While much has changed in the cable industry over the last 25 years, one thing remains the same. Women are climbing the cable ladder with just as much determination as the last generation.
But they are doing it in a somewhat different manner now.
"Early on, you had to be more tenacious," says Laureen Ong, who began her career in the industry 25 years ago as a receptionist at a TV station and today is president of National Geographic Channel. "Now, as long as you have the ambition, you can get there."
Balancing work and family also has become more common. "You have a lot more people now who want balance," she says. "When I was coming up through the ranks, it was an either/or. I made a conscious decision to be a career person. I thought I had to choose."
"I certainly know that [rising women] are not as conflicted in terms of how to manage those responsibilities," adds Deborah Stewart, director of programming at Women in Cable & Telecommunications.
That's not to say that young women today are more relaxed. "They are smart, aggressive women who are willing to work really hard, just like we did," says Susan Packard, who began at HBO in 1980 and now is president of Scripps Networks New Ventures. "But they probably do have more of a work-life balance perspective than we did 25 years ago."
Of course, women have always struggled with balance issues. Char Beales, who joined the then-National Cable Television Association in 1980, worked long hours in a similarly exciting time to become a vice president before the age of 30. Around then, she gave birth to her first child.
"I had a family, and that changed things," says Beales, now president and CEO of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. "But I learned to be more efficient. Once you have a child and you have to be home at a certain time … you learn that you don't have to do everything to the nth degree."
These days, more companies are trying to groom and retain young female executives by providing flexible schedules and greater freedom — sometimes using technology that didn't exist before. Cara Hathaway, 39, director of affiliate marketing at TV Guide Affiliate Sales and Marketing, whose work focuses on the company's interactive program guide, did her job off-site for several weeks last year when one of her children was in the hospital.
"I had my laptop at the hospital, and I was dialing in from the hospital room," she says. "It was invaluable to not have to take a leave of absence. The technology has allowed us to do things as working mothers that could never have been done before."
Eileen Diskin, 35, senior director of marketing communications at Comcast Corp., moved to Philadelphia from Los Angeles nearly two years ago to take a job with the MSO. She was pregnant with her first child, who is now 15 months old, and chose a residence about a block from Comcast's headquarters rather than a house in the suburbs, enabling her to spend more time with her baby. "I worked it out so I wouldn't have a commute," she says. "For us, it was more important to be close to work. Now I don't feel so stressed at the office because I have a five-minute walk home."
Such compromises are often required to balance work and family. "I do want to have a family someday," says Lisa Gambarani, 31, director of events marketing at Rainbow Media's Independent Film Channel. "We're kind of faced with the question of how to have a family and a career. So I'm trying to figure that out." Gambarani, who is getting married later this year, says IFC's leadership actually encourages employees to find such balance. "They pretty much set the tone," she says. After all, Rainbow Media's president of entertainment services, Kathleen Dore, is a woman.
On the Road, Much
Of course, not all women fit a particular mold. At 43, E.J. Klein, director of affiliate sales at Home Shopping Network, is no longer married, has no children, spends most of the year traveling across the country — and she couldn't be happier. "I love traveling," she says. "If I'm not traveling for a period of time, I'm itching to get on the road again."
Klein says if she ever decided to start a family, she would likely move into a job that didn't require so much travel. "I don't think I could do what I do — traveling 60 to 70 percent of the time — and have children."
Then there's Tanya Giles, 32, vice president, TV Land/Nick at Nite research and planning. Giles, who is married and plans to have children at some point, is an avid runner and completed the New York City marathon in 2001. "Would I be able to have a career, a family and run the marathon at the same time?" she asks. "I don't know."
Other rising women in the industry are equally philosophical. Gail Northern, 34, senior director of programming at BET Digital Networks, says she has always focused primarily on working hard and accomplishing career goals. "It was always about wanting to go out and do my thing," she says. "But I do plan to have a family, and I don't want to let my career stop that."
Some young women who have risen quickly noted that hard work and a team-oriented attitude are major elements of their success. "I work very hard," says Abby Greensfelder, 31, vice president of programming and development at Discovery Networks. "I'm an athlete, and I like to win." Greensfelder says she makes time for outdoor sporting activities and time with her husband, Franklin, but works constantly to find more free time. "One of my personal goals is to find ways to balance my life better," she says. "You get better work out of a workforce that has a life. When building a team, I always look for people that have other things in their lives."
Challenges on Op Side
That's not always easy, especially in certain segments of the industry. For example, consolidation among cable operators in recent years has led to cuts in the workforce and inevitable strains on those employees who remain. In addition, competition has never been so fierce, forcing a siege mentality upon many cable operator employees. A simple request for maternity leave can fast become a career-imperiling decision.
"On the operator side, it's hard for women to find balance," says Michele James, founder of James & Company, a New York City-based executive-search firm focusing on the media, entertainment and technology industries. "There's never been more to do with more limited time."
Furthermore, the lack of female role models in high positions at cable operators makes it more difficult for younger women to move up the ranks. "It's a numbers game," says Packard. "When you look at the operator side, you don't see senior women, generally speaking. If you don't have women sitting around at the highest levels, there are not going to be opportunities to institute change."
Mentors and 'Mentees'
Aside from hard work and ambition, many rising women in cable also focus intently on learning from others in the industry. "I've learned a lot by watching people," says Jennifer Gaiski, 32, vice president of programming at Comcast. Gaiski is responsible for negotiating carriage agreements, among other duties. "With every negotiation I work on, I like to sit back and watch their styles," she says. "I like to take a little something from each person I meet."
This is especially true for women who aspire to running an entire company someday, a situation in which knowing every element of a business is keenly important. Says Northern: "You have to learn how everything fits in a puzzle."
Other rising women actively seek out mentors who can help them navigate the often perilous corporate jungle before them. "I made it a priority," says Michele Edelman, 36, vice president of marketing at Warner Home Video, VOD and PPV. "A couple of them I just called up and said, 'Hey, I'd like to do an informal interview with you.' There were a couple of men too. I just said, 'I want what you have.' "
Senior-level women in the industry can be especially receptive despite their busy schedules. Ong recalled one instance in which she actually sought out a young woman with "untapped potential" and mentored her into a much higher position. "It becomes a survival-of-the-fittest kind of thing, and some people get left behind," she says. "Sometimes you have to help those people." Often, she says, young women become hindered by poor self-presentation or lack of confidence. "A lot of those things are very coachable," she says.
Of course, mentoring is a two-way street. "One thing I always tell people is, be prepared to give something back to your mentor," says Stewart, who has personally mentored many young women and gets approached by new "mentees" all the time. "I always open my door to them," she says. "But I make it clear that they are expected to do certain things. If I mentor, then I might later ask them to mentor someone else. It's like that pay-it-forward idea."
Mentoring also can take many forms for women. "Sometimes people think mentoring is only for the young, but that's simply not true," says Ong. Indeed, in addition to WICT's mentoring programs for up-and-comers, its executive mentoring program for executive members focuses on senior women in the industry who want to ascend to the highest levels.
Stewart also urges women in the industry to educate young men about work-life balance issues to raise awareness across the industry. "One of the best ways to affect change in the industry is to mentor a young man," she says.
Bringing those balance issues to the forefront has also allowed successful senior women to open up more to their younger counterparts and feel less threatened about passing on their knowledge. "Women haven't mentored each other as much historically, but that's changing," says Patricia Marciano, 36, who just this month advanced to regional vice president of affiliate sales at Fox Cable Networks from her previous position as director of web marketing and commerce at Cox Communications. "Now you see lots of strong women in these positions, and the tides are turning for women to support each other more openly."
Confidence and Optimism
To be sure, the cable industry — like many — has far to go when it comes to leveling the playing field between its male and female workers. At the same time, many up-and-coming women in cable reported in numerous interviews that the "glass ceiling" that received much attention in the 1970s and 1980s appears to be less of an issue for rising women in cable today. "I think it's kind of dissolving," says Edelman. "I just don't think about it, really. And it's a great sign that I haven't thought about it."
Companies, meanwhile, are promoting more women to bolster the bottom line. "They're realizing that women can be as good as men — or even better managers than men," says Hathaway.
Says Cathy Fogler, 34, vice president of video product management at Adelphia: "It's a vibrant, opportunity-filled industry. The opportunities are only limited by there being 24 hours in the day. The sky's the limit, as far as I'm concerned."
None of this is to say that young women don't appreciate the sacrifices of the generation preceding them. "I think the women who came before me fought the battle to get equity," says TV Land's' Giles.
While the last generation of women in cable cleared away many barriers, plenty remain.
"There's a ways to go when you look around a board room and see only one or two women in leadership roles," says Colleen Rooney, 35, senior director of employee communications at Comcast. "But we will make strides because there are so many great women in the industry."