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David Porter Takes Time to Listen

Sep 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The cable industry needs to strengthen its efforts to bring more women and people of color into its senior ranks.
That’s the conclusion of David Porter, who now has a full year under his belt as executive director of the cable industry’s Walter Kaitz Foundation. Because the Kaitz Foundation raises money for the industry’s major diversity associations, his goals for year one were simple: Meet the programmers, suppliers and cable operators to learn where the industry needs to improve and what it is doing well when it comes to diversity.
On the eve of the annual Kaitz Foundation Dinner, Mr. Porter spoke about the cable industry’s diversity report card with TelevisionWeek contributing writer Daisy Whitney.
TelevisionWeek: What needs work in the industry?
David Porter: We still need to figure out ways to bring in more people into the higher ranks of the organization, and part of that is being able to identify the diverse talent and making sure we don’t lose them to other industries.
The second thing is we need to get better about identifying diverse talent in other fields and industries and pulling them into our industry. We have to do a better job of getting people who are executives at Procter & Gamble or in sales at whatever company and pulling them into our industry. There is no reason we have to grow all our talent ourselves.
When I think about supplier diversity, what we need to do is effectively measure how much we are spending with minority- and women-owned businesses. Our large companies do a good job tracking that, but some of the smaller ones don’t.
With issues of content, what are the ways we can really work to diversify the people who create the news we are going to broadcast, the writers and producers, and how do we create and expand these opportunities? If there is a major show hiring 20 writers, we want to make sure some are diverse — that’s how they get the background to become head writers.
TVWeek: How have you spent your first year on the job?
Mr. Porter: I really wanted to try to get out and talk to a lot of people and learn about the major issues they were facing. The industry is huge, so clearly I haven’t seen everyone. But I have been on this continuous journey to meet with leaders, programmers and operators to see the major challenges they face in terms of diversity and what Kaitz can do to move the needle forward. Everyone has been very receptive to sitting down and talking to me about their issues and concerns and what they are doing well. We can be a resource. …
What the last year has allowed me to do is get a better handle on what some of the major issues are. A lot of the things we talked about are what things we can do to get diversity in some of the senior ranks. Everyone is trying to do that, and some are having more success than others.
TVWeek: How have the companies that have had success in that regard achieved it?
Mr. Porter: One of the things that helps the most is commitment from the very top — when the chairman-CEO says, “This is important, so when you put together your panel of five finalists for a top position, I want to see some diversity. And if you can’t find someone, go back and look more broadly.” That mentality broadens people’s horizons and forces them to work a little harder.
TVWeek: Whose responsibility on a daily basis is it to make this a reality?
Mr. Porter: Some companies have a director of diversity, some companies have a director of HR [handling diversity]. Ultimately it’s everyone’s responsibility and it should be written into everyone’s job description.
TVWeek: How do you write it into everyone’s job description?
Mr. Porter: In your performance appraisal each year, if you are a manager, you can include: “What did you do to enhance diversity for the people you manage?” And they can say, “We hired these women and these people of color, and we have these executive development programs, and we helped these people in their programs to build their skill sets, and we participated in these organizations to expand the reach of what we offer.”
TVWeek: How many in the industry include diversity in job reviews?
Mr. Porter: No one has done an industrywide comprehensive survey to answer that question. One of the things I am learning from my year of talking to folks is the industry runs the gamut. Some companies are very clear and devote a lot of resources, and some companies haven’t.
TVWeek: When you meet the executives, as you have done over the past year, how does that work?
Mr. Porter: I will sit down with the president and CEO and ask what are their thoughts, what are their concerns, what are the things we can help with. I also talk to the leaders and the people who are responsible for diversity, senior people in HR, senior people in programming and purchasing, because of supplier diversity.
You share and you gather information and you start seeing synergies and you work to put different people together. For example, in my conversations with programmers, there is a desire to identify people of color who want to be writers and producers. The National Association of Television Programming Executives has a producers and writers bootcamp. Fox last year sponsored six participants of color in the producers bootcamp, and we started working with NATPE to see how to help expand this. We got MTV, ESPN, Scripps and Comcast Networks to expand the program to 21 participants of color. It’s a small program, but it’s a first step, and we are talking to NATPE about doing something bigger and better.
TVWeek: What surprised you most in your meetings with the industry over the past year?
Mr. Porter: The thing that surprises me most is the fact that people are open and accessible, and that goes to show people’s willingness to engage in these issues and their commitment. I can’t say there was anyone who I ever requested to speak with who said no. They would find the time in their schedule, and these are the most senior people in the industry whose schedules are jam-packed.
TVWeek: What impressed you most?
Mr. Porter: ESPN takes diversity seriously from the very top of the house, from George Bodenheimer on down. Their belief is they have to pay attention to it in everything they do, what they do on air, in their workforce, what they do in their community.
I have learned over time that diversity is about the journey, and you never really get there. With that said, ESPN as a company has done things well and there is still work to be done.
ESPN set up a diversity challenge, which is really working to keep the discussion of diversity relevant to all the business groups, because so often people don’t see the connections between diversity and business goals. [Most people] think about it when the diversity person is standing in front of their face. [Companies] need to think about ways to integrate diversity so people feel it’s their responsibility as senior VP of affiliate sales or their responsibility as executive VP of programming.
To the extent you can do things to keep it at the top as a legitimate business issue, as well as how much revenue you bring in, that makes a difference.

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