NAMIC Conference Embraces Change


For its 17th annual conference on diversity, NAMIC — the cable industry's group for minority professionals — will alter its lineup to focus on teaching companies about the changing markets they're trying to serve.

"We knew what we wanted to talk about [in terms of] what best encapsulates what we're trying to say here," said NAMIC executive vice president Kathy Johnson. "As the population is changing, people are realizing the importance of the ethnic population."

As of press time, NAMIC Conference organizers said that 400 attendees had already signed up for the event, co-chaired by Black Entertainment Television president and chief operating officer Debra Lee and Cox Communications Inc. executive vice president of operations Pat Esser. They expressed optimism that attendance to this year's confab could surpass the 500 mark.

"Every year, this serves as a good focal point for the industry, between the conference and the [Walter Kaitz Foundation] dinner, to really focus on diversity and hopefully look at the industry and see how far we've come or how far we need to go," said BET's Lee. "I hope a lot of the panels and speakers will focus on that: What the cable industry looks like overall, and what we need to do to keep pushing the issue of diversity."

The industry's recent emphasis on the Hispanic market has created new opportunities for Latinos, and for those looking to tap into this rapidly expanding minority group.

"The Hispanic market is the fastest-growing market, and a lot of companies are looking for assistance in reaching that market," Johnson said. "If companies are going to continue to be profitable, they need to have a sensibility of the markets they're serving."

Hispanics are represented on the technology and corporate diversity panels in this year's conference, as well as in the general sessions. U.S. Rep. Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D-Puerto Rico), the island's Resident Commissioner, will moderate the closing general session, which stresses issues important to Hispanics living and working in the U.S.

"We try to do that in all of our sessions," said Johnson. "We like for all panels to be multicultural as much as possible."

The restructuring of this year's conference includes changes to staples such as the mentoring luncheon, one of NAMIC's primary components.

"In previous years, we've done the mentoring roundtable. We're trying to look for a fresh approach," said Johnson. "In each of the past two years, we've had some of the highest-ranking minorities in the industry."

The mentoring luncheon this year will feature keynote addresses from U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and AOL Time Warner Inc. chairman and CEO Dick Parsons as part of a commemoration of next year's 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education
ruling, which ended racial segregation in the public schools.

NAMIC's mentoring program, which began in 1993 and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, stresses the importance of developing professional networks and learning from the perspective of others.

The program aims to make mentors available to its members and was renamed in 1997 in honor of one of the trade group's founding members, L. Patrick Mellon.

"Every year at the conference we try to add a component that stresses mentoring," said Johnson. "The mentoring piece has always been a component to our program."

Also new to this year's conference is a series called "Hot Topics," a trio of panels highlighting issues specific to advancing minorities in the industry. One will explore minority images in the media.

"What we're finding is that increasingly there are minorities in decision-making positions, but we continue to see the same stereotypical images," Johnson noted.

Also included among the Hot Topics sessions: an affirmative action panel, a timely forum given that race-based admissions policies were brought before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring. The panel will include Jonathan Alger, the assistant general counsel to the University of Michigan.

The newly developed Personal Professional Development track will feature sessions on finding an executive coach, what to expect from mentoring and learning how to brand one's self.

"We never had a specific track session on personal professional development," said Johnson, "We wanted to talk about personal development and personal professional development."

The executive coaching and branding panels will feature specialists from the respective disciplines, while the mentoring session will proffer a cross-section of professionals that will offer their perspectives, experiences and expertise on creating a successful relationship.

Formed in 2000, NAMIC's Diversity Roundtable — consisting of industry practitioners who track information and practices to share within the industry in order to conquer or deal with diversity-related challenges — has proven to be a popular element of the conference.

"For them, it's good to know who their counterparts are," said Johnson. "Some of our industry companies are more advanced.

"We try to add a perspective from someone who is outside of our industry because other industries have been doing this longer than we have. We're hoping that it brings value to folks in our industry."

This year's Mickey Leland Humanitarian Achievement Award will be given to George Herrera, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Herrera is recognized as an expert in economic and minority business development, has authored journal articles on legislation and policies related to small business and has testified before the House of Representatives on several occasions.

He was recognized by Hispanic Business Magazine
as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the U.S. and by Black Enterprise
as one of the 30 future leaders for economic empowerment of minority communities.

Herrera also created Hispanics Today: Leaders of the New Millenium
, the first national Hispanic business television show, which airs on NBC.