Ranks of Women Workers Grow: PAR Survey

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For the first time in six years, the number of women in the cable industry rose slightly from last year’s totals, according to the 2008 Women In Cable Telecommunications’ "PAR Initiative Survey."

Women comprise 36.4% of the cable workforce, a slight increase from 2007’s 35.8%, according to the survey. Female staffers comprise 36.6% of all managers and professionals, close to last year’s 35.8% total, which included managers but not professionals (such as attorneys). Women comprise 35.4% of all middle managers and professionals, compared to 2007’s 37.9%, which included managers but not professionals.

But the number of women in senior executive positions dropped dramatically in 2008. Women now comprise 22.8% of all senior executives, down from 27.7% only 12 months ago.

Senior executives working for cable-system operators remained somewhat steady, at 18.2% in 2008 compared to 18.6% in 2006. Top executives at programmers dropped significantly from 32.5% two years ago to 26.1% this year.

WICT and Working Mother Media, which collects and analyzes the data, said some of the drop in numbers at the senior level can be attributed to consolidation, particularly by programmers.

CHANGE AND CONSOLIDATION

“Operators have been somewhat consistent with their numbers, although they still fall below those of programmers,” said Working Mother Media analyst Joanne Cleaver. “Where we saw dramatic drops was among programmers. Consolidation has played a role here.

“In some cases we lost women. [Oxygen Media founder and CEO] Gerry Laybourne left after Oxygen was acquired by NBC Universal, for instance. But in other cases, the consolidation changed the way senior women are counted.

“Women that used to run networks may now be considered middle management because of the larger corporate structure of the acquiring company,” she noted.

“Still, programmers must ask themselves why women have stalled at the top levels,” Cleaver continued. “Most top-level jobs have been going to men these days.”

While the cable industry has made great strides in pay equity, advancement and resources for programs to balance work and life — and close attention has been paid to the business contributions that women make — the overall number of women working in cable has not risen since PAR launched in 2003. Back then, women comprised 38.8% of the industry (compared to 36.4% in 2008). The overall cable-industry trend shows declining numbers of female workers in all categories.

FALLING BEHIND

The numbers aren’t too promising when compared to other industries. Benchmarking PAR results against Working Mother Media’s data from the hundreds of companies it tracks each year shows that overall, the cable industry lags significantly compared to general industry — 64.6% vs. 36.4%. Senior women at cable companies also fall behind WMM’s indexes — 34.5% vs. 22.8%. Where the cable industry succeeds is in evenly drawing its women into management and professional positions, especially at the lower and middle management levels, Cleaver said. The goal is to achieve “parity” — that is, for the number of women working in various levels of management to be proportionately the same as the number of females employed in the industry as a whole — said WICT CEO Benita Fitzgerald Mosley.

“As the cable industry continues to grow and the number of products and services continues to increase, there are many new employment opportunities for companies,” she said. “It takes people to run those businesses. So to see the number of women remain stagnant while the businesses continue to grow is troubling.”

The number of female call-center staffers has steadily declined for the last six years, from 63.4% of workers in 2004 to 59.6% in 2008.

MORE TECH-FOCUSED

As more complex products and services are launched, customer-service representatives have needed more technical acumen, Fitzgerald Mosely said. Thus, companies are more often recruiting CSRs from technical schools and, unfortunately, those schools have fewer female graduates, so a pipeline for employing women is slowly constricting, she said.

But not all the trends are bad. Operators are actively exploring the “virtual work” model for their call-center representatives. And the push toward online training by some operators could help women become better prepared to advance their careers, Cleaver said, as could the widespread rollout of flexible work schedules and telecommuting.

Fitzgerald Mosley said cable company CEOs understand the need for a balanced workforce and she had received support from several top executives to redouble their efforts to increase the number of women in their ranks.

“Now we have to put in some concrete goals for them to reach for,” she said.

This year’s survey lays out some pretty hefty calls to action for the industry to heed over the next two years, many of which may not realistically be attainable, executives concede.

For instance, operators are striving to have 25% of top managers be female. Today, that number stands at 18%. The goal for programmers is even stiffer, especially given this year’s drop in top executives. The goals call for 45% of the senior-executive workforce at programmers to be comprised of women, up from 26% today.

“[Call-to-action goals] are important because they give everyone something to shoot for,” said Time Warner Cable executive vice president of human resources Tom Mathews, who also points out that it can take time to meet such lofty expectations. “When I see staff changes at our company, we don’t see significant changes over the course of a few quarters. It can take as many as five years to see those kinds of changes.”

In the past, many of the innovative moves and programs designed to attract, retain and promote women came from programmers, Cleaver said. But this year, “we saw a huge burst of innovation from the operators, including things like virtual call centers and flex work,” she said. “Operators are also getting pretty good at creating job rotations to help employees learn skills that will enable them to move up to senior management. But women need to signal their desire to participate in those programs because they are not necessarily going to land in their laps.”

Both operators and programmers, already renowned for their exemplary pay-equity practices, continued to fine-tune pay transparency and management accountability, Cleaver said. This year, 41.2% of companies have “good” pay-equity policies, defined as those aligned with business growth goals and requiring accountability. Some 14.7% of companies have “basic” pay-equity policies — generic policies that pledge gender parity. Many small companies surveyed had no formal policy and instead rely on their small size to ensure equity.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of mid-career operating experience, Cleaver said, and cable employers added a variety of avenues for women to participate in project launches, new product development, acquisition teams and regional expansion. Many companies launched or expanded their business resource groups, and are fostering internal business incubators to cultivate entry-level and mid-level female talent.

FLEX WORK DRIVES GROWTH

Operators took the lead this year with flex work and telecommuting initiatives. Several operators launched pilot virtual call-center programs and expanded the female at-home workforce.

Time Warner Cable’s Central New York systems launched a home-based pilot program and recruited call-center performers. Today, the cluster has 30 home-based workers, many taking hard-to-fill shifts.

Home-based work enabled Time Warner to avoid expanding an existing call center, and the MSO is now poised to roll the program out to other regions.

Cox Communications’ investment in virtual work enabled it to avoid building a multimillion-dollar call-center complex in Arizona. Cox has long had “cyber agents” based in its San Diego, Calif., office. The installation of 500 home-based workers in Arizona — and the efficiencies and productivity the program delivered — motivated leaders to roll out the program nationally. Cox now has 1,200 cyber agents, with more on the way.

Cox has also been able to increase the number of Spanish- and Korean-speaking call center representatives in Fairfax, Va., to serve better those fast-growing populations.

Several programmers also put in place formal telecommuting criteria and significantly increased the number of employees allowed to work from home. Several companies offer employees paid time off for volunteering in their communities or participating in such industry organizations as WICT.

MTV Networks has been offering flex work and telecommuting options for employees for seven years, said executive vice president of human resources Catherine Houser. “The programs aren’t necessarily original, but they are effective and have helped us retain some of our best people.”

Every operator that participated in this year’s PAR Initiative offered leadership training for all their high-ranking women. At the same time, the percentage of programmers offering leadership training for their top executives slipped to 66.7% this year, from 73.7% a year ago. Considering that the number of female senior executives at programmers saw a big drop, networks would do well to strengthen their executive-development and retention efforts, Cleaver suggested.

Career planning, seen as essential to retaining mid-level women, saw healthy boosts at both operator and programming companies. Among the most popular retention tools: mentoring, women’s networks and leadership training. One area of concern from the folks at WICT and WMM, according to Cleaver, is the drop in financial training for non-financial managers — 38.5% in 2008 down from 58.3% in 2003. Cable companies that do offer such training report that it is a turning point for many women, enabling them to move from staff to operating positions, Cleaver said.

Operator call centers have long been avenues for recruiting women to the cable industry and promoting them to leadership positions. They offer entry-level women a door to the industry and provide an opportunity for women to gain operations experience. The number of women in this sector has been steadily falling for the past few years: They now makes up 59.6% of the total call-center employee base, down from 63.4% in 2004. The job has become more technical, so operators have been recruiting more from technical schools.

“Men tend to attend those institutions more often than women and so the number of women at call centers has begun to erode,” Fitzgerald Mosley said.

But it’s in companies’ interest to find ways to attract and keep women in that area of the business, and innovations in work/life initiatives as well as training and job rotations are good ways to make sure companies are doing everything they can, she said. This year, operators’ call centers have emerged as places of work/life innovation as soaring gas prices, congested commutes and the high cost of call-center expansion have spurred changes, Cleaver said.

“Call centers are a wide-open point of entry for diverse female recruits,” Cleaver said. “As managers need workers with various language skills and ethnic backgrounds, and these positions do not require a college degree.”

For the first time, the PAR survey included the presence of women in client support for business-to-business or enterprise services. Women comprise 36.4% of enterprise-support staff at operators, compared to 59.6% of all call-center employees. Even the most progressive operators have barely begun to build bridges from consumer call centers to enterprise support centers.

Enterprise client support jobs are generally more complex, better paying and demand a greater depth in technical skills. As such, they present a new career path for ambitious female call-center employees, Cleaver said. But it involves mastering certain skills and that requires training, she noted. She recommended that operators craft training modules specific to the enterprise support center’s needs.

While the number of women in call centers is eroding, the number of women in IT has been growing, although it stalled a bit in 2008. Women comprise 15.1% of all cable-technology employees, basically unchanged from last year, and 24.7% of corporate IT employees (those dedicated to legacy functions such as billing systems, backbone networks and server farms, as well as administrative systems).

UPTICK IN TECH



The number of women IT engineers and project directors more than doubled to 27% from 2007’s 11.5%. This rise is consistent at both programmers and operators, reflecting reorganization of IT departments to keep up with fast-growing new media and distributed-content systems.

Time Warner Cable has put a lot of emphasis on trying to recruit and retain women in technology and the effort is bearing fruit: About half of the company’s IT project managers and 43% of its business-to-business client support staff are women. Several regional technical and mentoring networks have proven to be so successful, the company is planning to roll them out nationally next year. The Weather Channel Cos. launched an IT leadership program this year that was crafted off the same principles as its Emerging Sales Leadership Program, launched a year ago. The program gave participants the opportunity to learn new tactics in IT and analyze those tactics in terms of revenues generated or saved.

Recruiting women into operators’ field-technician jobs continues to be a major challenge and some operators doubt there will ever be true parity in that sector.

“It’s enormously difficult to bring women into the tech/installation segment of the business,” Time Warner Cable’s Mathews said. “We’ve had some success in certain divisions that put a lot of resources behind their recruitment efforts. But it’s not easy.”

Time Warner Cable’s New England Division has quadrupled its number of women installers in the past two years. The division went from having three female technicians in 2006 to 12 today. That’s still a fraction of the 300 technicians in the multistate division, but its human-resources group is quickly figuring out how to reach out to women installers.

For one thing, equipment needs are different, so Time Warner outfitted their trucks with smaller ladders and found sources for steel-toed shoes in women’s sizes. One of the female installers already has been promoted to supervisor, and another is on a fast track to management.

Despite the assumption that small companies are at a disadvantage in recruiting and advancing female staff, two such firms made it to the top of the PAR survey heap this year. To be sure, Cleaver said, cable companies with fewer than 400 employees have more women in management at all levels, except in call centers.

ROOM ATOP SMALL FIRMS



Women of color also fare well at the top level of small companies. They represent 17.4% of all senior executives, compared to 4.6% overall. They are in the pipeline too, as women of color middle managers comprise nearly double the industry level.

Small companies don’t recruit or advance women in tech jobs at the same rates as larger ones, however. Only 12.6% of small company technology employees are women, compared to 15.1% overall. This difference is especially felt at the IT engineer and project director level as only 16.5% are women, compared to 27.9% in the overall industry, according to the PAR survey.

There is also room for improvement at small companies when it comes to pay equity, advancement and work/life resources, Cleaver said. Small companies typically rely on the corporate culture to deliver many of the desirable workplace factors that big companies can only tackle through structured programs, she noted.

St. Louis-based cable operator Suddenlink Communications realized it had plenty of great policies and procedures in place, but needed to formalize them to really make them valuable to employees and to get recognized by WICT and PAR, said chief financial officer Mary Meduski. By formalizing good practices, managers have points of reference that help them build on the company’s organic strengths, Cleaver said.

Formal pay practices help managers stay competitive in their search for the best talent, and it’s one area in which small companies can make vast improvements. A full 80% have no formal pay-equity policy at this point, according to results from this year’s PAR survey.

Interviews with these companies indicate that executives believe that their size informs all pay decisions and that they have an intuitive grasp of fairness, Cleaver said. However, she argued, the more that women know about why they are paid what they are, the better equipped they are to advocate for equal pay for themselves and for other women.

Resources for work/life balance vary widely at small companies. At this time, none offer after-school childcare referrals or reserved spots for employees’ children at local child-care centers. But 100% of the surveyed small companies offer flex time.

Englewood, Colo.-based overbuilder WideOpenWest gives its employees time off to participate in leadership development programs inside and outside the industry, said vice president of human resources Janice Turner. The company is launching a volunteer vacation/sick leave bank where employees can donate time to someone else that may need it or benefit from it. Front-line employees can also trade up to three days of vacation for a cash bonus.

Clearly, women in the cable industry have seen improvements in pay equity, advancement and work/life resources since WICT began its PAR survey six years ago, Cleaver said, even if the industry hasn’t been able to increase the number of women within its ranks. The industry is unique in that its members tend to share best practices and that raises the bar for everyone, said Time Warner Cable’s Mathews.

“I believe that sharing best practices is a testament to the collegiality of the industry and that has hopefully made the industry as a whole more productive and attractive to potential talent,” added Lisa Chang, executive vice president of human resources at Weather. “There is plenty of healthy competition between the companies that participate in PAR, but the goal is to make the sum greater than the parts. We’re all raising the bar to make sure we’re all as good as we can possibly be.”

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