Forerunner Accolades

Best Operator

By K.C. Neel

Cox Communications Inc. has reason to be the envy of its peers as it picks up top PAR honors for providing an outstanding work environment for women.

The MSO has been recognized in the category for two years running.

“Cox just does a lot of things right,” says Joanne Cleaver, a Working Mother Media consultant who evaluated all the data from the survey.

“They are particularly effective and thoughtful about the flexibility of their employees — especially employees in their call centers,” she says.

Cox has emergency care for its employees and even has an on-site daycare center for its San Diego employees.

“We certainly don't expect companies to have full, on-site day care facilities for all their employees, but companies are finding back-up care is invaluable to the productivity of their employees, and we see that as a reasonable benefit to offer,” says Cleaver.

In areas where there is no on-site care, Cox has partnered with other organizations that do offer full-time care by offering vouchers to employees, says chief people officer Mae Douglas.

The MSO is also being recognized for other work/life balance and support practices. The number of women who telecommute or share a job with another employee has risen in recent years, Douglas says.

Cox has worked to increase flextime for its employees and has expanded many of its on-site amenities including nutritionists, chiropractors, gyms and programs such as Weight Watchers.

“We have tried to provide programs that benefit all employees,” Douglas says. “Women have benefited from many of our programs, but men have, too.”

Cox is also proud of the efforts it's undertaken to provide advancement opportunities for women employees. However, the MSO's advancement policies “are about the overall environment we try to create for everyone here at Cox,” Douglas explains.

“It all starts inside the company with a belief in people. They are all so critical to the success of the company. And when you start there, everything is oriented based on that premise,” she says.

Cox has also created career development programs at all levels. “We've been very deliberate about that,” Douglas says.

The executive development program has been particularly successful for the company. Thirty to 35 executives are chosen to participate annually, and over 100 apply every year, Douglas says. It's likely the program will be expanded because “we've already identified 65 people we think would be good candidates in 2005, so we're going to have to re-look at the program to accommodate that.”

Best Programmer

By Tim Clark

A few years ago, Discovery Communications Inc. experienced a significant increase in the number of pregnant employees. Women who were once comfortable working long hours suddenly found their lives completely changed. In response, Discovery started to train managers on the finer points of how to manage the rising number of women working from home or those who adopted flexible hours.

That's one example of how Discovery has learned to bend with the currents of change running through its workforce — the primary reason Women in Cable & Telecommunications put Discovery ahead of its peers as an outstanding company for women. “The work place has to reinvent itself for each crop of incoming women,” says Joanne Cleaver, a consultant for Working Mother Media. “You can't just say, 'We're a great company for women,' stick your fingers in your ears and march forward.

“[Discovery is] really trying to reach across a generational divide, because they are maturing as a company,” says Cleaver. “They are trying to figure out new ways to make the culture good for younger women.”

Pandit Wright, executive vice president of human resources and administration at Discovery, says the top brass fully stands behind the notion of a flexible work environment. Employees are encouraged to use up all vacation days and work from home, if necessary. “We want people to succeed in their careers and also manage their home life,” says Wright. “We don't tell everyone that all programs are available to all people. We believe in telecommuting, but not all jobs lend themselves to that atmosphere. We're trying to run a business, but we're also trying to have healthy employees. It increases productivity, creativity and efficiency.”

Discovery has learned that its on-site Wellness Center cuts down on the amount of time employees spend on the outside for healthcare. Run entirely by an outside provider, the Wellness Center has been directly responsible for preventing very serious employee medical conditions, thanks to the presence of a doctor who is on call a few days per week, according to Wright. “It also helps with our recruiting and retention efforts,” she says.

Discovery also created a Women's Leadership Group. This internal, co-ed initiative held its first conference last year and hosted outside speakers to discuss financial and physical health. Women representing different departments at Discovery also share views on leadership, mentoring and balance.

“We are really proud and pleased to be recognized by WICT,” says Wright. “We work really hard to improve our culture, and the recognition proves we are on the right track, not only for women but for all of our employees.”