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'Dearth of women' in top spots

It's the same old story, say female executives in the television industry, but a recent study on women in the top corporate ranks at least gets people talking about the issue.

Released last week, the study by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center says there "continues to be a dearth of women in the executive suites and corporate boardrooms of entertainment companies."

Susan Ness, the center's director of information and society, agrees: "Time alone won't rectify the problem."

Women account for just 14% of top executive spots and 13% of board members at 10 major entertainment companies—among them Walt Disney Co., Viacom, AOL Time Warner and USA Networks—according to information culled from Forbes
rankings of the top 1,000 companies by revenue, 2001 annual reports and proxy statements, and media directories.

Representation was slightly higher at publishing companies, where women accounted for 22% of the top executive spots and 17% of board seats.

"Each generation has had a greater struggle than the [following one]," says Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president of news coverage for CBS News. Even so, "I don't think the struggle is over by any stretch."

So why the dearth of females in the upper corporate echelons? Female execs hesitate to assign blame to tired explanations like sexism or conflicts between work and family.

One corporate factor is consolidation, which has stripped some rungs out of the corporate ladder. With moguls like Barry Diller and Sumner Redstone controlling the bulk of entertainment outlets, women say there are chances to run divisions but not necessarily companies.

"[Men] are buyers and sellers and have a tremendous power base," notes Sci Fi Channel President Bonnie Hammer. "Woman are employed within or under that structure."

The classic "pipeline" explanation—there aren't enough qualified women to promote—is getting tired, says Discovery Communications President and COO Judith McHale. Certainly, there are qualified woman who have worked in the industry more than 20 years. "But until you have more women in leadership positions, it will be difficult to make changes and make progress," she says. (Since Discovery is privately held, it was not included in the study.)

The Annenberg study recommends mentoring and career planning to help advance women; female execs agree. Also, men must be engaged in constant dialogue. "Women can't solve this themselves," says McHale.

Women have become more visible at industry events. The study found that more women were featured speakers at recent media and telecommunications conferences, although many key roles still go to men.

One area in which women have charged ahead is national news, the study says. More than 30% of news execs at the seven broadcast and cable news outlets are female, compared with 20% in last year's study. At CBS News, two of the three SVPs under chief Andrew Heyward are women, McGinnis and prime time chief Betsy West. CNN boasts the only female news chief, Teya Ryan.

"Women in executive positions have to mentor other women," says Ryan, who counts PBS President Pat Mitchell (and former CNNer) as one of her mentors. "We can't ever take it for granted."

On the programming side, out of 120 broadcast and cable channels, women account for just 16% of top executives.

In cable, that intimate group includes Discovery's McHale, MTV Music Group President Judy McGrath, BET President and COO Debra Lee, Food Network President Judy Girard, Lifetime Chairman Carole Black, CNBC President Pamela Thomas Graham, Hallmark Channel President and CEO Lana Corbi, Oxygen Media Chairman Geraldine Laybourne, Sci Fi Channel's Hammer and E! Entertainment Television President Mindy Herman.

Only PBS's Mitchell is at the helm of a broadcast network. At four of the broadcast networks, though, women—Gail Berman at Fox, Dawn Ostroff at UPN, Susan Lyne at ABC and Nancy Tellem at CBS—hold the top entertainment spots.

Broadcast TV has long been seen as more of a boys' club than cable. In the younger cable industry, women found more management opportunities. "You went in at a lower level and a lower salary," says Sci Fi's Hammer, "but you could get more hands-on."

There is also a cadre of female GMs at cable nets, including the History Channel, TNN and VH1. Only one major MSO is headed by a woman, Insight Communications' President and COO Kim Kelly.

At the local level, the story is very similar. Women are about 20% of general managers of cable systems and slightly less at stations. Women have made strides in station newsrooms. In the top 210 media markets, the study found, there were 823 female anchors and 450 news executive producers. In contrast, there were just 243 GMs.

Getting ahead is a tireless march, female execs agree. "It's not just doing a great job within your four walls. It's recognition within your industry that creates opportunities," says E! chief Herman. Without networking, she adds ruefully, "I could still be sitting in the legal department at Fox."