WICT Leadership Conference Kicks Off Virtual Diversity Week Festivities

WICT Leadership Conference
(Image credit: WICT)

The Oct. 4 WICT Leadership Conference kicks off the cable industry’s Diversity Week festivities, which for the second straight year will be held virtually and also includes the NAMIC Conference (Oct. 5-8) and The Walter Kaitz Foundation fundraising event (Oct. 6). 

The two-day WICT Conference, with its theme of “Together We Shine, Together We Thrive,” will feature several sessions and keynote speakers that will look to empower its members as well as conference attendees to thrive in a challenging business environment. WICT President and CEO Maria Brennan spoke to Multichannel News regarding the organization’s outlook for this year’s conference. An edited version of the interview appears below.

Multichannel News: Are you satisfied with the attendance numbers heading into the virtual conference?

Maria Brennan: I'm more than satisfied. I said that I would be happy if we got more than 800 [attendees] by conference time and we are at 799 so I’m pretty confident we’ll get there. Last year as you may recall we set a record for attendance of about 840 -- it would be nice to get there, but I've been very, very pleased. I think it’s a really good indication that even though we may have some virtual learning fatigue, there's still always time to make the time for the Leadership Conference and Diversity Week. I think it’s a good sign that people still have it in them to participate in the work we do to bring Diversity Week to the masses, along with NAMIC and the Walter Kaitz Foundation.

MCN: You mentioned record attendance for last year’s conference. Has the industry been able to maintain the momentum for WICT's diversity and equality efforts from last year?

MB: Absolutely, and we're now at a very critical inflection point: women in terms of the workforce lost a lot of ground in a year and a half. In fact, the Women's Economic Forum has the last year and a half or two years setting back women in the workforce a good three decades behind what it was before the pandemic. That’s the bad news, but here's the good news:  we can also recover exponentially quicker with a bit of a course correction. That's why events like this are so important. We're certainly teaching and talking about the business of the business, but we're also teaching and instilling really good practices when it comes to recruiting, retaining and advancing women and people of color. The global pandemic hurt women in the workforce, but it can also help us get to parody quicker if we take these issues seriously and work collaboratively and collectively to try to stop that course. I know we work in an industry that believes in the diversity imperative, so we know that the companies we work with are going to put resources toward it. 

MCN: What are some of the highlights of this year’s conference? 

MB: I bet I say this every year, but I think this is one of the most extraordinary collections of speakers we’ve ever had. I’m really excited and proud about where we are and I think that’s why we’ve seen our numbers stay strong from year to year. We have some tremendous general sessions and keynote speakers, including [MSNBC President] Rashida Jones. One of the things that we know in terms of building diversity is that it starts in the C-suite. Women are going to get parity with men exponentially quicker when men are part of the solution. That’s why I’m excited about the CEO panel that we’re doing. There will be some real important CEOs who really are putting forward best practices when it comes to putting women at all different levels within the company, including [Cox Communications President and CEO] Pat Esser, [Altice USA CEO] Dexter Goei, [Urban One CEO] Alfred Liggins and [Charter Communications CFO] Chris Winfrey. I’m also a huge fan of our 'Pearls of Wisdom' session as well as our 'Beyond the Hashtag:#LoveIsLove' session. Niecy Nash is going to preempt the session with lovely remarks about her journey.

MCN: WICT is planning to hold the Leadership Conference in person next year. Does having gone virtual for two straight years present some challenges for the conference in 2022? 

MB: It does, but here’s the silver lining: I hope there will never be a WICT Leadership Conference that is strictly in person. I think we should always make it hybrid. We have to meet people where they are. Not everybody is going to want to get back in a crowded room right away. Also, some people just don't have the clearance to get on a plane and go to New York for a few days. We can really make this a more inclusive experience by reformatting it based on what we've learned in an entirely virtual scenario. 

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.