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PAR’s Crème de la Crème

For the third year in a row, Cox Communications Inc. has been named the best place for women to work among cable operators, according to Women In Cable & Telecommunications’ third annual PAR Initiative survey. And Discovery Communications Inc. was ranked as the No. 1 programmer for the second year in a row.

Many of 2005’s best companies have been on the list all three years running. The only new addition this year: Charter Communications Inc., which replaced WideOpenWest LLC. The top five programmers in 2004 all made the top list this year, as well.

Indeed, the biggest change in the survey was the fact that WICT ranked the top five companies for each category. In the past, the organization named only its top operator and top programmer, but then listed the rest of the best in alphabetical order. This year, all four categories of the PAR Initiative — top operators/best programmers; pay equity; advancement opportunities; and resources for work/life support — are rated according to how they scored in the survey.

Charter, the newcomer to the top operator list, has made giant strides in its workplace environment, says Lynne Ramsey, senior vice president of human resources.

“We did an employee survey in 2003 and found that our employees weren’t engaged, but they wanted to be,” Ramsey says. “We were doing a lot of things wrong, and we decided to aggressively change that. We began tying performance to compensation. We launched Charter University for our sales, customer service, technical and top-leadership staff. We set the foundation for a succession management program, and we launched a rewards program that allows us to recognize our top performers throughout the company.”

The MSO plans to conduct another companywide employee survey next year to gauge its progress and get input on what else needs to be done, says Nancy Neu, vice president of human resources.

The fact that most of the companies on this year’s list are repeat winners doesn’t surprise WICT president Benita Fitzgerald Mosley. She realizes the best companies for women to work for have been doing things to attract and promote women for some time.

“This kind of data takes a while to gauge change,” Fitgerald Mosely says. “We knew we had to start somewhere with benchmark baselines. We may not be seeing a lot change in terms of the companies being honored for these initiatives. But we are seeing smaller victories.”

For instance, she says, more than three-quarters of operators and programmers who took part in the PAR survey in 2003 had no formal pay-equity programs. Today, 71% have formal policies in place. In fact, every operator that participated in the survey this year said they conduct internal pay-equity surveys on a regular basis.

The PAR Initiative has been instrumental for many companies in helping create, define and formalize programs to promote and assist women in the workplace.

With only 250 employees, Oxygen Media CEO Geraldine Laybourne thought her team was doing a fine job of promoting a family-friendly, inclusive atmosphere. But in 2003, the company didn’t rank in any of the PAR Initiative categories. Oxygen dug in and fixed some things and kicked off others.

It worked. After being a no-show in 2003, Oxygen came back strong in 2004 with high rankings in three of the four categories, including the best programmer category. In 2005, Oxygen is the only cable company to make it into the top five of all four categories of the PAR survey.

Meanwhile, Cox continues to dominate in particularly remarkable ways on the operations side of the business. Not only has it held the top spot since WICT launched PAR in 2003, but it’s been a standout in several of the categories. While few cable operators even made the pay equity, advancement opportunities and work/life support categories, Cox was ranked No. 1 in the work/life support class.

The rankings “reflect our commitment to the development of programs that will help our employees and the company,” says Cox chief people officer Mae Douglas. “We understand that our people are the differentiator for us in a market.”

Cox has created a couple of different programs to guide employees — men and women — into areas of operations leadership. The company’s top brass identified 20 employees whom they considered good candidates for general-manager positions, if they had the right training. Cox is in now the process of assigning them jobs that will give them the necessary skills to move into those positions as they become available.

Advance/Newhouse Communications’ Bright House Networks launched an aggressive women’s leadership program focusing on training mid-managers to climb up the corporate ladder. The program, which is loosely based on WICT’s Betsy Magness Institute program, includes schooling in business issues as well as personal and organizational behavior patterns, says Jennifer Mooney, general vice president of public affairs.

The MSO is currently developing a career-path program, she says. The idea: keep people trained and motivated to move up and across the corporate ladder. Bright House’s mentoring program has been highly successful in helping women navigate the corporate world. It has also enlightened some male employees to women’s issues in the workplace, Mooney says.

Time Warner Cable has been deliberate and successful in pulling women into technical positions and projects, especially those that involve developing new delivery channels. So much so that the percentage of women who are Internet technology managers at Time Warner Cable is 50% above the industry average, according to the PAR survey. The operator has also been successful in luring many talented women from the telecommunications sector as it continues to expand its voice business, says Beth Bennett, Time Warner vice president of human resources communications.

“Our voice product lines have given us some incredible women executives,” adds Holly Coxe Brittingham, the company’s director of people development.

Programmers have more senior-level female executives than operators, but that doesn’t mean the programmers can slack off on its programs to make sure employees are paid equitably or that they don’t need to foster advancement opportunities. Lifetime has 24 senior officers and 11 are female, says Pat Langer, executive vice president of business affairs and human relations.

The company recently looked at all the salaries it pays sales assistants around the country and found it needed to make some adjustments, according to Lynn Costa, vice president of human resources.

The company also keeps in touch with the personal aspects of its employees. “We are constantly looking for ways to reduce stress in the workplace,” Langer says. “We have onsite yoga classes, and we offer clinics on everything from health management to feng shui.”