Gender Equity: An Economic Must


On Nov. 20, more than 1,000 cable-industry executives attended the 24th annual WICT Benefit Gala in Washington, D.C., to salute the Accolades Award honorees.

Among the prestigious awards were the Forerunner Accolades, which recognized Cox Communications as the year's best cable operator and Discovery Communications as best programmer, as determined by their performance in WICT's 2008 PAR Initiative. In its sixth year, PAR provides a rigorous benchmark for pay equity, advancement opportunities and resources for work/life support for women in the cable industry.

Cox earned an impressive sixth consecutive Best Operator for Women in Cable Accolade this year. The operator consistently reflects its commitment to PAR through innovative practices, such as proactive and targeted training, pay-equity systems that make policy rationale transparent to employees and a formalized flex-work program.

Discovery took top honors as the year's Best Cable Programmer for Women in Cable, providing an outstanding model for retaining diversity, even during a period of significant transition. Discovery designed a strategy that guaranteed all personnel decisions above a certain level were reviewed by the company's diversity officer and assigned responsibility to top leaders that employees in no category, including women, were lost disproportionately.

WICT and Working Mother Media have eagerly tracked the positive developments for women in the cable industry over the last six years, and are particularly proud to note the impressive gains in formalized pay-equity programs and leadership programs for women at most levels since the PAR Initiative began.

Despite these accomplishments, from 2003 to 2008 the PAR Initiative has measured the loss of 2.3% of the women in the cable workforce and 4.8% of women in senior executive positions. This is an alarming decline, considering the economic impact women have on our industry. For many in the cable industry, if not most, the only growth projected in 2009 is from new media and technology. Women are the key to that growth.

Women make an estimated 80% of consumer spending decisions and those companies that strategically adjust to the economic influence of women will find themselves far ahead of those that don't. Women are connecting to cable's technology at impressive rates:

• More than half of U.S. women have broadband access in their home, according to The Pew Internet & American Life Project.

• Web sites aimed at women grew faster in 2008 than every other category except political sites, according to ComScore.

• Video-on-demand orders for female-targeted content tripled from first-quarter 2007 to third-quarter 2008, according to Rentrak.

• The number of women using smart phones has doubled in the past year to 10.4 million, according to Nielsen Mobile.

It's not only the cable industry that is taking note. Verizon Wireless projects 71% of women choose their family's wireless plan and recognizes women as the pathway to the entire household.

Women understand the consumer experiences of other women. They are best positioned to align cable businesses with the mind-set that drives women's purchasing behavior. Engaging women throughout the organization, from the inception of a product or service to its production and marketing, will ensure the cable industry's share of the estimated $12 trillion to $40 trillion that women will control over the next decade is spent with cable companies and not our competitors.

Given these circumstances, WICT has issued a challenge to the cable industry to, at a minimum, increase the percentage of women and senior executives to the levels of six years ago. This can be done by:

• Participating in PAR. We don't know what we're accomplishing without an accurate benchmark.

• Hiring and advancing more women. Strike when the opportunities are there, and create opportunities for women.

• And finally, providing more corporate oversight with a holistic approach to recruiting and retaining diverse talent.

This may be the most challenging economic and competitive period for our industry, a time to fully leverage the promising revenue streams driven for and by women. As Cox Communications president Pat Esser said, “At no time in our history has it been more important to attract and retain the best, brightest and most diverse talent that fully reflects with world we live in.” WICT could not agree more.