Diversity at Cox Communications

Sep 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As VP and chief people officer, Mae Douglas is the highest-ranking minority executive at Cox Communications. She provides leadership and strategic direction for the company’s human resources functions, including its diversity initiatives.
TelevisionWeek correspondent Lee Hall asked Ms. Douglas to talk about some of the programs Cox has in place to promote diversity. Highlights of the interview follow.
TelevisionWeek: How important is the concept of diversity within the Cox organization?
Mae Douglas: For us, diversity is all about our customer. If we expect our customers to purchase our business services, then we must have a workforce that reflects the diversity within the communities in which we operate. We have gone beyond the cliche stage of saying, `It’s the right thing to do.’ It is good business and definitely hits in the pocketbook.
TVWeek: What about specific programs or initiatives that the company has undertaken?
Ms. Douglas: We spent the early part of 2002 discussing the business case and rationale for diversity. We formed a diversity council, which is a senior-level group of people inside Cox who helped shape and define our strategy and will help ensure that it is implemented throughout the organization. We defined four components of that strategy: people, supplier development, public and community relations and marketing and programming.
TVWeek: How do you communicate all that to the systems?
Ms. Douglas: We have certified approximately 25 trainers and have developed a one- or two-day diversity education process that started with senior-level employees. By early next year, we will have included almost all of our employees in the process. It was important for us to have every employee understand what we mean by “diversity,” and it is a much broader definition than race and gender. It’s about understanding perspectives, about education, marital status, sexual orientation, all of those things. Cox also conducts employee opinion surveys on a regular basis. Next year we are going to include a diversity section in the survey. We are also looking at whether we should include a diversity component in our incentive compensation programs.
TVWeek: What about the supplier component?
Ms. Douglas: We are trying to increase the visibility of our minority vendors and to make sure that every year we are increasing our dollars spent with them. Cox bought a membership in the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council that provides us access to lists of certified minority vendors in each of our markets. We have done extensive [online seminars] and training with vendors and with our people in the field. We have created a position of manager of supplier diversity as part of our materials management group. We have brought many of our vendors into Atlanta to specifically communicate our interests in increasing our spending with minority suppliers, and have asked them to look at what we call `second-tier’ spending, because if they are doing business with minority suppliers, we can also benefit from that. That is another way we can increase the overall dollars spent.
TVWeek: Cox has a fairly extensive diversity section on the company’s Web site as well.
Ms. Douglas: We have created a link on our site where a supplier can go in and find out what all the commodities are that we purchase. The plan is to be able to go in and actually bid online, but we are not at that point yet.
TVWeek: What advice would you have for your colleagues at other companies to improve their diversity programs?
Ms. Douglas: Well, first of all, the CEO has to believe in it. There should also be a person or group who clearly helps set the strategy around diversity. Our belief is that every employee ultimately has to understand the message, be able to communicate it and support it. At the end of the day, you have to put your money where your mouth is.