When Susan Ness joined the Federal Communications Commission, she was surprised at how few women came before the agency to represent broadcasters and telecommunications companies on cutting-edge issues.
She expected other females to appear on the scene before long. Seven years later, they haven't.
A new report on the number of women in media, telecom and high-tech firms suggests the number of female executives in the sector remains low. The same goes for seats on corporate boards.
The study, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, found that women make up 13 percent of top executives in these companies. They fill just 9 percent of the seats on corporate boards.
An even smaller group of women possess top-tier job titles such as chief executive or chief operating officer, the report says.
"The numbers are sobering," said FCC commissioner Ness. "It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since the resurgence of the women's movement, yet we're still talking about token numbers." The report touched off a wide-ranging debate among industry leaders at a meeting in Washington last week about how to increase the presence of women in the telecommunications, media and tech sectors.
To many, including panelist Pat Mitchell, chief executive of the Public Broadcasting Service, it's a crucial numbers game.
"When women are at the top, we can and do change the culture and the numbers," said Mitchell, whose senior staff is made up of eight women and two men. "And numbers matter."
In cases where managers are slow to recognize the importance of promoting women, advised Discovery Communications Inc. President Judith McHale, make diversity goals "part of their bonus package."
"That, at the end of the day, has a pretty positive impact," McHale said to laughter from the audience, which included Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.).