Women are moving into cable television in significant numbers. But how are ethnic and racial minorities making out?
According to the Federal Communications Commission, not nearly as well as women. In the top job category, officials and managers, approximately 6 percent of the slots are held by minorities, compared with about 30 percent held by women.
Minorities are less prevalent in cable than they are with the over-the-air broadcast networks, where approximately 11 percent hold analogous positions, according to a cable industry report prepared for the FCC.
The numbers in cable are clearly not what they should be, asserted Janet Long, chairperson of the San Francisco-based National Association of Minorities in Cable. Her organization has 240 members in six chapters.
"I think one of the reasons minorities are so poorly represented in top positions in cable television is that the industry does not have high visibility in the minority community," said Long, who is vice president of affiliate operations at San Francisco's HBO headquarters.
"Because there are so few minority executives in the corporate arena generally, those who do the hiring perceive minorities as different. They suspect minority people have different values -- and so are less likely to hire them, even those who are highly qualified."
Not everyone agrees with Long's assessment. Ruth Otte, president of The Discovery Channel, said, "It's not necessarily bigotry. There are just few minority applicants."
A portion of the 1984 Cable Act mandates that cable system operators -- not program providers -- have to show they are making every attempt to recruit qualified minorities as well as women at all job levels. The goal is 50 percent of the available job pool within any given community. For example, if 20 percent of a community is black, 10 percent of the system's work force in that community should be black. Failure to comply, or to at least make a good-faith effort, can lead to license revocation. So far, 19 operations have been cited for noncompliance, according to a recent report, but none have lost their licenses as yet.
To help achieve that goal, the Walter Kaitz Foundation, established in 1981 in Oakland, offers fellowships in cable television to minority members with high-level business and managerial backgrounds in other industries.
But despite the fact that the foundation has substantial corporate support from the cable industry, said Kaitz president Michele Synegal-Mitchell, increasing the number of minority placements each year is very difficult.
"Last year, my placement goal was 30," declared Mitchell. "But as I told my board, this year placing 20 will be a major challenge. The industry is generally reluctant to move people along quickly, especially those who come from other industries and do not have cable-specific backgrounds. Frankly, I think there's added resistance because we're talking about minorities.
"In addition, our foundation fellows are fast-trackers. They're already doing well in companies like IBM and AT&T. So when they realize they're not moving as fast as they'd like in cable and they're being asked to take pay cuts, many leave."
Gayle Greer is one black executive who has made it to the top rungs of the corporate ladder. She is a vice president of the American Television Communication Corporation (ATC) and vice president of the central group for ATC's national division in Denver. She is responsible for 20 cable systems in seven states with more than 210,000 subscribers and over 350 employees.
Greer sees the phenomenon of small minority representation in cable from a historical perspective. "You have to remember that cable was initially a technologically-driven industry," she said. "It was male-dominated and existed in rural areas that couldn't get reception. At many cable system operations, that old-boy network is still in place. That's why there are still so few women and so few minorities in cable system operations.
"When I started at ATC in 1978 as manager of new market development," she recalled, "there were no minorities and few women. My colleagues were not quite sure how to react to me. I suspect I had an easier time than many other minority women. But there was more than one meeting from which I was excluded because of who I was.
"Initially, I assumed it was because I was black. At the time it didn't occur to me that being a woman was the problem. But the more I became aware of how few women there are in top positions at this end of the industry, I saw my experiences in a new light."