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Behind the Employee Curve on Diversity

The cable industry’s efforts to increase the diversity of its workforce will take center stage this week in New York City.

During the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications’ two-day conference and annual Walter Kaitz Foundation fundraising dinner, cable operators and programmers will pledge their time and dollars to bringing up employees, managers and executives from as many different cultural backgrounds as they can.

But a new report commissioned by the association, Multi-Ethnic Employment In Telecommunications, shows that many cable operators and programmers have a long way to go in advancing minorities into management ranks.

Among the findings to be released today, the NAMIC survey reports that minority representation in the overall workforce has increased since 2004, to 29% from 26%. But the ranks of people of color in middle- and lower-management positions fell to 11% and 20% in 2006, respectively, from 13% and 23% in the same survey two years ago.


The survey was developed in conjunction with DiversityInc. magazine, a 150,000-circulation publication based in Newark, N.J. Earlier this year, that magazine compiled its own top-50 list of companies committed to diversifying their employment and supplier ranks.

A comparison of cable’s minority employment and retention efforts with those of DiversityInc.’s 50 most-diverse companies shows that the cable companies continue to lag behind other U.S. companies in recruiting and retaining managers of color, particularly in the middle and lower executive levels, according to NAMIC.

“I think the industry has improved in certain aspects, but [as an aggregate] cable would not make the Top 50 list,” said DiversityInc. CEO Luke Visconti.

For this year’s survey, only 14 cable companies — four system operators and 10 programmers — participated. Approximately 50 companies were invited to participate in the online survey. No company names were disclosed.

For its last survey in 2004, NAMIC received responses from 15 cable-industry companies. Only seven companies were part of both surveys. “We’d hoped to have more participation,” said Johnson. “But we’re encouraged by the companies that stepped up to participate and we hope to continually increase participation.”

More than 256 companies, including some from the cable industry, participated in the 2006 DiversityInc. survey.

Much like the NAMIC survey, those companies were asked detailed questions about top-level commitment to diversity, supplier diversity programs and methods of communicating diversity initiatives externally and internally.

Verizon Communications Inc./Verizon Wireless was first in DiversityInc.’s list. Cable companies making the top 10 list include Home Box Office Inc. (fifth place) Turner Broadcasting System Inc. (No. 7) and Cox Communications Inc. (No. 32).


According to the NAMIC report, people of color make up 29% of the overall cable workforce in 2006. While up from two years ago, this is slightly below the 34% average of DiversityInc.’s Top 50 list of diverse companies.

On an individual group basis, African-American representation in cable increased to 14.8% of the workforce, from 14.7%; Latino workers increased to 8.5%, from 8%; and the number of Asian-Americans in cable increased to 4.8% from 4%, according to the survey.

The number of minority senior managers — including CEOs and direct reports — more than doubled in two years, from 7% in the 2004 study to 14.2% in the 2006 study. That compares to the 15.2% average for people of color for senior management in DiversityInc.’s Top 50 list of companies.

It is in the ranks of middle and lower managers where cable has experienced sharp declines. The number of people of color in middle-management positions decreased over the two-year period from 13% in the 2004 study to 11% in the 2006 study. Further, people of color in lower management dropped from 22.7% in the 2004 study to 20% in the 2006 study.

Both cable’s middle-management and lower-management averages compare unfavorably with the 16.5% and 25% averages, respectively, of the Top 50 companies.

The decline could have its roots within the overall employment cutbacks in the industry as more companies merge to create large conglomerates. Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, for instance, recently split up the systems once operated by Adelphia Communications Corp.


“I think we’ve made some great strides and we’ve had some setbacks,” said Lifetime Television senior vice president of multicultural strategies and initiatives Jenny Alonzo. “I think that mergers and budget cuts have hurt minority progression within the industry.”

Johnson says the numbers show companies need to do a better job in recruiting qualified people of color for such positions. “The industry has made some progress, particularly in the numbers in the senior management ranks, but I think there are still things that companies can do to demonstrate a greater commitment to diversity that would increase progress more rapidly,” she said.

Indeed, the survey also found that CEOs are not actively involved in their company’s diversity process. Only 38.5% of chief executives from the companies surveyed actually signed off on tying management compensation — financial or otherwise — to successful diversity initiatives within the company, down 23% from the 2004 study.

By comparison, 72% of CEOs from the DiversityInc. top 50 companies sign off on executive compensation linked to diversity. Not surprisingly, only 45% of NAMIC companies believe that management compensation was tied to successful diversity initiatives, compared to 96% of DiversityInc.’s top 50 companies.

Cox Communications chief people officer Mae Douglas said the industry’s poor showing with regards to CEO commitment is troubling for an industry that says diversity employment is important.

“We have all of these diversity organizations that the industry funds,” Douglas said. “But it begs the question; is it a matter of just giving money and hoping it goes away, or is there really commitment behind the dollars that support these great programs that all these diverse organizations are providing?”


The industry also falls short in marketing and promoting their diversity initiatives. Only half of surveyed companies have employee-resource groups, which actively participate in recruitment, retention and marketing to diverse communities, compared to 94% of companies on DiversityInc.’s list.

In addition, only 38% of NAMIC companies have diversity as a section on the home page of their corporate Web sites, compared to 88% of the DiversityInc. Top 50 companies.

Further, only 4% of NAMIC companies spent advertising dollars on multicultural advertising specifically targeted to people of color and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities compared to 13% of the Top 50 DiversityInc. companies.

The cable industry has made some inroads in the supplier diversity arena, but again falls well short of other diversity-minded companies. All 50 of DiversityInc.’s companies have formal supplier-diversity programs, while only half of NAMIC companies had such programs in place in 2006. In 2004, 57% of NAMIC companies had supplier diversity programs.

The cable industry, though, bested DiversityInc. companies in monies spent with minority and female-owned businesses. NAMIC companies spent 11.5% of its procurement budget on such business — an increase of 44% over the 8% in 2004, whereas DiversityInc.’s Top 50 company average is 7.5%.

But even those gains are tainted: NAMIC reports that the industry percentages are inflated because a large margin of NAMIC companies excludes categories from supplier-diversity figures where they claim to be unable to find minority and women-owned businesses.

Johnson said the organization will look for opportunities to help the industry reach its diversity goals. “I think there’s room for leadership development at the middle and lower management level,” she said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to reach out to those employees and help them achieve their goals.”

But Johnson said the organization does not have any “immediate plans” to devote resources toward recruiting minorities into the industry beyond the network’s ongoing job bank and its various career expos around the country.


TV One president and CEO Johnathan Rodgers said the survey results stand as a challenge to the cable industry.

“I’m proud to be part of an industry that treats its issues honestly and openly, because this truly is not the best report card we could have received,” said Rodgers, who has seen results of the survey. “The fact that we laid it out in front of everybody and challenged everybody to correct it leaves me in total admiration for the industry.”

Former BET executive Curtis Symonds said it is going to take a greater commitment from the top at cable operators and programmers, however, before the cable industry becomes truly diverse.

“There are not enough people up top that look at diversity in a serious manner,” said Symonds, now the chief operating officer of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Washington Mystics.

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.