Helping Women Reach for Gold

Nov 1, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Betty Goodwin

Special to TelevisionWeek

“Going for the gold” is one of Benita Fitzgerald Mosley’s favorite sayings. It’s a sports metaphor she doesn’t use lightly. Long before Ms. Mosley, 43, became president and CEO of Women in Cable & Telecommunications, she won a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She was the second American to win in that category after Babe Didrikson Zaharias and the first African American woman to do so. (This summer in Greece, Joanna Hayes became the second black woman to win.)

“I use sports metaphors for my life,” Ms. Mosley said by phone from her Washington office as she took a break from preparing for the 20th Annual WICT Foundation Benefit Gala, set for Nov. 3 at the Hilton Washington. “Overcoming hurdles, setting high goals, having tunnel vision, training hard-I call them my sports rules for life.”

To prove the value of her sports background, Ms. Mosley cited the statistic that 80 percent of women executives in the Fortune 500 identify themselves as having been tomboys or athletes growing up.

Working in television was never something Ms. Mosley had in mind. Her sports career ended in 1988 when, recovering from ankle surgery prior to the Olympic trials, she missed making the team by .01 second. So she took her B.S. in engineering from the University of Tennessee, which she attended with a full athletic scholarship, and began designing hardware and software for various defense contractors. “I was bored to death,” she said.

Fortunately, that 1984 gold medal came to her rescue-she calls it “the gift that keeps on giving”-when a coach she knew tapped her to become a regional director of Special Olympics International.

In 1995 she moved on to the U.S. Olympic Committee, where she worked in many roles, including director of all four U.S. training centers and chair of the USOC Diversity Committee, while simultaneously serving as president of the board of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which promotes opportunities for girls and women in sports and fitness. Then a search firm working for WICT came calling.

Ms. Mosley said she’s something of an oddity coming to the executive ranks of television as a total outsider. “Most people, particularly in cable, have kind of grown up here. It’s collegial-who you know, where you’ve been. People who get in this industry love it and just don’t leave.” Now, however, as services and technology are changing the cable business, she said, more companies are hiring from outside.

Ann Montgomery, chairwoman of the WICT Foundation, said Ms. Mosley’s background has served to her advantage. “She certainly understands challenges and obstacles,” Ms. Montgomery said. “She’s got perseverance and makes progress steadily.”

Said Geraldine Laybourne, chairwoman and CEO of Oxygen Media, “Benita brings a quiet discipline to everything she does.”

She’s also a role model “for hundreds of other women because of how she assimilates life and work. She has a fabulous balance in her life,” Ms. Montgomery said, pointing to Ms. Mosley’s relationship with her husband, Ron, and their two children. Ron Mosley also trained as an engineer and now works in sales at General Electric.

Ms. Mosley said she’s not so convinced she has found a fabulous balance, but it’s definitely something on her to-do list. Shortly after joining WICT 31/2 years ago she put together a strategic plan, which included rebranding the logo and redirecting the organization’s programming to focus on women in middle management. Together with Working Mother magazine, WICT devised a survey known as the PAR Initiative, focusing on pay equity, advancement opportunities and resources for work and life support. The idea was to encourage businesses to provide an opportunity for men and women to have better work lives and home lives.

Changing Demands

With a 5-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, Ms. Mosley said she doesn’t volunteer as much as she would like, her house isn’t always neat and tidy, and she doesn’t have time to stay in world-class shape. A once-a-week power walk is the most she can manage now.

“Until my son was born, I worked out faithfully three to five times a week, lifting or running. Now it’s like, I could either be cooking dinner or …,” she said with a silent nod to her huge workload. Her job requires travel at least twice a month, which explains why she and her husband have hardly taken advantage of a golf club membership they bought this year. “I said to my husband, `We need a strategic plan for our social life,’ so we joined a golf club. And I’m going to find a way to play six times a year next year instead of twice like I did this year. I want to see my life as a continuum,” she said. “These things aren’t do or die right now. There’s a time for everything, a season for everything.”

Ms. Mosley is nothing if not a planner. She timed the birth of Maya and her maternity leave to the business’s slow winter months and, by design or not, her daughter was born the day after last year’s WICT Foundation Gala.

“I was a multitasker from the very beginning,” Ms. Mosley said. “My parents almost insisted on it.” Both educators, they “wouldn’t accept poor grades.” Indeed, her father, Rodger Fitzgerald, was her high school counselor, and he “just made my schedule-math analysis, calculus, trigonometry, chemistry-I didn’t have much choice.”

He and her mother, Fannie, also wanted to open up the world to their two daughters. There was track and field, but also majorettes, piano, piccolo, violin, flute and ballet. By high school, Ms. Mosley so excelled at flute that she considered a professional music career. But by then she was also looking to the Olympics and knew something had to go.

Donna Lopiano, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, who also was director of women’s athletics at the University of Tennessee, said she’s not surprised by Ms. Mosley’s accomplishments nor by her transition to the world of television. “We know that girls who play sports have high levels of confidence and self-esteem. It’s been a training ground for boys forever,” Ms. Lopiano said.

“Organizations today are so complex that they need to find energetic, hard-working, smart people” wherever they can, Ms. Lopiano said. “After you’ve been on the competitive testing field of the Olympics, it’s hard for anything to frazzle you. That’s Benita’s attitude in everything. Running an organization is nothing more than a team sport and being head coach.”