Walter Kaitz Foundation Dinner: Three Cox Execs are Diversity Champs of 2005

Sep 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Hall

Special to TelevisionWeek

The Walter Kaitz Foundation is recognizing three executives from Cox Communications for their work in developing and implementing one of the cable industry’s most aggressive and wide-ranging diversity programs.

Named 2005 Diversity Champions are Mae Douglas, senior VP and chief people officer; James Hatcher, senior VP for legal and regulatory affairs; and Sherryl Love, VP of materials management. Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable, also has been named a 2005 Champion.

The Kaitz Foundation praised the trio for inspiring and encouraging diversity within the company and for their work to effect “an organizational shift” to embrace the value of diversity.

“Each of those individuals on the Cox team has contributed in an immense way to the company’s diversity efforts,” said Debbie Smith, the foundation’s executive director.

Since joining the company as VP and chief people officer in 2000 Ms. Douglas has created innovative programs in four areas: people, marketing/programming, public and community relations and vendor/supplier diversity. She said her mandate is to establish a framework and structure for the proactive pursuit of diversity throughout the organization.

“It is a multifaceted approach to create an environment where people feel included. It is making sure there are development opportunities and mentoring programs and efforts to identify people within the organization they can connect with when they have questions,” she said.

Under her leadership, Cox last year undertook its first companywide employee survey designed to gauge the impact of its diversity initiatives. Virtually every Cox employee participated in a comprehensive diversity training program.

“Some people came into those sessions with the understanding that diversity was only about women or people of color, but that is not how we define it. Once we helped them understand that diversity is about all of us, there was a much greater acceptance,” she said.

James Hatcher presides over a corporate legal department in which 70 percent of the employees are female and 40 percent are people of color. The company was named an “employer of choice” earlier this year by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

“One of the hardest things for some people to realize is that diversity does not mean a lessening of quality, but in fact it means an increase in quality,” Mr. Hatcher said.

Cox cable systems operate in communities such as Phoenix, where the Hispanic population is greater than 25 percent, and Hampton Roads, Va., in which one in three residents is black.

“The company realized that our 6 million-plus customers are in very diverse communities and that we are in a very competitive world,” Mr. Hatcher said. “If we really want to serve our customers properly, we have to understand their wants and needs. We must have a diverse work force to understand a diverse community.”

Cox embarked on one of the cable industry’s first companywide supplier diversity programs, an effort spearheaded by Ms. Love. Three years ago, she says, Cox was spending about $38 million with minority vendors. The company set a goal to increase that amount by at least 5 percent annually, a mark she says it has exceeded each year. In 2005 the company will spend more than $60 million-or about 25 percent of its estimated $250 million purchasing needs-with minority suppliers.

“It is crucial for us to make sure that minority suppliers are part of our overall spend. We want to grow that business because it is so important to the long-term success of the company,” Ms. Love said.

“We met with all of our majority suppliers and minority suppliers and said, ‘You guys need to start doing business with each other, and we want to track that success,'” she said.

Ms. Love praised larger vendors such as Scientific-Atlanta, Motorola and CommScope for their support of the company’s efforts.

Ms. Douglas, Mr. Hatcher and Ms. Love concurred that paying attention to diversity is not just morally correct, it also makes good business sense.

“The real benefit is that we are growing and building relationships with the communities where we operate,” Ms. Love said. “You can’t go wrong doing that.”

Added Mr. Hatcher: “Everybody at Cox tries to live by the culture of just doing what’s right. And this is right.”