I’m a black woman working in the telecommunications industry and I have questions.

By Ciji Townsend

I’m a black woman. And because I’m a black woman, unfortunately the recent senseless acts fueled by systemic racism isn’t new to me. But the collective response that extends outside of my community and spills over into the streets via protests and rallies in all 50 states and 14 countries is quite different than what I’ve experienced in my lifetime.

Ciji Townsend, Senior Manager, Internal Communications, Cox Communications

Even with all of the attention and heightened concern, I still have questions. What happens next? What’s the long-term plan? And, specifically what’s the role of my colleagues in the telecommunications and cable industry? 

By now you’ve probably heard that you need to listen to black voices.

Let’s take it one step further and both listen and learn. Now is the time to increase your network beyond the one black team member that you call on when you have a question. Listen to multiple voices, invite new people to the conversation that wouldn’t normally have a seat at the table. And let’s give ourselves permission to be ok with both formal and informal listening sessions. Now on to the learning. Listening isn’t enough. Be intentional about learning what you don’t know and re-learning what you think you already know. In our industry we are vital to the information that is consumed by the masses. Before we make major decisions, we need to listen and learn to better understand the cause and effect of systemic racism.

Everyone is watching. 

Speaking of content, all eyes are glued to their screens right now. In the past few months because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, families are at home and the consumption of television shows, movies and documentaries is at an all-time high. How can we be better stewards of diversifying that content? Let’s be honest, technology has turned black voices into the biggest media company in the world. Is your company paying attention? Are you amplifying black stories and movies that have black lead actors beyond black history month?

Pace yourself for the long-haul.

Yes, the outcry is loud right now. And we all know that it will only take one major news story for the momentum to dwindle. So, what commitment will we make now, as voices in our industry to ensure that the work done today continues to show up tomorrow?

There are many questions that have yet to be answered. And our industry is perfectly positioned to encourage the continuation of race-based conversations and to even provide a stage not only for awareness but also change. 

What are your thoughts? What can our industry do to spark change and keep the conversation and momentum going? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

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As an organization whose mission is based on equality, WICT is committed to diversity and inclusion in all aspects of life. We stand firm with our partners and the communities we serve to eradicate systemic racism like that we witnessed with George Floyd and many others. WICT stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In addition, we will address the civil unrest during all of our programs for the foreseeable future. We will never stop using our platform to shine a spotlight on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. All of us wish for peace and wellness for all of our brothers and sisters in our extended community.

Our hope is that together, we will rise above and emerge more united than ever before. Be well, stay strong.

FROM BOARDROOM TO BALLROOM: GAIL SERMERSHEIM, WICT FOUNDING PRESIDENT

 

By Dana Dawson

As a WICT co-founder, first WICT President, co-founder of CTAM, 2002 Cable Hall of Famer, NCTA Vanguard Award winner, and WICT Southeast Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Gail Sermersheim is no stranger to both challenge and triumph.  A trailblazer with many firsts, Sermersheim’s perseverance, authenticity and passion for results were keys to her success both in and out of the boardroom.

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Sermersheim started her cable career in the late 1960s. She worked for a small MSO for 12 years and then landed at HBO where she retired as a senior executive after almost 3 decades. Shortly after she joined HBO, the then President of the company took her aside and said he’d like to see her become the company’s first female vice president for the sales and marketing division. From that moment on, she made it her mission to do whatever it took to prepare for the role.  And you know what?! She received the promotion in less than two years!

 “Men dominated the decision-making at all levels,” said Sermersheim, “at the time, sexual harassment was a tolerated business and social practice.”  She shared, “it was not uncommon to turn down both an unwanted advance and a business proposition at the same time.”  She went on to say, “women were expected to comply or just ignore it as reporting the behavior had no consequence.”

Picture2Focused on building strong relationships with her male counterparts, Sermersheim earned their respect.  She says, “while at times I had been subjected to pay inequity and passed over for big promotions, I learned how to harness my superpower.”  With assets such as focusing on facts, applying tough negotiating skills and using her charm, Sermersheim is unapologetic about leveraging her skill set to move forward.  

The journey to establishing WICT wasn’t an easy one.  Sermersheim and other founding members had to downplay the intent of WICT so that they could gain male sponsorship and support since the men held the purse strings.  She said, “the original documents stated WICT’s mission to be one of educating women rather than empowering them.” And in her view, “the real goal was to take the men’s jobs!”Picture1

Sermersheim hung up her corporate hat in 2002 and traded it in for dancing shoes.  She retired to Florida after almost 40 years in the cable industry.  These days you can find the 76-year-old cable veteran and women’s rights activist traveling the world on a wildlife safari or living out her best life as a competitive ballroom dancer.

To learn more about this WICT pioneer, click HERE

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WICT Southeast is celebrating its 40th Anniversary.  Throughout the year we will be highlighting quotes and stories from former WICT Southeast leaders and members in our newsletter and on our website and social media platforms. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.