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Building Diversity

Sep 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

For two decades, the Walter Kaitz Foundation has existed as the public face of the cable industry’s diversity efforts. Its annual “Diversity Week” brings together many of the industry’s heaviest hitters to mingle and strategize on ways to improve cable’s recruitment, training and promotion of minorities.
“No one would dare say that the industry is, quote, `there yet,’ but it creates a venue for everybody to at least come together and raise the issue,” said Bernard Bell, senior VP, affiliate sales and marketing, for TV One and a board member of the National Association of Minorities in Communications.
The Kaitz Foundation is the namesake of Walter Kaitz, a Russian-born lawyer who came to America, settled in Boston, moved to California and led the California Cable Television Association for nearly two decades. Mr. Kaitz’s son Spencer has described his father as a “fighter at heart” who understood the mechanisms for binding people together.
“I don’t think he made much distinction between the problems of immigrants and the problems of minorities,” Spencer Kaitz said in an interview as part of the oral history project for the National Cable Television Center and Museum.
In Lieu of Flowers
Spencer Kaitz created the Kaitz Foundation following his father’s death in 1979. He spread the word around a small but tightly knit cable community that people should send money rather than flowers in his father’s honor.
“I had been toying with the idea of a foundation, without having any specific purpose in mind,” he said.
The nascent foundation received what Spencer Kaitz described as “a lot of $100 and $200 checks,” but the idea of a substantial endowment appeared elusive until Mr. Kaitz got a call from the late Bill Daniels, who at the time headed Daniels & Associates, a telecommunications investment firm. Mr. Daniels wanted to donate $25,000 toward building the foundation’s treasury.
“That was a much bigger number than had ever occurred to me before,” Spencer Kaitz recalled. Soon, donations were coming from the Times-Mirror Foundation, the National Cable Television Association and other benefactors. As contributions grew, Mr. Kaitz struggled with how best to put them to good use.
In 1981 a fight was erupting in California over efforts to integrate the growing cable business. The state Assembly was considering legislation to force the industry to develop employment opportunities for minorities.
Still searching for a role for the new foundation, Spencer Kaitz proposed using the organization’s lucre to develop and promote a minority management recruitment campaign supported by the industry itself, rather than having it foisted on cable by legislation. He broached the concept with industry leaders, who gave the thumbs-up to proceed.
“The industry embraced the concept that it wanted to be the first media industry that could say that its executive suites had people in them that mirrored those that subscribed to the service,” Mr. Kaitz said.
Recruitment Efforts
By 1984 the Kaitz Foundation had formed its first class of “Kaitz Fellows,” composed of bright, motivated minority candidates who wanted to make a new career in cable management. The program consisted of professional development seminars and personal dialogue with the cable industry’s leading executives.
“The mission of the foundation has always been to be a multicompany effort in this industry to promote diversity,” said Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO at Time Warner Cable and chairman of the Kaitz Foundation board of trustees.
More than 500 Kaitz Fellows have participated in the program over the years. But as successful as it was in identifying and placing minority candidates, the Kaitz Foundation was unable to overcome one major stumbling block: While dozens of Kaitz Fellows found jobs in cable management, few were making it into the executive suite.
The cable industry likes to honor its simple roots and heap praise upon its pioneers. Cable is a relatively small and close-knit community, and many Kaitz Fellows found it difficult to penetrate cable’s top management cliques.
“This is clearly a business built on relationships,” Mr. Bell said. “What no one really thought about was the impact of those relationships on people trying to break into the business.”
Changing Focus
Faced with the reality of cable’s “good ol’ boy” network, and falling short of its goal of placing minorities in top management positions, the Kaitz Foundation began to rethink its way of doing business in the late 1990s.
“I give Spencer Kaitz a lot of credit for recognizing that the Kaitz Foundation needed to evolve as the industry’s needs changed,” said Char Beales, president and CEO of CTAM.
Indeed, many companies have adopted their own minority recruitment programs, often duplicating the foundation’s work. In August CBS announced the formation of the CBS Diversity Institute, a program to identify and develop diversity within the writing and directing community.
“Diversity is good business. Expanding and institutionalizing our programs to identify and nurture diverse talent … has meaningful benefits for artists, for our programming and for all our key constituents,” CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves said in announcing the new program.
Organizations such as NAMIC and Women in Cable & Telecommunications have their own diversity campaigns, some of which have been supported by Kaitz grants. A recent subsidy to NAMIC supported an executive leadership program at the University of California, Los Angeles, designed to give people of color additional tools to help them break into top management positions.
For the past couple of years, the Kaitz Foundation has adopted a more traditional approach to fulfilling its mission. Rather than focus on recruiting minority managers, the Foundation has worked to improve the industry’s diversity supplier program, aimed at helping minority vendors. Kaitz has also provided grants to other organizations in support of their own internal programs.
“Kaitz can help them reach that goal, but ultimately it’s the individual companies themselves that have to do that,” Mr. Britt said.
The transition has not been entirely smooth. The foundation and its former president, Art Torres, came under fire this year for doling out grants to organizations not directly involved with cable. Mr. Torres resigned earlier this year, and once again Spencer Kaitz took the foundation’s helm.
More Changes to Come
The reorganization is not finished. The Kaitz Foundation board of trustees is awaiting a report from an ad hoc committee formed to chart a long-term plan for the organization.
“We need to know whether fostering diversity in the industry could be better accomplished by operating in a different way than we have been for the past couple of years,” Mr. Britt said. The committee’s report is expected to be delivered this month.
Change is never easy, and the Kaitz Foundation has run into a few bumps along the way. During his interview for the Cable Center, Spencer Kaitz said he can envision a day when organizations like the Kaitz Foundation will not be needed to promote diversity.
“We’re not there yet,” Mr. Britt conceded. “We have made progress, but that diversity does not yet extend to the highest ranks of management. That’s one of the big remaining tasks for us to undertake.”