News Column

Comcast Signs On to Diversity

April 6, 2011

Richard Larsen, Deputy Managing Editor

Gone is the peacock, President and CEO Jeff Zucker, and the space in the logo that separated "NBC" from "Universal," deleted when Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable provider, took majority control in January of what is now known as NBCUniversal LLC in a $14 billion deal with General Electric.

It might seem a small thing to delete the space in the corporate logo, but it was done, according to The Associated Press, to represent the unity of NBC and Universal. But even before the deal was sealed, "unity" had become the byword in efforts to ensure Comcast was fully committed to diversity -- from its corporate boardroom to its supplier contracts, from its recruitment to its philanthropy and community investment.

Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) chairwoman and Hispanic Federation president, explained: "When the deal was first announced, NHLA wanted a meeting with Brian Roberts (Comcast chairman and CEO) to discuss our concerns."

The NHLA was not the only Hispanic leadership organization that had concerns. Comcast identified others to bring to the negotiating table -- Cuban American National Council (CANC), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), National Council of La Raza (NCLR), National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and SER-Jobs for Progress National Inc. Three members of this negotiating team serve on the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility's (HACR) board of directors.

Initial Phase

"Comcast contacted each group and asked for a leadership meeting," Ms. Rodriguez Lopez said in a phone interview. The first gathering took place in Philadelphia in March 2010. From then on, the six groups became a cohesive unit with Ms. Rodriguez Lopez as the lead negotiator in hammering out a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on diversity with Comcast.

Susan Gonzales, senior director of federal and external affairs for Comcast and vice president of the Comcast Foundation, was the company's lead negotiator.

"We worked literally every day with Latino leaders on every aspect of the MOU," she said.

"Similar types of MOUs or letters of agreement had been made between individual groups and media companies," Ms. Rodriguez Lopez said, but this was the first time several diversity leadership organizations sat down to negotiate on behalf of an entire demographic.

Comcast also broke new ground, Ms. Gonzales said: "It required the commitment of senior management. We established an MOU that could be the model to help move the community forward."

In fact, the MOU negotiated became the basis of MOUs with other diversity leadership organizations wanting to ensure Comcast was addressing their needs.

It took the FCC 13 months to review the deal, which gives Comcast access to NBC, the nation's fourth-ranked broadcaster; Universal Pictures movie studio and related theme parks; and a host of cable channels such as Bravo, USA and E!. In addition, Comcast also has access to NBCUniversal's Telemundo subsidiary, the No. 2 Spanish-language network in the United States.

Moving Toward Implementation

David L. Cohen, Comcast executive vice president responsible for governmental affairs, third parties and diversity, called the negotiations "a collaborative process."

Ms. Rodriguez Lopez said the Hispanic groups "negotiated fairly aggressively." But she termed the negotiations with Comcast as "cordial."

"Comcast came to the process with good intentions," she said. "A lot of learning had to occur -- such as the Hispanic groups learning about this industry."

Ms. Gonzales called the MOU a form of open dialogue necessary to bring about a structured document.

When the MOU was finished, it was "more comprehensive than anything that had been done," Ms. Rodriguez Lopez said.

Mr. Cohen echoed her sentiments: "It was very detailed and unprecedented in that regard."

The Process Outlined

The focus of the MOU centered on five specific areas: Corporate governance:

-- Comcast would appoint and/or elect a U.S.-based Hispanic to its board of directors, establish external Diversity Advisory Councils and designate appropriate staff members as liaisons to the Hispanic Advisory Council.

-- Employment/workforce recruitment and retention: Comcast and NBCUniversal would increase Hispanic representation in four key areas -- senior management, midlevel management, entry-level employment and current employment levels -- with a heavy emphasis on workforce diversity.

-- Procurement: Comcast and NBCUniversal would enhance the use of minority-owned and -led suppliers and vendors.

-- Programming: Comcast will launch a new Spanish-language multicast channel on Telemundo's digital broadcast spectrum, and add two new Hispanic-operated, English-language programming services within three years and an- other two within six years.

-- Philanthropy and community investments: Comcast will increase its philanthropic efforts to support Hispanic-led and –serving institutions and will enhance its investments in the Hispanic community.

The Process Starts Up

Already, Comcast has begun implementing some of the MOU's provisions.

"We are working on the draft of the strategic plan," Mr. Cohen said. "NBC will be broadcasting the ALMA awards show" later this year.

March 23, Comcast announced that it had formed a Joint External Diversity Advisory Council -- a key component to implementing the MOU. The overall council consists of four Diversity Advisory Councils representing the interests of Hispanics, women, African-Americans and Asian-Americans, with several at-large members.

Each of these nine-member councils will advise senior executive teams at Comcast and NBCUniversal on diversity.

Ms. Rodriguez Lopez credited the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for help in negotiating the MOU.

"They were challenging," she said. "They raised the bar to ensure that the members of the team understood the seriousness of what we were undertaking so we could negotiate the best MOU possible."

"HACR has a template for a statistical benchmark survey," Mr. Cohen said. The firm will use that initially and refine it as it conducts the survey annually.

"The Diversity Advisory Council will be the entity that makes sure all of the MOU's elements are implemented," Ms. Gonzales said. "Ultimately, this will create opportunities for the Latino community."

The entire MOU negotiating process shows how a little unity can go a long way in the quest for diversity.

Source: (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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