Building a New Diversity Road Map

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Though I am still considered to be new to the cable industry, I understand that Diversity Week is a time of introspection for the industry on how far we have come on our diversity journey.

Many events which celebrate diversity, including the National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications conference and the annual Walter Kaitz Dinner, bring us together in a unique fashion to reflect upon our progress.

While the week’s events foster contemplation about our industry’s on-going efforts to reflect its customer and viewer base, they also shine a light on the progressive efforts to improve diversity throughout the fabric of our organizations — in their corporate make-up, content and marketplace. This week of introspection apparently does exactly what is needed — it forces us to take a thorough look at ourselves — including our soft spots.

Most of my professional life has been spent in the financial services industry with additional experience in the franchise industry, the legislative process and trade association work — all with a keen eye to diversity. As I complete my fifth month as executive director of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, I have the opportunity to view the cable industry’s diversity progress with a fresh perspective.

What I have experienced so far provides a sound basis for optimism about how far we have come and how far we can go on this diversity journey. It is my belief that you never get to a new place using an old road map. That is why I am pleased to have met with managers who recognize that diversity is a key strategic opportunity and view it as a corporate asset and competitive advantage.

I’ve had in-depth conversations about how this industry defines diversity and am relieved that it recognizes that with different backgrounds come different perspectives and different contributions to the work place.

I applaud the many volunteers —who often go unrecognized — who supplement their 60-hour work weeks with many hours dedicated to enriching the lives of their members and keeping diversity in the forefront. I have also met with many senior executives who have committed to extend diversity beyond the efforts of their respective companies — to customers, communities and beyond.

I’ve also seen some gaps. Despite strong and universal sentiment in favor of strengthening diversity in our executive ranks — and as NAMIC-supported research to be released this week undoubtedly will demonstrate — true progress continues to be modest.

Quality internship, executive development, mentoring and training programs offered by some of our professional societies must be better supported and utilized by a number of our companies. Most important, cable companies must welcome into the executive ranks talented and qualified ethnic minorities and women who have the requisite skills to lead our organizations. Broaden the net and the network to include the talent you already have but have not met.

Challenges of this magnitude should always be cause for concern, but I’m heartened by the tools at our disposal to help address them.

NAMIC is a great example. Its Executive Leadership Development Program, an intensive academically-grounded education and training program, is the premier industry-wide professional development vehicle for people of color. Its Patrick L. Mellon Mentorship program has provided invaluable mentoring experiences for scores of individuals. And its one-of-a-kind annual conference focuses executive-level attention on issues related to urban markets and marketplace diversity.

Women In Cable & Telecommunications, too, has many fine programs to bolster the standing of women in our industry. Its Betsy Magness Leadership Institute, a year-round, life-changing leadership training program for women with potential, has spurred the advancement of women executives throughout our companies. The annual WICT Forum provides an in-depth and benchmark-level case study program for WICT members. And the groundbreaking PAR Initiative identifies the industry companies that are leading in pay equity for women, establishing women- and family-friendly workplace environments, and recognizing key elements in promoting gender diversity.

A lesser known but equally effective organization is the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interest in Media. Its multi-year professional internship program, which reaches out to promising high school seniors and works with them through college, offers premier business and workplace internship experiences in both cable and broadcasting to young people of color. The net result is a bond among prospective executives and our industry during the formative period of a young professional’s life, opening substantial opportunities to get talented and well-educated individuals into our “pipeline” straight from college.

These programs are just a sample of the many diversity-focused initiatives available to our industry to prepare minorities and women to be today’s leaders and provide a pipeline for future leaders. Because they and their sponsoring organizations have proven so effective in recent years, the proceeds from this year’s Walter Kaitz Foundation Dinner will be spent on further enhancing their reach and effectiveness.

Part of our new charter at the foundation is to focus the industry’s resources on initiatives that further the goal of increasing ethnic minorities and women in the management ranks. The work of NAMIC, WICT, and Emma Bowen certainly fall into that category. So if you are supporting this year’s dinner, you are already making a significant contribution towards our diversity objectives.

Buying a seat or table at the Kaitz Dinner, however, does not absolve any of us from additional accountability in driving diversity. My experience as a diversity advocate across several industries reminds me that to be truly successful, diversity goals must be deeply embedded in our corporate culture, structures, and strategies, from the top down. CEOs must embrace diversity as a key organization mandate. There must be systemic changes in policies, processes and incentive plans to accelerate leveraging diversity and inclusion in everyday thinking and operation of our companies

I am proud and honored to participate in celebrating Diversity Week — this week and into the future. I look forward to working to strengthen the programs of the Kaitz Foundation and highlight the contributions of NAMIC, WICT, and Emma Bowen — as well as recognizing the historic commitment to diversity by people like Dinner honoree Spencer Kaitz. Please join me in building a new diversity road map for this industry where all of our companies celebrate and value diversity.

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