How to Earn an AGrade for Diversity

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In its April 12 report, the NAACP strongly criticized the cable industry for its lack of diversity in executive hiring, contracting and advertising. Our problems should not come as a shock to anyone who has been to a major cable trade show or conference. Our industry does not look like America.

Many cable industry leaders have expressed disappointment with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's findings because the industry has acknowledged our problems and has initiated programs to fix them.

The National Association of Minorities in Cable is extremely proud to be part of an industry that cares so much about diversity. Few industries have programs like the Walter Kaitz Foundation or the Telecommunications Diversity Network (TDN).

NAACP president Kweisi Mfume's suggestion that some cable customers should consider going to satellite was based on misinformation. If the satellite industry were to get a diversity report card, cable would be considered an honor student in comparison.

Yet if the cable industry's intentions are so good, why are our results so poor?

NAMIC thinks the industry's woes lie in a fundamental underestimation of the resources needed to bring our vision of diversity to reality. We are challenged by problems that have their roots deep in the American psyche. The barriers are made higher by the largely segregated social and personal networks that have a major impact in an industry defined by personal relationships.

The cable industry has over 140,000 employees and grosses over $30 billion. Yet, given the size of our industry and the size of the problem, we have allocated few resources and imported very little expertise to tackling the diversity issue.

NAMIC's operating budget is less than $2 million a year, far from enough to significantly impact every company we represent. The much ballyhooed $6 million funding of the Kaitz program is going exclusively to broadcast and new media-not cable.

This is not the first time that the industry has been faced with hurdles. When we were under fire for poor customer service and threatened by satellite, we responded vigorously. An impressive amount of resources and expertise have been allocated to greatly improve customer service and a major rollout of digital services is weighing the competitive balance in our favor.

We must respond to the diversity issue with just such vigor. And that response must be sincere and aggressive.

NAMIC has outlined a plan that we think can lead us to measurable success. Its goals: to raise the industry's diversity grade to a "B" by 2001 and an "A" by 2002. Our ultimate goal-to make the telecommunications industry a model of diversity throughout the world. We should all strive to have several cable companies recognized among Fortune magazine's Top 50 companies in diversity. To date, no cable companies are on the list.

Here is NAMIC's plan, which we hope can be the basis for discussions between the NAACP and the industry:

  1. Executive and Board Recruitment: There are plenty of talented people of color in other industries. It is not hard to find them outside the personal networks of traditional cable folk. This requires companies to instruct search firms to look outside of our industry for candidates and for hiring personnel to look more closely at the candidate's skill sets, rather than their knowledge of the cable industry. We feel this is an area where Kaitz can assist industry companies. However, since only 7 percent of jobs are landed through want ads, it is not something one can effectively do by placing want ads. Effective networking is required.
  1. Diversity and Evaluation/ Bonus Structure: In every other area of business, managers are rewarded for reaching measurable goals. Why should diversity be any different? Measurable goals ensure accountability. Attaching diversity to compensation carries the strongest type of reinforcement-financial reinforcement.
  1. Executive Leadership: We cannot ignore the very rich pool of talent already in the industry. NAMIC is launching an executive leadership program for people of color to increase the presence and success of these experienced high potential individuals in a white, male-dominated corporate environment. The program features some of the nation's top leadership institutions and faculty. In a NAMIC survey, an executive leadership program of this nature was requested by 87 percent of our membership.
  1. Vendor Recruitment: Setting up programs that give minority vendors the opportunity to bid on projects is not rocket science. The National Cable Television Association is developing such a program now. Companies should rush to adopt the NCTA program. This should include advertising agencies and public-relations firms, especially in areas with high concentrations of people of color.
  1. New Programming Services: The new digital platform offers our industry the opportunity to give America new innovative programming by and for people of color, while developing a rich source of employment and entrepreneurial talent. For example, in one year Black Entertainment Television employs more people than the Kaitz program has brought into the industry in its entire existence. There are a handful of embryonic networks targeted to people of color. The success of these projects will have a major impact on the viability of digital services. Their progress should be encouraged through strategic partnerships and affiliations.
  1. Entrepreneurial Incubator Programs: New-media companies like CMGI, ICGE and others have found enormous success in using the incubator model for new-business creation and development. This model can be easily duplicated in the cable industry to assist minority companies seeking to become programming suppliers, vendors or contractors. The incubators would help companies with networking, operational and human-resource expertise and financing. The broadcast industry set up a $175 million fund to help minorities purchase broadcast properties. Cable could set up a similar fund with the goal of helping create new 21st-century broadband companies.
  1. Mentorship: NCTA and NAMIC already have a partnership in place to expand mentorship in our industry. According to last year's NAMIC employment survey, about two thirds of NAMIC members expressed a desire to have a mentor.
  1. Targeted Programming: Cable fared poorly when it came to hiring African-American ad agencies and buying African-American media. This is an easy fix. Redeploy some of our current dollars where appropriate to targeted campaigns. We also need to increase our considerable lead over broadcast in producing quality programming featuring people of color in lead roles. This type of programming can and should be targeted using minority media and agencies. Marketers should be evaluated on their effective use of cable's enormous targeting potential. Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau can be very helpful in developing this expertise.
  1. Job Bank: The Telecommunications Diversity Network (TDN) is a great project. For its job bank to be successful, it needs companies to participate and it needs marketing. We can all pitch in here.
  1. Diversity Vice Presidents: Companies should hire or designate vice presidents who would provide internal focus and expertise on the issue of diversity.

To implement these programs, the cable industry needs visionary leaders. For example, Carlsen Resources embraced the mentorship idea in its early stages and developed it until the NCTA became its sponsor. Nothing substitutes for passion and commitment. Somewhere in the industry is the next Walter Kaitz, Patrick Mellon or Tony Cox-people who saw a need and decided they would be accountable.

Our industry has what it takes to be world class in the area of diversity. We have great trade associations.

We have a strong philosophical commitment to diversity. Diversity is totally aligned with our business needs, in terms of our need for customers and a strong talent pool. Now, all we need is a cadre of great corporate leaders devoted to our collective success.

This cannot be delayed. People who accomplish great things never have the time. They make the time. Make the time for successful diversity in cable.

Joe Lawson is president of the National Association of Minorities in Cable and William Bresnan is president of Bresnan Communications.

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