Diversity Doesn’t Just Happen

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This week brings a broad cross-section of the cable industry to New York for Diversity Week, featuring—among other events—the NAMIC conference, a CTAM breakfast, a WICT luncheon, a theater night for Cable Positive, various and sundry industry board and committee meetings, the Kaitz Foundation Supplier Diversity workshop, and, of course, the annual Kaitz Foundation Dinner.

That’s a very full plate, so before you dig in, I’d like to ask you to take a few minutes to think about diversity.

This past summer, Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink, was on the bestseller lists. As part of his examination of how we make unconscious decisions, he points out the ramifications of the internal prejudices we never examine.

Checking a list of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Gladwell found that most of them were white men, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. But he also found that most of them are tall—”on average, male CEOs were just a shade under 6 feet tall.” The average male is 5 foot 9. About 14.5% of all American men are 6 feet tall or taller, while 58% of Fortune 500 CEOs match that physical description.

You may feel you don’t take gender or race into account when you hire people, and I’m sure you don’t consciously think about their height! But studies show that we unconsciously behave in ways that may have a negative impact on the diversity of our companies.

The good news is, these problems can be addressed through conscious action. Cable’s Diversity Week and the Kaitz Dinner help focus attention on these issues, but the real work goes on all year long. Our three honorees at this year’s dinner—Mae Douglas, Jim Hatcher and Sherryl Love from Cox Communications—aren’t “big names,” but the contributions they have made toward diversity provide an inspiration for us all.

Another of our honorees—Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable—represents a personal commitment to diversity at the highest corporate level. And U.S. Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), whom we’re recognizing as a Diversity Advocate, shows the impact that people outside of our industry can have on us when they become powerful allies and influencers.

Real diversity requires a commitment to change, and concrete actions. Gladwell writes in Blink of the gender inequities in professional orchestras. These organizations swore they were blind to gender differences in candidates. Yet, he points out, since orchestras have introduced the practice of having candidates perform while shielded behind a screen, the number of women in America’s top orchestra has increased dramatically.

We can learn from that. We can counter our unconscious decisions with positive action. And that’s truly what can make a difference.

Smith is executive director of the Walter Kaitz Foundation.