'E’ for Really Big Effort

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At first blush, the honor that the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications is bestowing on Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts may raise questions. After all, his mighty media company lags behind the industry average in the number of minorities it employs in senior management.

But NAMIC has put Roberts at the center of its 25th anniversary celebration, because of his diligence in improving the company’s diversity track record, as well as supporting efforts to improve the entire industry’s record. And the organization also recognizing Comcast’s great potential.

“Comcast has been a major supporter of NAMIC over the years. It is one of our biggest corporate sponsors,” says Kathy Johnson, the association’s executive vice president. In addition, Johnson says Comcast “has a large presence in the top urban markets in the country.” This makes it an important player in any effort to advance minorities into upper management.

About 5% of Comcast’s senior management is made up of minorities. This lags behind the industry average of 7%, but is significantly ahead of where Comcast was two years ago, when only 2% of its senior managers were people of color, according to the company’s internal figures.

The company achieved that growth through several initiatives, says Comcast executive vice president David Cohen, although he adds that he’s used the word, “initiatives,” in “the broadest possible sense.” This is because diversity has long been a part of Comcast’s DNA and culture, Cohen says.

Company founder Ralph Roberts and his son, Brian, have always made their personal beliefs about diversity known throughout the company, Cohen says. “A lot of it comes from Ralph’s upbringing. Jews faced their own form of discrimination and exclusion from the economic pie.” He adds, “Ralph’s views have always been present in the company, and Brian feels the same way.”

So the first step to institutionalizing diversity in the newly merged, and much bigger Comcast following its acquisition of AT&T Broadband, was to make sure that the message emanated, from the top of the company down, that diversity hiring is a priority.

“It is something that we think about, and we ask people to think about all the time when they make decisions on hiring, programming, promotion and community investment,” Cohen says.

Cohen and Comcast Cable Communications president Steve Burke created a diversity council at Comcast in 2002, with Cohen in the chairman’s seat. “It consists of senior managers from every relevant area of the company and it meets three or four times a year,” Cohen says. Burke serves on the council, as do such heavy hitters as Amy Banse, executive vice president of programming investments; David Watson, executive vice president of operations, and Charles Thurston, president of Comcast Spotlight. The elder Roberts comes to every meeting, Cohen says.

Comcast also changed its hiring practices. “We have escalated our programs to recruit minorities, and particular, to recruit more senior minorities into the company, and to make sure that minorities are given every consideration in the promotional process,” Cohen says.

Company representatives attended 200 job fairs last year, and the “vast majority included a focus on attracting local minority candidates,” he says.

Comcast has also established relationships with minority search firms. “We let the search firms know that even when we don’t have an opening, if they see, for example, an interesting engineering candidate, we hope they will come to us,” Cohen says.

Comcast also considers diversity a priority when promoting managers from within. “We have leadership-development programs at Comcast University that are tailored to minorities in the company,” Cohen says. “We are very conscious of making sure there is an overrepresentation in those programs, because those programs produce a disproportionate share of our promotional candidates on a company-wide basis.”

Although its senior ranks aren’t yet diversified enough, Comcast has been working hard to put many minorities into middle management, hoping that it will be only a matter of time before they move to the senior levels of the company, Cohen says. Although 13% of Comcast’s managers with the title of director or above were minorities by the end of 2004, 40% of those promoted into these positions over the past two years have been minorities, and 30% have been women,” Cohen says. In 2005 alone, 14% of Comcast employees promoted in senior management, and 18% of employees promoted in management as a whole, have been minorities.

As it has worked to expand its minority-management ranks, Comcast has made significant strides in diversifying its staff overall. About 40% of Comcast’s total employee population is made up of minorities. Recently, it was named one of the Top 40 companies for hiring Hispanics and one of the top 10 companies for philanthropic giving by Hispanic Business Magazine. In addition, Diversity Inc.com gave it runner-up status in its listing of America’s top 50 companies for multicultural business opportunities.

NAMIC’s award won’t be the 46-year-old Roberts’ first recognition for his commitment to diversity. He was the 2002 Walter Kaitz Foundation Honoree of the Year and in 2004, he received the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award.

“A workplace for employees and suppliers free from discrimination and harassment is not enough,” Roberts says, in a statement posted on Comcast’s Web site. “We are committed to set an example, actively providing full opportunities for all in order to reach our full potential.”

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