Post-Labor Day Musings

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Suffragette charger Susan B. Anthony must be tossing in her grave to hear that decades after her efforts, women continue to be "significantly underrepresented" in the top leadership spots in the cable and telecom industries.

But that's the dim update that came down last week from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which made it crystal clear that cable and telcom are still largely old-boys' clubs. Yes, the skirts are now admitted, but few get the top-floor, corner offices — let alone get to cast their votes about company strategy and governance.

With Labor Day now just behind us, and cable's Diversity Week looming on the horizon in late September, it's time to make some noise about this problem. Cable pays a lot of lip service to the issue, maintaining that its workplace must reflect the diversity of its customer base.

But in reality, we know that just isn't happening. One prominent cable executive poignantly reminded me last week about two MSOs that reorganized their top ranks only this past summer. Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable shuffled the decks, and both companies wound up with a half-dozen white males at the top of the heap.

That's hardly representative of demographic trends that find women living longer than ever and either needing — or wanting — to work for a living. Compare that to just 60 years ago, when women first entered the workplace to fill a void that was created when the men went off to fight World War II.

That was the era of Rosie the Riveter, a time when corporate managers didn't know what to do about this new phenomenon of women in the workplace. "Give them frequent breaks, so that they can compose themselves, powder their noses and refresh their lipstick," was basically the take on women on the job back then.

Sixty years later, much has changed. But much has not. Women in middle and top management often tell me that when they go to a meeting, they are often the only females sitting at the table.

Biology has thrown the human race quite a curveball. In order to continue the species, a woman has to carry a fetus for nine months, and is literally taken out of commission during that critical span. Nature has just knocked her down a rung or two from her ascent up the corporate ladder.

"Whatever women must do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult," were the witty words of wisdom from former Ontario Mayor Charlotte Whitton, the first woman to be named to that job in Canada.

Funny, but that reality is not at all appreciated — or even recognized — by those who rule corporate America.

Clearly things are better than they were in the '70s, when feminist Gloria Steinem proclaimed, "I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career."

Today, what we are seeing is an evolution, rather than the revolution for gender equality that Steinem called for back then. Today, among my own staff, I see both male and female employees with children and working spouses in a constant struggle to advance their careers and simultaneously raise families.

It is challenging for both the men and the women, who always seem to be making concessions so that their partners can also have a chance to grow their own careers.

That's the first real step in upping women in the organization. The generation behind me, I think, will do a much better job at this than my crowd did.

So much for my Labor Day musings. Enjoy. I'm hitting the road for vacation.

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