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Diversity Has a New Look

Sep 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The 22nd annual National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications Conference is under way through Wednesday at New York’s Marriott Marquis hotel with a renewed focus on the technology that conference leaders hope will propel its membership well into the future.
Honorary co-chairs for the event are Neil Smit, president-CEO of Charter Communications, and David Zaslav, president-CEO of Discovery Communications.
The theme of this year’s event, “Diversity: Pipeline to Innovation,” is particularly important in a year where boundaries have been pushed in both political parties. “It’s a historical [presidential] election this year,” said NAMIC President Kathy Johnson, “and we want to show how new media is changing the political process.”
Ms. Johnson, TelevisionWeek’s 2008 Cable Executive of the Year, said diversity has become an issue for a new generation. “When you look at how the demographics are shifting, young people are becoming increasingly biracial and diversified, and they’re looking around for companies they want to work for.
“Lots of companies talk about a ‘pipeline to management,’” Ms. Johnson continued, “but not a lot of people of color are in the executive positions at the networks. People want to see the best candidates, and a lot of companies want to see people of color for the top positions. But ultimately, people hire the people they’re familiar with.”
To help facilitate the hiring of multicultural employees at all levels, the NAMIC Career Expo is slated for Tuesday and is open to the 750-plus registrants of the conference as well as to the public. Around 30 companies are expected to exhibit at the expo.
A diversity town hall meeting will open the conference, focusing on the results of the NAMIC 2008 Employment Research survey and kicking off four educational track sessions: ad sales, corporate diversity and inclusion, digital media and leadership development.
Pragash Pillai, VP of strategic engineering at Bresnan Communications and one of four planning committee co-chairs for the conference, said this was “the first year NAMIC has reached out to really include technical people. Things are changing so rapidly, you have to have technical know-how of how things work. With the upcoming digital transition, I tried to get people who are as technical as possible on the panels.”
Not all the focus at the conference is on multiculturalism. “Diversity is not just people of color,” Mr. Pillai said. “It’s also demographics. How do we catch the YouTube generation and still protect the intellectual copyright of the people who create that content for them?”
Other planning committee co-chairs are Marsha J. Conaway, regional VP of human resources for Time Warner Cable; Charisse R. Lillie, senior VP of human resources for Comcast Cable Communications; and Kenetta Bailey, senior VP, marketing, WE tv.
Ms. Bailey pointed out that sales are evolving along with the new technology. “A client may have a strategy or a challenge, and a 15-second, even a 30-second unit is not enough to address that challenge many times,” she said.
“Some people have a mindset of culture or age. Some people have a mindset of downloading, social networking, small screen, big screen, mini-screen—and we need to figure out how to capture the attention of all these different mindsets,” she added.
Also included in the program is a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the L. Patrick Mellon Mentorship Program, to be held at a luncheon sponsored by the Walter Kaitz Foundation, one of the conference sponsors. Philanthropist and two-time NBA All-Star Allan Houston will be the keynote speaker.
Veteran TV executive Carole Kirschner will facilitate the two-day Writers’ Workshop, an invitation-only event that helps participants develop skills to create, package and sell a script for television or new media.
“A Conversation With Soledad O’Brien” is the focus of a luncheon on Monday, presented by NAMIC in partnership with CNN. Ms. O’Brien will discuss CNN’s six-hour documentary series on black America during the 40 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

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