A Blow to Diversity?

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As the days grow shorter, so does the amount of time that companies have to get their bottom lines in order for the year-end results.

Frankly, there isn't much time left to correct the savage hits that many companies took from 2001's triple whammy: an economic downturn, a bust in the upfront advertising market and an alarming slump on Wall Street.

Many companies have already gone through head-count reductions and have slashed travel and entertainment budgets to the bone. And the knives are still out, as companies look to hack away at anything that resembles discretionary spending.

But there's one outlay I hope doesn't fit under the category of discretionary spending: the money companies have budgeted for their own corporate diversity programs and to support the industry's annual Walter Kaitz Foundation banquet, which this year honors Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts.

Given the marketplace, it's not surprising that some companies are cutting back on the number of people they usually send to the Kaitz dinner. Two weeks ago, the event's co-chairs were even making the rounds, phoning and saying to some of us, "We noticed you are only taking one table this year, instead of four."

That's not a good sign. It begs this question: Are companies' interests in diversity mere lip service, subject to abandonment when the going gets tough?

I hope that's not the case, especially at this pivotal point for diversity programs. The Kaitz Foundation is retooling itself and finding new ways to spend the $2 million it typically raises at its annual dinner.

This year, Kaitz is getting out of the business of recruiting fellows to the industry. Instead, it will dole out its money to other cable organizations that help companies initiate or advance their own programs.

For starters, the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association would like some of those proceeds to continue its mission of providing a much-needed yardstick to measure how different segments in cable are compensated. They do great work.

Then there's NAMIC, which would like some of that money to advance a new leadership program it will unveil this October. Kudos to MTV Networks CEO Tom Freston for helping to fund that program — but that's not enough for all the work that needs to be accomplished.

The Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media Inc. is also hurting and could make use of more funding to further the noble work it does in helping high school students get work in the cable industry.

And Women in Cable and Telecommunications would like to work will all of those groups and to continue on with its own very successful Betsy Magness Leadership Institute which helps women break through the glass ceiling.

Over the years, this magazine has been critical of the Kaitz Foundation, raising questions about whether it was accomplishing its mission of attracting minorities to cable. After all, its track record on that front has been spotty, and critics have said there's got to be a better way to go about the goal.

We applaud the new path Kaitz has embarked upon with it plans to ally with other cable organizations, rather than stepping on everyone else's toes.

Time is running out, but it's not too late to hear just why Comcast's Roberts is being honored this year for his company's diversity efforts at next week's dinner in New York.

Comcast's efforts are very real. We encourage you to read all about them on page 4A of our special report on diversity in cable this week to see for yourself.

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