On a bright, summer-like Wednesday afternoon in April, in a cozy room at the National Council of Negro Women Headquarters, MMTC hosted its first luncheon to honor more than 60 past and present women leaders of the Federal Communications Commission.
Nearly 120 women and men convened in the venue decorated with busts and portraits of Dr. Dorothy I. Height and Dr. Mary McLeod-Bethune to hear several inspiring “her-stories” of seven of the women honorees and one sitting commissioner who recently announced his retirement from the regulatory agency.
Sitting FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn served as the event’s opening and closing storytellers, respectively. They each spoke about the need for more diversity in the communications industry as well as the importance of role models to improve our nation’s communities.
Rosenworcel thanked several of her fellow honorees for their friendship and for paving the way for her, but also expressed that the nation needs to strive to close the gender gap in the communications industry. She informed the attendees that while women comprise more than half of the nation’s workforce and that there are three times more job opportunities in the rapidly-growing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, women only comprise less than one-fourth of the STEM workforce. Rosenworcel compared the underrepresentation to playing with only a half of a full deck of cards.
“If you use the full deck, your odds increase,” Rosenworcel said. “And if we find ways – educational, institutional, and social – to grow to use the full deck, the odds are that our economy grows, too.”
Compared to the industries it regulates, the FCC has progressed in terms of employment diversity. MMTC Chair Hon. Julia Johnson and MMTC Vice Chair Hon. Deborah Taylor Tate paid homage to the FCC’s first woman commissioner, the late Hon. Frieda Hennock. Tate said that of the 79 commissioners who have served since the FCC’s founding in 1934, 15 have been women, including one Asian-American, one African-American and two Hispanic-Americans. Johnson noted that 28 women have directed FCC bureaus and offices, three have served as chief of staff, two as general counsel, two as chief economists, and three as judges. Both suggested that the industries still have a long way to go.
During the closing of the event, Clyburn announced that she brought greetings on behalf of the “52.29 percent” of the women employed at the FCC. She also mentioned that 52 percent are attorneys, 29 percent are economists and 12 percent are engineers.
“It’s important for us as we continue to raise and nurture our daughters and our sons to be mindful, reflective, and sensitive to that it truly takes a collective village to improve our communities,” she said. “I challenge each of you, and trust that I won’t have to complain to any of you, that while it is important for us to continue to make our marks in the communications industries and beyond, our job is just one-half done if we bring someone or someones [sic] with us.”
Six former FCC women leaders, including Verizon Senior Vice President of Public Policy Development and Corporate Responsibility Kathy Brown and retiring Commissioner Robert McDowell, shared their personal anecdotes about the people who inspired them.
After recognizing his all-woman staff as his “iron ladies,” McDowell shared that his mother – who is also the first woman in media he knew – inspired him. He mentioned that his mother’s outspokenness led to the end of discrimination in her college sorority and her tenacity led her to her first journalistic coup when a Missouri newspaper assigned her to cover Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946, when she was younger than 21 years old.
The Hon. Cathy Sandoval, the first Latina to serve on the California Public Service Commission, thanked her former classmate and fellow Latina trailblazer, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for inspiring her to be the person she is today. Sandoval revealed that Sotomayor was the first Latina law student she encountered and said they bonded over their love of mystery novels and their aspirations for becoming lawyers from watching television.
Inspired by her lengthy genealogy of public servants, the Hon. Gloria Tristani thanked former President Bill Clinton for giving her the chance to serve as the tenth woman, the second Latina, and the first Puerto Rican FCC commissioner. Tristani also called for the appointment of a woman leader to the Commission during her remarks.
Deborah Lathen, former FCC Cable Services Bureau Chief, said she was inspired by her women family members who hailed from the Delta region of the U.S., the Hon. Thurgood Marshall to become a lawyer, and former FCC Chair Bill Kennard to work at the FCC advance the civil rights movement in the telecommunications industry.
The Hon. Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, recognized Judith Harris, former director of the FCC’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, as her inspiration. She said she admired Harris’ ability to make work/life balance seem doable, among other things.
Former FCC Commissioner Hon. Kathleen Abernathy credited her mother as her inspiration. Abernathy said watching her mother earn her master’s degree while taking care of several young children taught her to never give up, roll with the punches, and persevere.
MMTC Cofounder and President David Honig also acknowledged a few other unsung women who had brief stints at the FCC, yet made substantial contributions to the communications industries. He honored the Hon. Anna Gomez, former National Telecommunications and Information Administration Deputy Administrator and Deputy Assistant Secretary, for her work in implementing the Broadband Stimulus program and making the Universal Service Fund Reform possible. He posthumously honored the late Zora Brown, the former director of the FCC Minority Enterprise, for developing the “incubator” concept. He also acknowledged the Hon. Marie Johns, former U.S. Small Business Administration Deputy Administrator, for being the key figure in ending redlining in the telecommunications industry.
Tiffany K. Bain is a 2011 public relations graduate of Florida A&M University. She currently serves as the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council’s Research Associate. She got her start in the industry in 2007 as an Emma L. Bowen Foundation intern at the nation’s leading cable provider.