The Gala: Its History, Significance

Nov 1, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Sheree R. Curry

Special to TelevisionWeek

If you’re planning to attend the Women in Cable & Telecommunications Foundation Benefit Gala Nov. 3 in Washington, don’t forget to wear something red. Every year, attendees are encouraged to showcase their own power through that color, the official shade of the women’s organization, said Greater Texas chapter President Joan Berler.

“I’ll never forget how [Comcast regional Senior VP] Ann Montgomery wowed everyone one year with this Las Vegas-style red feather boa,” said Ms. Berler, who is a 2004 gala co-chair with Ms. Montgomery.

The gala, like the color, is all about reminding the industry that there are some powerful women working in cable and telecommunications. It is about honoring these women by bestowing the Woman to Watch Award, which this year will be given to Comcast Senior VP of Customer Service Suzanne Keenan; and the Woman of the Year Award, which will go to MTV Networks Chair and CEO Judy McGrath.

Tribute Accolades for best documentary/biographical and for best drama/music/variety/ comedy will be handed out, respectively, to Showtime Networks for “What’s Going On: Girls’ Education in India” and to HBO for its Emmy-winning movie about the suffragist movement, “Iron Jawed Angels.”

Also at the dinner, Accolades for best operator for women in cable and best programmer for women in cable will be given to companies most supportive of promoting women to executive-level positions. These two winners are not announced in advance.

Now celebrating its 20th year, the gala was born as a black-tie dinner given by WICT’s Washington-Baltimore chapter to honor local executives, said that chapter’s president, Helen Dimsdale.

“As the gala grew and created a sense of prominence, it became an opportunity for the national office to get its message out,” Ms. Dimsdale said. Even though the gala was a local event, executives across the nation soon were invited and honored.

“We knew that if we honored [then-TCI President and -CEO] John Malone in Denver [as WICT did in 1987], then companies were going to pay table sponsorships to come see him. If the Woman to Watch is from Cox Communications, that would draw interest from people in Atlanta,” Ms. Dimsdale said. “[The gala] just got bigger and bigger.” To date it has raised more than $500,000 for the WICT Foundation.

About 10 years in, the chapter was having succession planning difficulties, Ms. Dimsdale said: “There was a sort of meltdown.” It seemed the gala was not going to occur, she said, so national stepped in. “From that step forward it became a partnership between our chapter and national,” she said.

Though other chapters attending have to buy tables like everyone else or come sit with their companies, WICT always extends a hand to its less fortunate sisters. “We have a volunteer table for those who otherwise would not be able to get a seat at their company table,” said Ms. Dimsdale, who is also director of public affairs for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

The gala begins with a networking reception. During dinner, the PAR Initiative numbers on pay equity are released. The event, usually hosted by celebrity talent-which could be news anchors or actresses such as Joan Cusack-will draw just over 1,000 people this year to cheer on the six award winners. This year’s host had not been confirmed at press time.

“The gala is so important because it is a chance to honor exceptional women making a difference, but also it is a chance to make sure the industry is aware of these women and their impact,” Ms. Dimsdale said. “Last year’s Woman to Watch, Janet Barnard in Nebraska, was asked to take over the Middle America System at Cox [as VP and GM sometime after receiving the award]. She definitely got a step up that way,” Ms. Dimsdale said.