Kaitz Foundation: Striving for Change

Sep 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

When Alfonso Rosales entered his senior year of high school, he landed an internship with Discovery Communications. Throughout his college years at New York University he continued interning there, working for FitTV, Discovery Health and the digital networks, among other areas of the company. Now, at age 23, he’s working full time for the Travel Channel as a production coordinator.

His career path is emblematic of why the cable industry will convene for its annual fund-raising dinner Sept. 13 in New York, which raises money for various diversity initiatives in the cable business. That’s because Mr. Rosales worked through the Emma L. Bowen Foundation and its program that pairs minority students with media industry internships. The five-year program begins the senior year in high school and continues through college. It also includes an annual conference, community service and a mentoring program.

The Walter Kaitz Foundation’s annual dinner caps off the cable industry’s diversity week in New York and provides funding for the Emma L. Bowen Foundation, the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications and Women in Cable and Telecommunications. Those associations are charged with the development and training of more women and ethnic minorities in company leadership. Most major cable networks and suppliers sponsor the dinner. Last year the dinner raised about $1.5 million and Kaitz said it’s aiming to beat that number this year. About 1,500 to 1,600 people usually attend the event; this year’s attendance should be on par with past years.

At the dinner, Kaitz will honor MTV Networks and U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif. MTV will receive the Diversity Champion award because of the network’s culturally relevant shows and corporate commitment to diversity, the foundation said. MTV gets kudos too because it employs a chief diversity officer who’s responsible for integrating diversity into all aspects of the networks. MTV has also been a big proponent of the executive leadership development program at NAMIC.

Ms. Solis will go home with the Diversity Advocate Award for commitment to workforce diversity and protecting the interests of minorities in her district and around the country, Kaitz said.

This year’s dinner marks only the second time Kaitz has used the double honoree approach, said Michelle Ray, program director for the foundation. Traditionally the dinner has honored CEOs and companies broadly for work in corporate philanthropy and commitment to diversity issues. But the foundation is trying to move from those broad-based definitions toward recognizing efforts in more specific areas.

For instance, in selecting winners the foundation asks how the commitment to diversity manifests in leadership and training programs for employees as well as recruitment and retention of minorities in manager-level and higher posts. Supplier diversity is of critical importance too, and the foundation seeks to honor companies that work with vendors run by women and ethnic minorities.

Long-Term Commitment

In MTV’s case, Ms. Ray said Kaitz is recognizing the network group for its collective commitment to diversity over the years. “The fact that they continue in front of the cameras and behind the cameras to show minorities and young people and really mix it up in terms of the focus of their programming really speaks to the body of work,” she said.

While the industry regards the dinner as a great networking opportunity, the fund-raising aspect should not be overlooked. “The reason that we get together for this big networking confab is really to raise the money” Ms. Ray said. “If we did not raise this money, I think it would be very hard for WICT and Emma Bowen and NAMIC to do what they do. … We can turn it around and give that money to support specific programs that support those groups.”

In fact, the Kaitz funding is “essential” to the Emma L. Bowen Foundation, said Phyllis Eagle-Oldson, president and CEO of foundation. “We get wonderful support from all our corporate sponsors. The big thing that is value added that the foundation provides through things like the Kaitz program is the conference we hold each summer,” she said.

The Bowen Foundation has logged a strong success rate as a “feeder program” for the industry. About 70 percent of the individuals who go through the mentoring program are hired in the TV industry, she said.

The benefits of the program are myriad, Mr. Rosales said. “It gives us access to things that people who come from lower socioeconomic classes don’t have-the unwritten rules of the corporate world, like giving a strong handshake, or looking someone in the eyes. Those are the kinds of things that prevent people from surviving in the world and this foundation teaches the importance of mentors and networking and how little things like dress code and the way you word an e-mail matters,” he said.

New Kaitz Executive Director David Porter will attend the dinner, marking his formal introduction. “I am excited and think things are going well,” he said. “[The dinner] shows the value the industry places on diversity.”