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Leading Diversity's Charge

MCN: Now that you've been president of NAMIC for nearly one year, what's your perception of the industry, in terms of its diversity efforts?

Jenny Alonzo: My perception is that everyone is trying really hard. I think there's a lot of buy-in at the top to make changes, and to affect positive change. I think some of the challenges come when everyone on a team understands the value [of diversity] and what a CEO or a chairman is trying to accomplish by making sure that the decisionmakers — not just the busy bees at the bottom, but the chiefs, as well as the Indians — are diverse and represent the customer base that they are trying to serve.

Personally, I see the NCTA [National Cable & Telecommunications Association] and [president] Robert Sachs and his leadership as being probably one of the biggest champions [of diversity]. He understands it, and he's willing to step in when we need him, which is very valuable.

There are visionaries in this industry that I think get it as well. Of course, I'm going to have to say [MTV Networks chairman] Tom Freston. I think MTV is very forward-thinking and they have been for many years. They have a great story to tell, not just on air, but also off-air within their ranks and within their corporate offices. I think they represent diversity at every level — not just color diversity — but gender, sexual orientation, etc. They really do understand the value of having a team that represents our people.

MCN: Are there many MTVNs out there with regard to diversity?

I think a lot of people are trying to be an MTV. I don't think a lot of them are there yet. There are people who have no problem voicing their opinion and standing up for what they believe in … the [Showtime chairman and CEO] Matt Blanks and [Lifetime president and CEO] Carole [Blacks]. Certainly, she is a great champion here within this company about the value of diversity and supporting a diverse workforce — and not just behind the scenes, but also in front of the camera. She has been a tremendous force for Lifetime, in that capacity.

But, in addition to Matt and Carole and Tom, from the MSO side, I feel that there has been great support from people like [Cox Communications Inc. executive vice president of operations] Pat Esser, who has been someone who has continuously championed for diversity.

[Landmark Communications Inc. president] Decker Anstrom is another one that has been very out there in support of diversity, and has offered to be out there.

There are other people that are not always out front that people don't realize, like [VH1 general manager] Christina Norman, who is becoming very visible in the industry nowadays and is a phenomenal role model for all of us — not just for people of color, but people in general. Another person is [Black Entertainment Television chief operating officer] Debra Lee.

For me, the networks that represent diverse audiences like BET, like TV One, like Telemundo, like Univision, like Major Broadcasting Corp. — these networks should be in the forefront of supporting NAMIC and its initiatives.

MCN: Are they supporting NAMIC?

Alonzo: I think BET has been a phenomenal supporter of NAMIC. TV One, obviously, is very new, so from that perspective, we really don't know yet, although Comcast [which co-owns the fledgling service with Radio One Inc.] has been awesome with us and we're very excited about that. They see the value in this, as well.

MBC, I think, is very new to the picture and so they're sort of still trying to establish themselves and, I guess, where they're really going to sink their teeth into things.

Telemundo has probably been a little bit more supportive than Univision, from the perspective of, at least, participating in events, etc.

Univision tends to not participate in any events. And they come in where necessary, but I don't think enough. And that is one of the things that I want to address and I want to focus on — How does this organization get more support from the companies that represent the audience base we're trying to serve?

MCN: That leads to the next question. What do you think the perception of NAMIC is within the industry, and is it a correct perception?

I think there are two kinds of perspectives regarding NAMIC. I think there is one camp that tends to think it's a networking organization for African-Americans.

Another camp believes that NAMIC is an organization that is a resource for the industry, in serving the employees — diverse employees — who will help this industry move forward in this global and ever-changing economy.

MCN: Which one is more prevalent?

I would like to say that the latter is more prevalent. I know from the few months that I have been in this role that I have received tremendous and positive feedback from people. I think people do see that this organization is really, more than anything else, a group of committed professionals who have a passion for what NAMIC truly represents — which is, to have a completely diverse workforce that represents the composition of our people in the U.S.

We want to be fairly represented [within the industry] and we're not. That's all there is to it.

To remain competitive, companies are now wooing the Hispanic market — and, as companies move forward in the future, will begin to woo the Asian market. It's a just a natural that as populations and certain groups continue to grow and continue to prosper, that they are going to become the focus.

But if we want to be able to understand our consumers — the people that we're trying to market to, the people we're trying to reach, and most importantly, the people we want to buy our products — then we better figure out a way to service them in a way that is not condescending, that is not insulting and that really allows people to see that we care, [that] we're not just all talk, but we really do care and we understand.

In order to do that, you need to have people who breathe and live those cultures. You can't fake that kind of stuff, OK? As an Hispanic, I can see it a mile away, when someone is feeding me something — where they're trying to just pass something along for the Hispanic viewer or the Latino consumer.

And, I think it's also very important for NAMIC to help companies navigate that. And, that's why the [NAMIC] national conference is so valuable, because it does deal with diversity issues at all levels — from an employee perspective and a consumer perspective. We're also dealing with marketing issues.

MCN: Going back to the perception question, NAMIC is not alone in its efforts to support diversity within the industry. The Walter Kaitz Foundation, WICT [Women In Cable and Telecommunications], The Emma L. Bowen Foundation, Cable Positive and The T Howard Foundation are all organizations touting efforts to create diversity.

Are there too many groups trying to do the same thing, to the point where nothing is really getting accomplished? There are some people saying, 'I don't know what NAMIC does. I don't know what WICT does. Don't they do the same thing, and whom should I support?'

Alonzo: 'You should support both,' is my answer. When I first became president, someone sent me an e-mail, someone whom to this day, I have never met. It said, 'I'm an Hispanic and I'm considering joining WICT, but now that I see an Hispanic joining NAMIC — I've gone to your Web site, and I realize that your organization is not just about African-Americans. So, I want to join NAMIC as well. Who do you recommend I join?'

And, my answer, my e-mail back was, 'You should join both,' because if you believe in diversity in general — whether it be gender diversity or ethnic diversity — then both organizations serve that purpose. And, I think both organizations need to stay very focused on what their true mission is.

WICT needs to stay focused on women's issues. Women have made tremendous strides and, as a woman, I can tell you that I am eternally grateful. But they still have a long way to go, especially in certain circles, and we all know that.

NAMIC is about ethnic diversity. NAMIC is about dealing with the issues that pertain to professionals in the cable industry that are of color, that are of different ethnic backgrounds, that bring with them different socializing sensibilities and different work ethics, in certain cases.

It's a group that tends to be very loyal and respectful of authority. The Hispanic community, the Asian community, the African-American community all tend to be very loyal, when it comes to supporting a company's goals and being a fabulous employee.

I do have to add, though, that we do some blurring of the lines sometimes. When an organization takes on any ethnic issues, here, you're dabbling into NAMIC territory. But, in my opinion, that is an opportunity for us to work together.

Ultimately, the priority of all organizations should be, 'What serves the industry best?' I think if we're not careful, you're right, there's a lot of room for confusion — for people to say, 'Well, who is doing what? And why is so-and-so doing this?' And, that is why NAMIC is very focused on the programs we're focused on.

MCN: How has consolidation hurt the diversity effort and the diversity movement?

Well, it's kind of too early to tell, really. I think in certain cases, for instance, with AT&T [Broadband] and Comcast [Corp.] joining forces, they've been very smart in hiring people who can help them.

I know that they've also reached out to companies who specialize in ethnic marketing, etc. So, from that perspective, bigger companies tend to have deeper pockets and that translates into not just more spending, but that really translates into being able to allocate the right amount of dollars to be able to do the job right.

So, I think, from that perspective, it's helped, because you are starting to see more allocation of funds — whether it be marketing funds, media funds or programming funds — to address the ethnic market. Case in point: TV One. There are certain people who think that we don't need another African-American targeted channel and there are others who will disagree wholeheartedly.

But just like you have a plethora of regular, nonethnic channels to serve different tastes, it should be the same thing for the African-American community. There's a plethora of African-Americans with different tastes, styles, backgrounds, disciplines and interests, so why not have more channels?

Still, consolidation does scare a lot of people, because the more consolidation you have, the less opportunity the little guy has to get in the door. And, that should be a concern to all of us.

MCN: But are these companies really allocating more resources to create a more diverse culture internally?

From an employee perspective, companies are allocating teams to deal with diversity, to help their senior management work on diversity efforts within their group.

But if you're just going to go out there and say you believe in diversity, and yes, you want to have a diverse workforce, but you're not willing to allocate or provide someone or some kind of a resource to your team to reach their efforts, then you're setting it up to fail. This is a new area for a lot of people. And if they don't know what to do, they're going to get frustrated, they're going to feel like they can't win and nothing is going to happen.

So, not only do you have to be a champion for diversity, but you have to champion for the resources that will help your team reach your diversity goals. In addition, if you only have — I always call it a grand poobah — a chief at your company that believes in diversity and is making that a mandate, that alone is not going to affect change.

That chief has to have generals, colonels, sergeants that also believe in the value of having a diverse workforce. If not, then it's not going to be a very good situation for everyone involved. You'll be bringing in people into an environment, where they may not necessarily be welcome.

MCN: There are some in the industry who are saying that they can't even find qualified minorities to hire and train so that they can move up the corporate ladder. How do you answer those critics who say there isn't a recruitment mechanism in place for the industry now that The Kaitz Foundation is no longer bringing in fellows to help in the recruitment process?

Alonzo: That's not true. That's a cop-out. First, let me just say, NAMIC's Executive Leadership Development Program is a great feeding ground for top-notch executives of color in this industry.

MCN: What is the ELDP?

Alonzo: The program, developed in conjunction with UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management, is a great breeding ground for top-notch executives of color in the industry.

If within the existing circles you can't find someone — or you have found someone, and that person is not available or unwilling to come your way — then we're all very smart and very intelligent enough to be able to reach outside of our comfort zone to find the right people.

In addition, there are lots of people in the lower end [positions] who, for some reason or another, aren't getting the right visibility that may be ready for that next step.

Those people are dying for attention, and they're willing to do whatever it takes to prove that they are worthy of that recognition. So, we need to make sure that we are looking — but not with tunnel vision, or relying on someone else to do the looking for us. Recruiters and headhunters are a great resource, but they should not be your only resource.

MCN: Looking ahead, what should the industry expect from NAMIC six months from now, a year from now?

Our biggest goal — my biggest goal — is to make sure that this perception that NAMIC is an African-American association goes away. It started as that because the African-American work force was first to this market, as far as all ethnic groups go.

And so, of course, those visionaries back then saw a need to have an organization that helped them navigate the politics and become a resource for each other. But, that's not what this organization is anymore. This organization is as inclusive as the message we preach.

This organization is about every ethnic diversity, regardless of whether you're a man, a woman, gay, transsexual — it doesn't matter. We are about ethnic diversity. And this organization is for anyone who believes that, again, having a diverse workforce is good for business.

People have said to me, 'Well, can I join NAMIC? I'm a white woman, upper manager — can I join NAMIC?'

And I said, 'Well, do you believe that you should have a diverse team?'

'Of course, I do.'

'Well, then, you should join NAMIC. You should be supporting NAMIC.'

And, the bottom line is that years down the road, when our kids are all out there, it's going to be an even more diverse work force. And, to me, we understand that your kid, while he may not be ethnic, will be working in conjunction with an ethnic employee base, and your child may actually be working for an ethnic boss.

Another of the things you will see from NAMIC is the rolling out a similar program to the ELDP we have with UCLA, but at a grassroots level.

In the first year, we are going to bring a two- or three-day workshop — working with experts from UCLA — to bring to the local level things that are of interest to middle managers.

Customer-service reps want to become managers and directors [but] there's nothing there for them to reach out to. If companies have their own internal development program, that's great and dandy, but that's within their own culture.

We want to bring outside influences, outside thinking, outside perspectives to help them become better employees, and to help them learn how to become a more successful member of that company's team.