The cable industry is moving in the right direction when it comes to engaging women and minorities in content and employment, but there’s more work to make the industry even more equitable.
Florida Internet & Television’s FITCon 2018 kicked off Thursday with a with a panel chaired by state Rep. Mike La Rosa that brought a diverse group of cable veterans together to reflect on the past 40 years of diversity and inclusion efforts as well as what needs to happen over the next 40.
Former Charter Communications VP Mike Robertson said when he entered the cable industry in the late 1970s that there was no lack of innovative thinkers, but there wasn’t a focus on diversity and inclusion.
His first employer, Denver-based American Television & Communications, was the second-largest cable company in the country with just 1 million customers; channels such as ESPN and BET hadn’t aired their first program; and, like many other workplaces in 1979, his co-workers were predominantly white males.
“Now we’re seeing diversity at the CEO level,” he said. “When you go back 40 years ago, there was no content that addressed diversity and inclusion.”
According to Marva Johnson, Charter’s VP of state government affairs and the chair of WICT Global, those changes came about because cable corps “didn’t just measure where we were with diversity. We measured it and acted on it.
“What makes us excellent as service providers is we are super competitive. We actually take that data and we benchmark it against the industry and against each other,” she said. “One thing we’ve done well as an industry is we’ve taken it seriously.
“We’re beating the crap out of Silicon Valley.”
But there’s still plenty of road ahead. And it’s not just about bringing women and minorities into the fold, it’s about bringing a diversity of thought and backgrounds. That’s where new content providers, such as the Sean Combs-founded REVOLT, excel.
“The makeup of REVOLT is 53 percent women. One of our AVP’s is a woman. The makeup of REVOLT is amazing,” said REVOLT EVP James Brown. “If you look at what hip hop is — 25 percent of all downloads across the world are hip hop — that’s the largest in the world.”
Brown has been in the cable game for 20 years, spending a decade with Disney and ESPN and another with Verizon. To him, the key for companies keen on mirroring REVOLT ’s makeup is a focus and commitment to changing recruiting practices.
Traditionally, hires came from “who you went to college with, who you play golf with, who you feel comfortable with,” he said. “Because that’s easy. When we got away from ‘easy,’ that’s when we saw improvement.
“You need to get outside of your comfort zone and cast a wider net. One of the things we do at REVOLT is this thing called ‘Be Heard,'” he said. “We’re not just looking at who is the next artist, were looking at who’s the next director, who’s the next producer, who’s the next attorney.
“If we’re able to do that type of thing when we’re filling our roles across the board, that’s it.”
Robertson echoed that sentiment.
“My tendency was always to hire the best qualified person. As JB noted we tend to hire people that look like ourselves, act like ourselves, have the same tendencies as ourselves,” he said.
Breaking that trend requires a good HR team with an ability to handle cultural clashes in the workplace.
Still, Walter Kaitz Foundation head Michelle Ray said those making hiring decisions need to be met halfway. Bringing diversity to the industry is only possible when targeted demographics have the education and training they need to land the job.
“Really on the tech side is one of the areas where we see opportunities for inclusion,” she said. “The truth is we don’t see enough women in the tech sector.”
To that end, the Walter Kaitz foundation is boosting funding for efforts to draw women into STEM fields.
“What we’re doing is we’re cultivating a database and creating a network where we can reach out to the industry and say ‘you want a female director? Here you go,’” she said.