By Sherri Killam-Williams
Special to TelevisionWeek
Government can help, but fostering diversity in the workplace is primarily the job of private enterprise, said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who will receive the Diversity Advocate Award from the Kaitz Foundation at its annual dinner Wednesday.
“[Congress] can encourage [businesses and employers], we can cajole them, we can meet with them and ask them to provide information on the theory that shining a light on statistical records and performance and transparency are important,” Rep. Watt said. But these steps aren’t enough by themselves, he said.
“There’s nothing on the legal books that requires diversity-it prohibits discrimination. That’s a little different from empowering companies to be diverse in employment promotion,” Rep. Watt said. “It has to be an ongoing effort of encouragement and a willingness on the part of industry to respond to that encouragement.”
Rep. Watt, who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he is glad to see the cable industry putting emphasis on encouraging diversity.
“Having an institution like Kaitz constantly paying attention to diversity is certainly helpful and it is different than what you see in most industries,” Rep. Watt said. “Devoting attention to it and having a particular vehicle whose sole responsibility is diversity is important-that is one way that other companies might benefit from the cable industry.”
Rep. Watt made clear there is still work to be done. “I don’t know that I would hold the cable industry or any industry up as a shining example of diversity,” he said. “If you talk to people in the cable industry, they’ll be the first to tell you that they have a long way to go.”
He said that government bears responsibility too. “While Congress cannot empower companies to work toward diversity, government must set a better example in its own ranks for private enterprise,” Rep. Watt said.
The Diversity Advocate Award is presented to an individual outside the cable industry who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to diversity.
“Rep. Watt is being honored for his leadership in providing a unified voice for people of color for equality and justice and for focusing on the concerns of African Americans throughout the nation,” said Debbie Smith, executive director of the Kaitz Foundation.
Ms. Smith worked with Rep. Watt when she was on the staff of then-Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.
“Rep. Watt has done an incredible job making sure there is parity for ethnic minorities in terms of business and in communities,” Ms. Smith said.
Rep. Watt was elected in 1992 to the House of Representatives from North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District. He is one of only two African American members elected to Congress from North Carolina in the 20th century. Before his election to the U.S. Congress, he served one term in the North Carolina state Senate.
Rep. Watt became chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in January. He serves on the House Financial Services and Judiciary committees. He is a pitcher for the Democratic team in the annual congressional baseball game.
A native of Mecklenburg County, N.C., Rep. Watt is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina, where he received a bachelor of science degree in business administration. He earned a law degree from Yale University Law School and has accumulated honorary degrees from North Carolina A&T State University, Johnson C. Smith University and Bennett College.
He practiced law from 1970 to 1992 and has owned a small business. He is married to Eulada Paysour Watt, an educator, and they have two sons.