Preaching to the Choir, Again

As I reflect upon the annual NAMIC Urban Markets Conference, being held as part of this week's Diversity Week, I've made some observations. Being outside of the industry this year — after over 25 years of involvement in cable and telecommunications — I've had an opportunity to more closely examine the significance that Diversity Week has had on our industry and the progress made through the years.

The word diversity continues to be mentioned, but its reality has not been encompassed in the workplace by senior management. Truly, it has not been viewed for what it could mean for business growth. We've talked for many years at forums and board meetings about how diversity in the workplace is good business, but it must be consistently implemented.

Recent research by Paul Kagan & Associates has found that the multicultural audience makes up over 30 percent of all television-viewing households. Yet I am perplexed that while there has been an extraordinary effort to market to the Hispanic and Asian groups, there continues to be a lack of adequate minority representation in the industry workforce hierarchy.

This year, we have another great nominee, Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts, who will receive the Walter Kaitz Foundation's Award for diversity as demonstrated by his company's middle- and senior-level management team. I can say on a personal note, knowing Brian and his family, that he has made strong strides to improve the Comcast team to reflect diversity. With Comcast's leadership by example, I believe that other operators should be encouraged to get on board and make diversity a reality, because it is just good business.

One thing that concerns me is that many top executives continue to talk about moving towards diversity, but little movement is occurring. It must be more than talk. Action must follow closely behind. As a former member of several boards within the industry, and often the only person of color represented, I'm concerned that there is no voice being heard to improve the workplace and make it more prominently inclusive of people of color in mid-level and senior managerial roles. Unlike their counterparts, there are seldom mentors for people of color in the senior-management ranks.

It is consistently said that there is no pool of qualified people of color to fill managerial positions, but this is not an accurate statement. There are many people of color who have been in the industry for many, many years who are well-qualified to move up into the senior ranks and who are being overlooked. In addition, I hope in the near future that on the programming side, you'll take a closer look within your own organizations to determine what can be done to promote many more people of color to middle- and senior-management positions.

The Urban Markets Conference message is continually being preached to the same choir year after year, since attendees of the conference are usually the same people who have relatively little influence on decision-making within their organizations. Yearly attendance hovers around 400. At this year's annual Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Summit, held in July in Boston, attendance was over 2,400, which is not unusual. Both the Urban Markets Conference and the CTAM Summit share new insight and information on trends in the industry in their respective areas of expertise.

During the CTAM conference, new marketing and technological trends and other new developments within the industry are discussed, and at Urban Markets, the latest information on how to reach the multicultural audience is explored. In this great digital divide, we cannot afford to overlook such an important conference as Urban Markets. How is it that there is such a vast difference in participation in the two conferences?

During Diversity Week, over 4,000 industry executives come to New York to the annual Walter Kaitz Foundation Dinner, but only 400 industry people, including general attendance and a few top executives, attend the Urban Markets Conference. The problem with this picture is that in the past 10 years, the audience we speak to year after year continues to hear the new information but cannot bring about the changes necessary for growth and inclusion in the industry. Very few of the real decision-makers that can affect change will attend the conference.

I am again perplexed that since urban markets make up a significant chunk of revenue within the cable industry, why aren't the top executives coming to the conference in droves to seek wisdom from the source on how to continue to grow their businesses? How can this conference continually be ignored and not seen as a viable resource when premium services and pay-per-view are the top sources of revenue in this business?

There is no great mystery in making diversity work in the industry. But there is a formula to make it work. Diversity is already a very natural part of our industry. Diversity means variety, and our industry thrives because of diversity. It is important that everyone responsible for making the industry thrive be afforded the opportunity to continue growing within the ranks. People of color are an essential cog in the wheel of our industry. Let's make a conscious effort to be inclusive of everyone because of his or her talents and abilities.

Let's move forward and walk into a heightened level of excitement, because of diversity. Let's make our industry a model for the world to see and follow. Together, we can do it.