Cable Industry Earns Good Diversity Grades Despite Business Challenges

While cable is making positive strides with regard to hiring women and people of color for executive positions, an increase in the employee turnover rate – with many employees migrating to OTT and new media companies – must be addressed to keep future leaders within the industry, executives said during a Town Hall meeting Tuesday morning in New York. 

The Town Hall session featured the unveiling of the Women in Cable Telecommunications's PAR Cable Telecommunications Industry Diversity Survey and and the National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications’s AIM (Advancement Investment Measurement) Workforce Study, which revealed increased percentages of women and people of color in executive positions since the last surveys in 2015.

Executives speaking at the Town Hall meeting said the challenge will be to continue those gains within an industry that’s also focused on evolving to better serve its customers and remain competitive against digital companies.

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“In that [competitive] space there’s a lot of distraction, so making sure that we maintain diversity and inclusion in the forefront so we don’t experience slippage in our progress is a challenge,” ESPN vice president of diversity, inclusion and wellness Monica Diaz said. “The key is to make it part of the disruption that we want to get done.”

Comcast senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer David Cohen added that extending the commitment to diversity and inclusion beyond the human resources department and into a company’s full business operations is critical for success.

“When you define diversity that widely, it's actually easier to get executive and employee buy-in to the value of diversity as a business imperative,” Cohen said.

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To attract and retain talent, Cox Communications executive vice president and chief human resources officer Karen Bennett said it's important for companies to positively project an image of inclusiveness for current and prospective employees to see.

“A lot of this starts with putting your image out there of who you are and then representing that to those who have joined the company so that they stay,” Bennett said.

Cohen added that millennials in particular value diversity and will be drawn more toward companies that foster inclusion and diversity.

“We are more diverse than Silicon Valley and the tech industry, and that gives us a competitive advantage in attracting millennials who would otherwise be inclined to go to tech companies.,” he said.

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Once they get women and people of color in the door, the industry has struggled to keep them within the cable ranks. The turnover rate for women is higher than for men at all levels, while the turnover rate for people of color is higher than their white counterparts, according to the WICT and NAMIC surveys.

Yet Adria Alpert Romm, chief HR and global diversity officer at Discovery Communications, said that even if women and people of color leave the industry, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t return at some point in their careers.

“If we do a great job of bringing talent into our expanded cable industry, and then they’re picked off by the Facebooks of the world, I don’t think that’s bad,” said Romm. “I think the key thing is that everyone – Hulu, Facebook, Netflix, etc. – learn from the cable industry and bring diversity into those organizations. Then the flow of candidates will move [back and forth], which is good for the industry.”

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Several executives pointed to the low number of companies actually participating in the PAR and AIM surveys. Only 24 of 80 companies contacted actually partook in the surveys, although that number represented some 67.5% of the total cable workforce.

“[The survey findings] are probably the result of a few [cable companies] that are carrying the perspective or perception of stronger diversity than there might actually be,” said Rhonda Crichlow, senior vice president and chief diversity officer for Charter Communications. “I can’t understand why the participation rate is so low… From my perspective as an industry, we might have more work to do in terms of helping people understand the importance of the work we want to do in terms of diversity and inclusion.”

R. Thomas Umstead

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.