MSOs Short on Top Female Execs: Report

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Women remain "significantly underrepresented" in the upper echelons of the cable and telecommunications industries, according to a new report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The study found that women account for only 16 percent of the top executives at the nation's largest cable and telecommunications firms and make up only 12 percent of those companies' boards of directors.

Women also are underrepresented on the local level, although slightly less so. Only one of every five local cable system managers is a woman, the report said.

A 36-company survey conducted by Women in Cable & Telecommunications in 2000 found that female employees made up about 38 percent of the total work force in cable and telecommunications firms surveyed, a figure below the national average of 46.3 percent. It also found that women occupied 31 percent of executive offices, or positions at senior vice president and above, in the surveyed companies.

FINDINGS 'APPALLING'

Former Federal Communications Commission member Susan Ness presented the study for the Annenberg Center at a press conference in downtown Washington last Tuesday. She called the findings "appalling" and blasted cable operators for perpetuating "old boys' club" atmospheres.

"With few exceptions, we've not moved beyond the tokenism in the number of women in leadership positions who are sitting on boards of communications companies," Ness said.

Adelphia Communications Corp. and NTL Inc. were singled out for criticism, because neither company has any female executives or board members.

"Both, by the way, are in bankruptcy," Ness added.

An Adelphia spokesman said the company's new management, in place since May, is "examining all of the company's operations and practices." (One top-ranking female Adelphia executive, former senior vice president of operations Ann Montgomery, resigned from the company in May, citing personal reasons unrelated to the MSO's financial scandal.)

Annenberg researchers determined the number of female executives and board members at companies by looking at their annual reports and at Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

The study found that Cablevision Systems Corp., Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. had only one woman on their boards of directors. Charter had just one female executive, Cablevision had two and Comcast had eight.

Cox, by contrast, was found to be among the industry's leaders with 14 female executives, or 23 percent of its executive team.

A Charter spokesman said the report's methodology undercounted its female executives. While Cox's annual report — and the Annenberg study — included six female general managers of local Cox cable systems, Charter's annual report did not mention all of the company's regionally based executives and local managers.

An official at another MSO acknowledged that companies aren't obliged to list all of their executives in an annual report.

If all of Charter's vice presidents had been included in the study, the percentage of female executives would jump from 6 percent to about 19 percent, the company said.

Annenberg spokeswoman Lorie Slass defended the group's methodology, noting that annual reports typically list a company's top executives.

Even if Cox's general managers were not counted, Slass added, 21 percent of the company's executives are women. "So they still kick Charter's butt," she said.

Ness praised the National Cable and Telecommunications Association for amending its bylaws last year to allow CEOs of programming companies, not just operators, to sit on the group's 33-member board of directors.

The change resulted in the addition of two women to the NCTA board. A third female member was added this year.

NCTA spokesman Rob Stoddard said that while the group is trying to improve female representation, "some of the burden falls on the companies in the industry," because NCTA's board is comprised of corporate executives.

DOLLARS AND SENSE

WICT president Benita Fitzgerald Mosley said cable companies should expand the ranks of women for financial reasons.

"If it's only from a socially responsible perspective, you're going to get a small handful of people involved," she said. Cable companies "need to have their finger on the pulse of what a consumer wants and that consumer, eight times out of 10, is a woman."

Added Insight Communications Co. president and chief operating officer Kim Kelly, who joined Ness at the press conference: "We have a point of view and different perspective that needs to be heard."

They urged corporations to adopt family-friendly employment practices and engage in succession planning that will promote women.

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