Charter Communications’s efforts at promoting diversity and inclusion are led by its SVP and chief diversity officer, Rhonda Crichlow. By supporting an increasingly diverse workforce and by targeting investments in local businesses and communities within its service footprint, Charter hopes to create a more inclusive environment that better serves both its employees and customers of color.
Crichlow spoke with B+C senior content producer R. Thomas Umstead about
Charter’s diversity efforts at the March 16 CultureX Conversations conference. Their full discussion, along with other content from the event, can be viewed on-demand by registering at the event website, culturexevents.com. Here are highlights of the conversation.
B+C: Why are diversity and inclusion so important to Charter Communications at this time?
Rhonda Crichlow: I think it’s really important to us because we feel that our customers really deserve the best products and services that we can afford. Our philosophy around diversity and inclusion really stems from our focus on our business. We really try to develop a strategy and an approach that is designed to enable stronger business success and business performance. We recognize that, as an organization, we have the benefit of serving a fairly large footprint in the U.S. We operate out of 41 states, with 96,000 employees and roughly 31 million residential and business customers. We also recognize, frankly, that all of those customers have very unique perspectives, needs and desires and the products and services that they receive.
B+C: At this point is, Charter satisfied with where the company is regarding diversity and inclusion efforts, and if not, how do you get to that point?
RC: I would say we are satisfied with the progress that we’ve made to date, meaning that we have been able to accomplish a lot since introducing our strategy almost three years ago. We’ve seen significant progress in terms of our ability to engage with diverse suppliers; we’ve introduced a number of new initiatives internally to continue to diversify our workforce externally to support communities across our footprint. Are we happy with our progress to date? Yes. Are we satisfied? No. I think we recognize that as an organization, we have more that we can and should do. We’re very proud of the fact that 48% of our workforce, for example, represents people of color. What we’d really like to do is continue to push forward with ensuring that level of diversity is also represented at every management level within our organization and continue to grow the diversity and inclusiveness of our leadership teams within the organization.
B+C: What are you doing specifically to allow your employees to be part of the inclusion effort?
RC: We have a number of programs that we’ve introduced over the course of the last few years, very similar to the way many other companies approach diversity and inclusion. We have network groups, which we refer to as business resource groups, [that] are open to employees of all backgrounds and experiences, irrespective of whether they have the affinity of the group. We also launched a speaker series — Charter’s version of a TED Talk, called Charter Inclusion Talks — where, to celebrate cultural and identity months, we will either invite external speakers in or tap into our employees to talk about some aspect of diversity and inclusion and or provide career advice for employees who attend those sessions.
B+C: Did the events of last year and the racial reckoning that the country experienced affect some of the things that you’re looking to do going forward?
RC: I would say it absolutely did. I think, writ large, one of the benefits of the experience that we had over the course of the last year is I do feel that it has raised a level of awareness outside of communities of color, of some of the very real and significant challenges that people still face in our country. I think there is also a recognition that people aren't able to necessarily divorce their experience and how they perceive their external environment from the way that they come into the office. So I think it’s required all of us in the diversity and inclusion space — and frankly leaders across all companies — to really think about what is it that we need to do to ensure that we’re creating inclusive and equitable workplaces for all employees, and what is it that we could do to continue to help people to understand that unique backgrounds and experiences of those employees.
We have a curriculum that we have been working on that we decided to make some tweaks to in light of what took place last year to make sure that we felt the content was very relevant to help our leaders and managers engage across lines of difference. We introduced a really interesting philanthropic initiative called the Spectrum Community Investment Loan Fund. Last year, we introduced that program about a month before the pandemic hit in February, and we started with a $10 million commitment designed to work with community development [and] financial institutions to provide loans and other resources to businesses and underserved communities, which we now recognize by virtue of the pandemic and some of the social unrest have been disproportionately impacted by the events of last year.
I’m really proud to say this since we started that program, we’ve actually more than doubled the investment. We created a very unique partnership with the National Urban League and the National Action Network where $10 million of those funds will be invested specifically in programs and businesses in Black and Brown communities to really help revive those communities across our footprint.
B+C: Is upper management invested, and how are they participating in some of the things you’re working on?
RC: I would say they’re incredibly invested. What I’m very pleased about is that our executive leadership team has been incredibly supportive and engaged since I joined the organization. I think they manifest their commitment to diversity and inclusion in a number of different ways. One, we do have an internal council that we call our executive steering committee for diversity and inclusion. It consists of our executive vice presidents, our head of communications, myself, inclusive of our CEO and president. We meet on a quarterly basis where we review our progress against diversity and inclusion. Our CEO is a regular presence at those meetings. We present annually to our board of directors.
This year, we are really excited because we have started to really try to more deeply embed our strategy, particularly around our talent and inclusion objectives. We’re working hand in hand with every executive VP and their leadership teams on diversity action plans that they have created, which allow them to really look directly at their workforces, understand where they have areas of opportunity, understand where they have opportunities to perhaps facilitate a more inclusive work culture within their organizations. We’re working on developing specific plans with them and implementing those plans this year.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.