Why are we flying in for that dinner again? Oh yeah, diversity

Byline: K. C. NEEL

It’s that time of year again, when cable executives gather in New York to pat themselves on the back for their efforts to diversify the industry. In fact, it’s the 20th time cable executives will gather at the annual Walter Kaitz Foundation Dinner to pay tribute to an executive who ostensibly has helped diversify his or her company and the industry in general.

To be sure, some honorees were rightfully feted for their efforts. But there have been years when industry executives scratched their heads trying to figure out why an honoree was chosen. The foundation’s initial mission was to lure a couple dozen highly educated members of minority groups to serve as fellows at various cable companies for a year. The hope was that the fellows would learn the ropes and climb to the top. The dinners often raised more than $1 million for the foundation. But as fundraising improved, the mission’s success rate declined. The fellows weren’t climbing the corporate ladder, and most of them were leaving the cable industry altogether after an average of two years.

That didn’t stop cable companies from supporting the foundation, however, and it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those who trekked annually to New York to attend the dinner. The Kaitz dinner was so successful in luring the cream of the cable crop that other groups climbed on the bandwagon. Ancillary events cropped up before and after the charity affair, leading to the designation “Hell Week,” which has stuck despite the attempt to put a positive spin on it by giving it the formal name “Diversity Week.”

Other than NAMIC (National Association for Minorities in Communications), which holds its annual conference prior to the Kaitz dinner, and annual events sponsored by CTHRA (Cable Telecommunications Human Resources Association), not much happens during Hell Week that actually has anything to do with diversity. There are financial conferences, marketing panels and new technology seminars. And there are social engagements that, frankly, have become much more fun to attend than the Kaitz dinner itself.

In fairness, the Kaitz dinner isn’t supposed to be about fun; it’s about raising money to lure minorities to the industry. The cable industry, which used to be a hodgepodge of small and midsize companies, needed an organization like the Kaitz Foundation to attract people of color. The industry has matured and now consists of conglomerates that have large and very efficient human resource departments, which are better suited to the task of recruiting minorities. The Kaitz board realized this a couple of years ago when it learned that more Kaitz fellows were being recruited by the cable companies than by the foundation. Consequently, the board switched gears and doled out grants to other industry organizations with diversity initiatives – a flawed and desperate strategy.

Why would any smart executive (and there are plenty of them in the cable business) give money to an organization that bites off a big chunk of it for administrative purposes and gives the leftovers to other organizations? The Kaitz Foundation still has history and its legacy on its side, but for how much longer?

The cable industry has a long way to go before it is truly integrated. Yes, there are more people of color working in the industry, but few have corner offices or executive-level job titles.

The industry does not purposefully prevent minorities from climbing the corporate ladder. Many companies have made great strides in making sure they’re racially diverse at all levels. Comcast, for instance, ties managers’ annual compensation to how effective they are at integrating their departments. The company also has a management committee for diversity issues that includes four women and seven men, two of which are people of color. Despite those noble efforts, the bulk of the company’s top management is white and male. And Comcast is not alone by any stretch.

Talk to the executives of any cable company and they’ll tell you they are fully behind any effort to hire people of color. And I believe them. They’ll also tell you it takes time to change the mind-set and dynamics of any company. And I believe them when they say that, too. But they’ve been using that excuse long enough, and it’s time to put their money where their mouths are. And that means putting resources into their own companies’ diversity initiatives rather than giving money to an organization whose time is past and whose effectiveness has waned to the point of extinction.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Access Intelligence, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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