What do Eve.com, Oxygen Media and USA Networks have in common? They're communications entities founded by women.
Despite these successful ventures, however, women owners are mostly missing from this industry. "Women have become general counsels and senior vice presidents, but we're not seeing women CEOs or COOs of [communications] companies, or board members of major companies," says the FCC's Susan Ness.
Cynthia Ringo, 47, laments the number of women involved in the equipment side of telecommunications. "[It's] a highly technical field that hasn't been particularly attractive to women, nor has it been conducive to accepting women," says Ringo, CEO of Santa Clara, California-based CopperCom Inc., which manufactures the copper wiring that facilitates voice-over-DSL.
Ringo has been among the lucky few. CopperCom, which has a good representation of women at the vice president and director levels, has raised $155 million in venture funding since Ringo started it in 1998.
Part of the problem is industry consolidation, particularly in radio, where stations are gobbled up by large groups, making it difficult for smaller operators to afford properties.
Another impediment is the lack of statistics detailing women's ownership numbers and roles in the industry, making it difficult to identify obstacles and devise solutions to involve more women. The most recent statistics date back to 1987, when 1.9 percent of all television stations and 3 percent of radio stations were owned by women.
Past efforts to open the industry to a wider range of entrepreneurs have primarily targeted minorities. For instance, there was Broadcast Capital Inc., or BroadCap, a venture capital fund that committed $17 million in seed funding to communications entrepreneurs from economically disadvantaged communities.
"The early BroadCap fund was a good publicity tool, but I don't think more than eight companies received funding-and five are no longer in existence," says 40-year industry veteran Dorothy Brunson, owner of the independent Philadelphia-based television station WGTW.
"It's not a matter of what obstacles [keep women from ownership]; it's a question of what it takes to get it done," contends Diane Sutter, president of Shooting Star Broadcasting, which recently sold its Abilene, Texas, CBS affiliate and is acquiring another television station.
Sutter's success came as a result of two things: "One, I had access to information. Two, I had the opportunity to build the relationships necessary to [develop] my own company. I knew the bankers, brokers and other group heads," says the Southern California entrepreneur, a 23-year industry veteran. She acquired her knowledge from 15 years of managing radio and television properties and six years serving as a group president.
Sutter used her experiences to help create a new industry-financed ownership training program with the National Association of Broadcasting that targets women and minorities. During the 10-month Broadcast Leadership Training Program, participants meet monthly to learn from bankers, lawyers, accountants and other industry professionals, and develop relationships with the very people who will evaluate their station financing packets.
Other efforts are in the works. Private-sector woman CEOs are organizing a push to spotlight high-level women to include on industry superpanels or add to short lists of candidates for station or group manager slots. In addition, The Quetzal Fund, a new $170 million private equity fund from Chase Capital Partners, is aimed at communications firms controlled, owned or managed by ethnic minorities and women.
These programs are just a start. Establishing more women-controlled communications firms will be a long-term process involving the industry, the government and the women who want to make it happen.