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Guest Commentary: Keeping Up With Changing Challenges for Industry

Sep 21, 2008  •  Post A Comment

As we see every day, the media industry doesn’t look like it used to. In the past few decades, cable has expanded from a few channels to hundreds, while the Internet has grown from a government project to a dynamic force attracting millions of users every minute. Images have rapidly advanced from one screen to many. Consumers now access all forms of content from many different platforms. As the landscape has evolved, so has our approach to diversity.
For the past 25 years, the cable industry has come together annually to celebrate and promote diversity. While much has changed over those years, the Walter Kaitz Foundation steadfastly has pursued its core mission to increase diversity throughout the cable industry. For the last quarter-century, the foundation has strived to find innovative ways to engage the industry and increase opportunities for women and people of color. Despite great success, our work continues.
In its first 17 years, the foundation’s primary undertaking was to organize a yearlong fellowship program for professionals of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds seeking placement as executives in the cable industry. Each year, about two dozen people were placed at companies. Many of these Kaitz Fellows transitioned into senior positions in media organizations, and—I am proud to say—many of them are prominent cable leaders today.
However, as our industry changed, so did the foundation’s key initiatives. Diversity became an integral business priority for companies, as many developed programs and practices designed to identify and promote individuals from diverse backgrounds. The foundation shifted its emphasis to supporting industry-based organizations that had become effective advocates for diversity. It also developed partnerships with other media organizations to increase diversity in the industry’s supplier base.
Working with the Emma Bowen Foundation, the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications and Women in Cable Telecommunications, we have increased leadership development opportunities for women and people of color across the industry.
Hundreds of employees in the cable industry now feel the impact of these important endeavors each year. Even more important, these opportunities begin even earlier through the Emma Bowen Foundation’s Summer Conference, a program assisting the high school and college students who are interns at industry companies.
In addition, the foundation provided initial funding for programs such as NAMIC’s Leadership Seminar and its Webinar Series that was created this year. By utilizing webinar technology, there can be significant participation from anywhere in the country, since there are no constraints due to travel, work and family demands or budget issues.
Our partnership with WICT continues to grow beyond the Rising Leaders Program. Just this year, the foundation helped sponsor the new Restorative Leadership Summit, designed to increase leadership development opportunities for senior-level women in the industry.
We’ve also looked outside our typical industry partners for new endeavors such as the Executive Leadership Honors Program at Howard University School of Business. Through this program, the foundation connects cable companies with more than 100 Howard students during the school year to build relationships and provide mentoring.
Enhancing diversity is not only about companies changing hiring practices or promoting individuals. Diversity includes issues of content, advertising and digital media. Every aspect of our business must work to meet the desires and needs of a diverse population.
To achieve greater diversity in content developed and distributed by the industry, we’ve built an impactful creative partnership with the National Association of Television Program Executives. For the past two years, the Kaitz Foundation has helped sponsor the NATPE Diversity Fellowship Program, allowing emerging TV and video creators of color to participate in NATPE’s content-rich LATV Festival. There the fellows have the opportunity to advance their careers through a series of mentoring meetings, networking events, workshops and educational offerings.
The NATPE Diversity Fellowship Program gives people of color direct access to the executives and leaders who understand the importance of diversifying TV content. Valuable personal connections have been made by these fellows, enabling future mentoring and collaboration for participants. Steps like these are powerful tools that lead to empowerment and real change in programming and content.
Similarly, the foundation collaborated with the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau during the Cable Show ’08 to showcase diversity in advertising. Industry executives shared their success in reorienting their own businesses, expanding their outreach and improving their financial results by embracing diversity as a business principle.
Diversity is a pressing issue for cable, and will be for years to come. Alongside our current and future partners, and the beneficial programs that serve many individuals, I’m confident that the industry is on a sound path. With so much more work to do over the next 25 years, we will enhance our current initiatives, increase opportunity for diverse individuals and, most importantly, continue to grow with our ever-changing industry.
Mr. Porter is executive director of the Walter Kaitz Foundation.

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