'Betsy' Fellows Sing Out Praise

Approaching its tenth year of fueling female empowerment, the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute wins kudos for guiding women through self-enlightenment and into new expanses of leadership.

A program conducted under the auspices of Women in Cable and Telecommunications, BMLI rigorously sifts through applications and accepts around 25 women into each year's class.

The mission is to promote women's independent leadership in the workplace, and participants say the results have been successful.

Graduates of the program consistently sing its praises with much enthusiasm.

"Basically, it changed my life," said Deborah Stewart, director of programming for WICT and the institute's facilitator. "Professionally, it made me more effective, able and confident. I was able to communicate with passion and poise, and to listen with more than my ears."

Stewart developed such a dedication to the program that she eventually left her job at Discovery Digital Networks, where she had been vice president of programming, to join WICT full-time. Following years of national and international entrepreneurial work in the cable industry, this was somewhat of a drastic shift. Yet, through her involvement in BMLI and WICT, she continues improve the industry in an appreciable way.

"What it means for women is increased visibility. It gives us the resources of leadership skills and of a network we can all tap into, which in turn give us a position of greater influence in the industry," Stewart said. "I want to help these women have the experiences I had, to assist them in helping other women, and to eventually give back to the industry."

Others share this sentiment. "It's a life-changing and life-enhancing experience, both professionally and personally. It forces women to push boundaries of what's traditionally expected of them," said Kim Becker, former vice president of public relations at Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.-owned cable networks Bravo and the Independent Film Channel.

Becker made marked improvements, said Caroline Bock, senior vice president of marketing at IFC Cos., who was her boss during the time she participated in the program. Bock's own experiences in the 1999-2000 class compelled her to suggest application to the program.

"Kim came out with an increased confidence and a renewed focus on priorities," Bock said. "What Betsy Magness does so well for women who are at a midpoint in their career is that it gives them the strength and tools to break that proverbial glass ceiling, allowing them to see themselves as leaders and not worker bees."

WICT president Benita Fitzgerald Mosley is a graduate of last year's class. "It was a great opportunity to see first hand the power of the program and its transforming nature. The key is that the transformation is different for each person. It's not a cookie-cutter program, and that's what is so great about it," she said. "Each person learns how they can maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses."

Graduates say they emerge from the program with a clearer sense of selfhood. "By the end of the program, you have a collage of yourself, made of how others perceive you and how you see yourself," said Cynthia Carpenter, vice president of affiliate marketing at AMC Networks, who was part of the second class in 1995-96.

"It's like taking a cooking class. If you learn to make a dish, but don't make it soon after, you'll lose what you've learned. You can either make it part of your day or file it away," said alumna Harriet Novet, vice president of public affairs at Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey. "It's ever-present in my consciousness."

The program establishes a network of contacts and support for women, said Ellen East, a 2000-01 BMLI graduate and vice president of communications and investor relations at Cox Communications Inc. "Men have had their network for a long time, and it's usually because they went to the same Ivy League school or they play golf together.

"Betsy Magness gives women a network of their own that they can call upon. There's a 'girl power' element that's very affirming," said East, who co-chaired the class of 2001-02 and then chaired last year's program. "I'm still in touch with many of my peers on a weekly basis."

Named for a cable pioneer who helped build Tele-Communications Inc. into one of the most prominent and influential telecommunication companies in the industry, BMLI has operated for a decade this year. It boasts more than 225 alumnae, who reconvene often at national events. "You develop this bond that carries year-to-year," said Becker.

"Your classmates and other women who have gone through the program become touchstones in a lot of areas of your personal life. It's really an amazing thing," said alumna Kim Cannon, vice president of marketing and sales at Time Warner Cable of Ohio.

The fall-to-spring program commences with a one-week workshop on personal leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. Meeting for three two-day sessions throughout the year, students attend panels on "Personal Power and Risk Taking," "Women: Leadership, Values and Ethics" and "Reflections and Transition — The Fellowship Year."

They administer surveys, requesting feedback. They also develop a detailed life plan.

The group concludes the term in a May graduation at the Center for Creative Leadership in Colorado Springs.

Applicants must have already showcased keen leadership abilities and a potential to thrive in senior-level executive positions. "The selection process is an involved investigation of how you got to where you are in your position, and how Betsy Magness can help you further your goals. The application is pretty entailed," said alumna Sam Klosterman, vice president of affiliate sales in the Western Region for Wisdom Media Group.

Once admitted, participants must obtain their employer's support for the time BMLI will require, as well as funding to cover the program's $10,000 fee.

The prestige of admittance remains strong: a record nearly 100 women applied this year.