Editorial: A Toast to Kaitz

Sep 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

This week many of the cable industry’s best and brightest will gather, as they have for the past 19 years, in New York to attend a fund-raiser. The occasion will be the 20th Annual Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner. These dinners raise money to support the foundation’s mission: a commitment to diversity in the workplace.
That we have arrived at the 20th anniversary of these fund-raising dinners is a milestone that deserves attention.
Walter Kaitz was a cable pioneer who started working in the industry in California in 1960, when there were about 40,000 subscribers in the state. In 1981, two years after his death, the Walter Kaitz Foundation was started to promote diversity in the industry. What was true then is true today and has been well articulated by Walter’s son, Spencer, who is the founding director of the foundation: “The cable and broadband industry is committed to diversity because we know it is the right pathway and a wise business choice.”
The foundation had a simple and clear mission: to identify talented people of color in various industries, recruit them and place them into mid-to-upper-level management positions in the cable industry.
To its credit, the foundation and its goals have been embraced by many cable operators, programmers and vendors. Before many industries gave even lip service to diversity, cable, due primarily to the efforts of the Kaitz Foundation, was actually putting into action a truly viable diversity program.
So let us raise our glasses to the Kaitz Foundation for coming to the party early and meeting the challenge of diversity.
The last several years, however, have been tough ones for the Kaitz Foundation. It hired former California state Sen. Art Torres as its president and the organization changed direction. Instead of placing minorities into executive-level positions in the cable industry, Kaitz decided to focus primarily on giving monetary grants to various organizations so those companies and groups could act on their own diversity plans.
Not only did this new mission rankle some in the industry, so did Mr. Torres, who then as now was also chief of the Democratic Party in California. There were complaints that some of the grants weren’t going to organizations in the cable industry.
The foundation is still giving grants, but Mr. Torres is no longer with Kaitz. And while many minorities have entered cable management, there is still a dearth of minorities in the executive suites.
Clearly, both cable, as a mature industry, and the Kaitz Foundation are at a crossroads as they tackle issues of diversity. In fact, the Kaitz Foundation will soon reveal the results of a report it has commissioned to study how it should best approach promoting diversity for the long term.
We expect the foundation to choose its future course wisely. If it does its job really well, and if those in the cable industry respond as enthusiastically as they did in the foundation’s halcyon days, maybe 20 years from now diversity will no longer be an issue.