Diversifying industry leadership with intention and knowledge sharing

By Deanna Mackey

Within the first month of our inaugural Public Media CEO/COO Boot Camp , a participant shared that she had started to lose hope about her career prospects. She had applied for senior leadership positions at stations but hadn’t been able to crack the mid-level glass ceiling. Sometimes she’d get the interview, but never the role. Six weeks into the Boot Camp, her perspective had changed. “This program has given me more in a few weeks than I’ve had in two years in my organization. It makes me feel like I can make it to the C-suite in public media.”

Why Boot Camp Now

I conceived of the Boot Camp two years ago, just before the pandemic hit. I was motivated by my personal experiences and those I’d seen many colleagues go through. I had met many competent women who I believed were capable of C-suite positions at stations. The problem? They didn’t believe it themselves.

I’d also consulted with many new C-suite leaders who were struggling. Their challenges varied. For leaders new to public media, the alphabet soup of organizations and no central place to learn about the ins-and-outs of the industry was an issue. For leaders in their first CEO role, it was all that they didn’t know, from the impact of NFFS (non-federal financial support) on their budget to where to get guidance on creating a digital strategy.

It was clear there was an unmet need. I devised the Boot Camp for those who hadn’t yet attained the C-suite. And because the numbers for people of color in top leadership were even less than those of women, I created the program for women and men of color.

The Power of Relationships
(and Kitchen Cabinets)

During one of our Mentor Circles, Joyce MacDonald, president and CEO of Greater Public, talked about the importance of the Fellows building a “Kitchen Cabinet” – a trusted group of professional colleagues who will have your back, support your endeavors, and guide you with kindness when you need it.

When I started my career in public media in 1990, there were no training programs for aspiring C-suite leaders or a young Latina like myself to learn the unspoken rules of climbing the public media ladder. I was fortunate to have a boss who let me learn on the job. I was allowed to continually expand my responsibilities at the station. I was provided access to university/ community training programs that honed my leadership skills. I also started attending many conferences on behalf of my boss, meeting people and building relationships. Those relationships made it possible to develop the Boot Camp and do it well.

Much of the Boot Camp curriculum and trainers already existed in our industry, it just wasn’t all in one place. We would provide an opportunity to democratize access to all of these amazing resources by exposing the Fellows to them in weekly courses.

Generosity Abounds in Public Media

While public media still has a lot to do in addressing racial, gender, and generational iniquities, one thing we’re great at is the generosity of our time and talent. When I began reaching out to my colleagues about training the next generation of diverse leaders, they all said yes. Their ideas, time, and generosity were endless. They always gave more than what I asked from them. Again, relationships mattered.

When we finish our seven-month Boot Camp training in May, more than 100 people will have served as trainers in 100 + hours of courses. More than 25 industry organizations serve as partners, and four organizations have provided funding: the Wyncote Foundation, CARS, CDP and PTMMG.

Howard Pearl, CEO of CARS, has been a supporter and funder of PMWL for several years, and CARS is the founding sponsor of PMWL’s annual Brave Talk conference.

“One of the most important things that CARS has done as an institutional supporter of public media is support the PMWL, as a founding sponsor of their bootcamp series and Brave Talk,” Pearl says. “Development of future leaders is critical, and certainly there has been a deficit when it comes to female leadership. So, we feel that it’s not just our responsibility, but part of our mission, to bring greater balance, insight, and diversity of thought to the industry.”

Invest in Your Team

The 20 Boot Camp Fellows are not only diverse racially and ethnically, but generationally and geographically. They come from a range of station sizes and national organizations. They are a microcosm of the public media leadership landscape. While the verticals we’ve covered so far are specific – Content/Mission, Audience Development/Local Service & Branding, Sustainability, and Finance/HR – the themes have been universal. The Fellows regularly bring up and want to delve deeper into the topics of Ethics, Funding, Succession Planning and Collaboration.

These are topics any station/org can take up and delve into for their teams. Hosting internal training, facilitated peer groups, and even “Lunch and Learns” to expose staff to more facets of the organization are excellent ways to make people feel like they are a part of a team – rather than siloed in one department.

There are excellent training resources to tap into within public media. These include NETA’s Public Media Learns  (PML), Greater Public  and PMBA. The PBS Hub has online training and courses station staff can take individually or as a group. PMWL webinar content is open to the public. Recordings of our annual workshop Break Through  and annual conference Brave Talk (returning in-person at PMDMC 2022) are available to all PMWL members.

As stations continue to adapt to remote and hybrid workplaces, it’s critical to find creative ways to continue to engage staff. Providing career path training and leadership opportunities gives people a reason to stay with their station. Consider the experience of Boot Camp Fellow, Aishah Rashied Hyman, Vice President of Business Development & Planning at Public Broadcasting Atlanta (WABE):

Aishah Rashied Hyman

“I’ve had amazing mentors in public media, but this time is different. This is the first time I really feel like my professional growth is part of a long-term vision for the station,” Rashied Hyman says. “I believe when the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief People Officer agreed to support me in doing Boot Camp, it was with the vision and intention that one day I could be a CEO at a station. They were saying ‘We want you to do this for yourself, not just for the station.’ I love knowing that my leadership is really investing in me, even if the primary benefit isn’t necessarily for the station.”

Training the next generation of leaders takes intention. All of us in positions of leadership and influence must ensure the industry will be led by individuals who are open to change and embrace inclusion. Our legacy will be judged by how often we reached back and helped future leaders be prepared to lead in our changing media environment and country.

Mackey is President, Public Television Major Market Group and founder of Public Media Women in Leadership. To learn more, visit www.publicmediawomeninleadership.org.