Women Rising to Top Cable Tech Slots
As the definition of technology in the cable marketplace
broadens to include new services like high-speed Internet access and telephony, so have
the technical jobs in the industry. And that whole phenomenon has created more employment
opportunities, according to women who hold those jobs and executive recruiters who place
women in those spots.
"Technology has gotten sexy," said Susan Bishop,
president and CEO of executive-search firm Bishop Partners in New York, which specializes
in the cable industry. "When we used to talk about technology in the cable industry,
we were talking about engineers, and there were very few women into the hardware and
engineering side of business."
She added, "Technology has grown to mean more Internet
access, high-speed cable modems, video-on-demand, pay-per-view -- those are areas that are
more marketing-driven and that have absolutely attracted more women."
Companies are turning less often to technologists and more
to marketing-oriented people who understand technology to fill jobs, Bishop said. Her firm
has conducted searches for ISP Channel, Cox Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., among
others. "The jobs are changing and the requirements are changing," she added.
Bishop said she has seen an increased number of women
interested in these more broadly defined technology jobs, such as product management and
new business development. Women are often more attracted to working with the Internet and
technology products than to creating the "widgets in the labs," she added.
The cable industry is seeing a growth of technical
positions that are different than traditional engineering jobs, said Lisa Lee, director of
the OpenCable project at Cable Television Laboratories Inc. While engineering has
historically been a male-dominated field, software and computer science fields have
attracted more women.
As the cable industry has grown and merged to include
Internet and other broadband services, it should find more women interested in and
qualified for those roles, Lee said.
Laurie Schwartz Priddy, executive vice president of
AT&T Broadband & Internet Services and president and CEO of the company's
National Digital Television Center, concurred.
When she attended Carnegie Mellon University, where she
received a master's of science degree in 1990, she said more women were participating
in computer-science programs than in traditional, hard-core engineering programs.
"What you find is that as [the cable industry] becomes
more software-centric, there are more women with that kind of background," Priddy
While cable companies still search for male and female
engineers to fill key technology jobs, those positions don't necessarily have to go
to pure engineers anymore, said Maggie Wilderotter, president and CEO of
interactive-programming developer Wink Communications Inc.
"I think we need to think more broadly about
technology leadership," said Wilderotter, who studied economics and business
administration at Holy Cross College. She worked her way to the top while on the business
side of a technology company, having spent 12 years with CableData Inc. before joining
"I do think we have a tendency to look at leadership
in technology companies to come from technology-focused individuals," Wilderotter
said, "and it shouldn't. It should come from people on the business side, who
can take technology, use it as the tool it is and implement it based upon adding value to
AT&T Broadband, Cox and CableLabs are examples of
organizations that have been aggressive in recruiting women for high-level technology
Priddy was appointed to her post at AT&T Broadband
earlier this year, after having served as vice president, advanced platforms and services
for CableLabs, where she led the OpenCable initiative. When Priddy left the consortium to
join AT&T Broadband, Lee filled her position as director of OpenCable.
"Laurie and Lisa are signals that there is an opening
for women in more staff roles on the technology side," Wilderotter said.
Priddy said she hopes her rapid ascent in technology
leadership has been because she is a "great technical manager," rather than
because she is a woman. She added that the cable industry is well ahead of the telephone
industry -- where she worked for several years with Bell Atlantic Corp. and Pacific Bell
-- as far as promoting talented people quickly.
That's because the cable industry has a more
entrepreneurial mind-set, said Mike Schaack, vice president of executive-search firm
Carlsen Resources Inc. in Grand Junction, Colo., which specializes in the cable industry.
"Once women get there and can do [the job], they can
move up quickly, unlike the telco field, which is more bureaucratic," Schaack
explained. "What it's doing is giving women who prove themselves a much faster
Margaret Bellville is one such woman. With 20 years of
experience in the telecommunications industry, she joined Cox in 1995 as vice president of
operations. She was one of three with that title at the time, and she advanced to senior
vice president of operations in January. This June, she was further promoted to executive
vice president of operations.
To get where she is today, Bellville said, she learned to
take risks and not to fear lateral moves.
"Going sideways through system management, marketing,
public affairs and operations gave me wonderful experience in things I never would have
had exposure to. [I learned that] the next job doesn't have to be the next promotion.
You don't have to be a vice president at 32," she said.
She was working in the marketing department of AT&T
Corp. in the early 1980s when a vice president there suggested that she make a lateral
move into an engineering group "because they were starting to work on phones that did
not connect to walls." Those phones turned out to be cellular phones, and the
decision to switch departments turned out to be one of the wisest in her career.
"There's a lot to be said for new businesses. In
cellular, I saw a lot of women in leadership roles quickly because it was new. I think we
can almost start seeing the same thing happening with data and residential telephone and
cable," she added.
Priddy, Bellville and Lee are trailblazers in the cable
industry, and their positions may send a message to other MSOs that have not traditionally
thought about women in those high-level technology roles, Wilderotter said. Those women,
in turn, have the opportunity and responsibility to help pull other women along, she
Lee said she is ready for that role as a trendsetter.
"I'll help anyone out who has the right qualifications for a job," she
But the glass ceiling remains intact, for now. While cable
companies are more receptive to women in senior-level positions, the path to the
highest-level technology jobs is still reserved for men.
Consolidation is compressing the number of top-level jobs,
and the industry, for now, still tends to favor men in the chief technology officer
positions, Bishop said. As a result, more women are turning to start-up companies that
serve the cable industry, where they can cut their own swaths to the executive chair.
Said Wilderotter: "Small companies and start-up
companies are looking for talent who have skills associated with what we think of as
female -- people who can juggle a lot of skills simultaneously, pull together
organizationally what needs to happen, make order out of chaos and articulately tell a
story, sell and persuade. I think those are all qualities that women can bring to the
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