opportunity to advance in this industry.

According to the 1999 Federal Communications Commission Cable and Multi-Channel Video Program Distributor Employment Report, nearly 3,000 women working for cable operators lost or left their jobs between 1998 and 1999, while the number of men working for cable operators grew slightly.

The FCC's report also notes that a disproportionate percentage of women made up the 1,565 officials' and managers' jobs lost over the same period. And, while the report notes an increase in women of color working in the industry, those women are working primarily in clerical or junior positions.

As mergers and acquisitions become the norm in the industry, women are taking the brunt of downsizing.

DIVERSITY'S BOTTOM LINE

The benefits of diversity directly add to the bottom line.

The American Management Association and the Business and Professional Women's Foundation conducted a study on the profitability of companies with and without women and people of color in positions of power. Companies with a majority of female top managers saw their sales increase 22.9 percent on average compared to a 12.6-percent increase for firms with all male managers. Companies with at least some people of color in top offices saw sales increase 20.2 percent on average, while companies with all-white top managers saw increased sales of only 13.6 percent.

The most important conclusion reached on the basis of these statistics is about the relationship between workforce and customer. If companies are to effectively respond to the needs of those who consume their products, having a workforce that reflects their customer base is an invaluable business advantage.

To attract and retain women, companies need to implement the kinds of programs some organizations in our industry have already successfully started. Best Practices programs that focus on compensation practices; diversity programs and management training; work/life programs; learning and development programs and application/implementation practices are key elements of attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.

Top line revenue growth is not the only impact of Best Practices programs. They also lower expenses of employee turnover, a cost that is likely to grow as record employment levels — even in a weakening economy — increase worker choice. Every respondent to WICT's survey who measured the impact of their own Best Practices programs reported an increase in employee retention.

Those programs also will assist in attracting the workers of tomorrow if they actually result in helping women move to the top of companies. Arthur Andersen's "Bringing Girls Into Corporate America" is a bold statement of how far corporations must go to get young women to even consider them as employers. A full 92 percent of the girls who participated in the study cited the lack of female role models in business is the key reason they look to small business and public service for careers rather than to larger corporations.

A COMMITMENT

Commitment to the attraction, retention and appropriate promotion of women and people of color must begin at the top and then must be communicated down the corporate ladder. Commitment to diversity must be made apparent by offering specialized training for management, by implementing work/life programs, by maintaining competitive and equitable compensation packages and by providing leadership development, mentoring and succession planning.

Companies must do more than implement these programs; they must measure their effectiveness and make those responsible for their implementation accountable. The communication of commitment — bonuses and merit raises directly tied to a supervisor's successful implementation of these programs — is the most effective tool for effectively integrating diversity programs and policies and work/life programs into a company's corporate culture.

Measuring the effectiveness of these programs is critical to continuously improving their impact. Tracking employee usage and satisfaction through employee opinion surveys, small-group discussions with top executives including the CEO and conducting exit interviews with departing employees are proven steps.

To allow the number of women and women of color in executive leadership positions to remain the same or shrink will harm an industry that already is competing with other industries for the top talent in a shrinking talent pool.

The current marketplace is too competitive to settle for the way things have always been. The industry faces a serious decline in growth and profitability unless comprehensive efforts are made to better serve employees and to create diversity throughout the industry.

WICT is committed to providing the tools and resources for companies to create best practices programs. Because there is much work to do to stop the erosion of women in an industry where women are already underrepresented, WICT is also committed to participating with other industry organizations to find mutually beneficial solutions to our challenges.

The Annenberg Study discovered that just 16 percent of the leadership of telecommunications industry organizations are comprised of women. These associations are the centers of power that reflect the wider truth that women and people of color are afforded little influence in our industry.

Companies and industry organizations that simply lament this sad state of affairs or shuttle responsibility to yet another committee take the most dangerous action. It obscures the extent of the problem without getting concrete, measurable results.

Commitment is more than just a word to be used. It is an action to be taken. WICT's Best Practices Initiative has clearly defined those actions that our industry should implement to improve the unacceptable status quo.

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley is president of the Women in Cable & Telecommunications Foundation and Kathleen A. Dore is the chair of the WICT Foundation and president of Bravo Networks.

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