PAR Becomes An Agent of Change

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It didn’t take long for Women In Cable & Telecommunications to start lighting a few fires under the cable business with its annual PAR Initiative.

“I heard a lot of people say last year, after they weren’t on the list or didn’t participate, that they would this year. And apparently they did,” says Mae Douglas, the chief people officer at Cox Communications Inc., which was named the best operator for women on the PAR list for the past two years.

Indeed, when the women’s channel Oxygen didn’t make the PAR top 10 list last year, network chairman and CEO Gerry Laybourne was shocked. She was determined to make sure Oxygen made the list in 2004. And it did.

“What the rigorous process of filling out the PAR Initiative questions did for us was uncover areas that our employees didn’t know we were doing and institutionalized some of the practices we had just left to chance,” Laybourne said on WICT’s Web site.

That thought is echoed by Comcast Cable Communication Inc. vice president of human resources Melanie Penna, who also serves on WICT’s executive and PAR Initiative committees. “We’re all tapping into the same pool of talent, and we all want to attract the best people we can,” she says. “If we can show that we have programs and initiatives in place that benefit those workers, we’ll be better off.”

Changes in the statistics are already visible. For instance, the percentage of companies that provide leadership training for their top female employees rose from 71% in 2003 to 75% in 2004. The percentage of companies offering flex time for workers jumped to 78.1% this year from 75% last year. And the percentage of firms offering on-site daycare increased from 11% last year to 15.6% this year.

In the survey, several companies reported changing or formalizing policies and procedures as a direct result of their involvement in the PAR Initiative. Lifetime Television strengthened its formal gender pay equity practices, and Oxygen began formalizing and codifying its culture so that as it grows, it won’t have to rely on osmosis to instill its woman-friendly values to new employees.

The initiative definitely asks the tough questions companies should be asking themselves, says Sheryl Anderson, Starz Encore Group senior vice president of human resources and administration. And those questions endure through the year. “It’s not just a dinner that is hosted one night a year. [WICT] continually reminds people about the survey and its results through its other programs so it gets paid attention to all year,” she says.

The MSO WideOpenWest LLC took some aspects of its work/life balance initiative and expanded them after reading about what other companies were doing, says WOW senior vice president of marketing and sales. “For instance, we had a Weight Watchers program for people who wanted to participate. But it was expanded to include other aspects of total health living, and that was an idea that the PAR Initiative triggered for us,” she says.

“If we can change even one company for the better each year with this initiative, it will speak to the power and success of the project,” says WICT director of research and advocacy Parthavi Das. “Several of the companies that participated both years improved this year. And we expect that trend to continue.”