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Gender diversity in the communications industry C-suite

Across industries, there is a well-known dearth of women in chief executives roles. But the scarcity in the communications industry is particularly noticeable.

Of the more than 70 communications companies included in the SNL Kagan coverage universe, not a single one is currently led by a female CEO.

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By comparison, other industries have slightly more diversity when it comes to gender. In the new media space, there are well-known figures like Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer and OpenTable Inc. CEO Christa Quarles. In the traditional media space, there are long-time leaders like TEGNA Inc. CEO Gracia Martore, Regal Entertainment Group CEO Amy Miles and HSN Inc. CEO Mindy Grossman.

Fortune estimated earlier this year that among the companies listed in the Fortune 500, only 4.2% were led by female chief executives. Similarly, Catalyst, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting workplace inclusiveness for women, found that women hold 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.

At zero percent, the communications industry falls well below those broader averages.

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But come 2017, the industry will be adding at least one woman's name to its list of CEOs. Earlier this month, Cable One Inc., one of the 10 largest cable operators in the country, said its board of directors appointed president and COO Julie Laulis to the role of CEO, effective Jan. 1, 2017.

In a statement, outgoing Cable One CEO Tom Might said Laulis was "the natural choice" to succeed him given her leadership, vision and energy.

Laulis first joined Cable One in 1999 and was named president and COO in January 2015. In that role, she has overseen the company's day-to-day operations, leading the sales, marketing and technology departments.

As CEO, Laulis said she will continue to build upon the company's "strategic shift to being a residential [high-speed-data] and business services-centric focused company." This shift, which is becoming more and more common among smaller operators, has enabled Cable One to grow its free cash flow even as it continues to shed residential video customers.

In an interview with Cablefax, Laulis seemed to downplay the issue of her gender or the role it plays in her leadership style, saying, "Talented, dedicated, hard-working people are what make an organization run well, regardless of gender."

Recent research seems to bear that out. While a 2015 study from the public relations firm Weber Shandwick found that gender equality in terms of C-level representation "faces a number of challenges," corporate and CEO reputations are largely gender blind.

Specifically, Weber Shandwick found that "companies run by male and female CEOs are just as likely to be perceived as having very strong reputations, and these CEOs have comparably strong reputations themselves."

Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick's chief reputation strategist, said the results suggest, "Once women sit in the chief executive chair, they've proven themselves … Like their male counterparts, all that now counts are business results."

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