For Cable, Diversity Means Business

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There is a rising sense of dramatic change in broadband — consolidation, competition and redefinition.

Earlier this year, Seth Schiesel of the New York Times
argued that the major consolidation of the television programming business mirrors the consolidation of the cable system operators, and that that power struggle will continue "with America's viewers as the prize."

Although our industry has seen great change, it seems barely to be keeping up with another even more dramatic cultural transition in the country — the evolution of a truly multicultural nation. Coupled together, these two forces are the reasons why the Walter Kaitz Foundation will have to change to meet these new challenges. In a new world, businesses will increasingly need a diverse workforce and, for the cable industry, diversity means business.

The new demographics reported in the last census are really no longer newsworthy. The body politic and the media have accepted the fact that minority populations have grown dramatically, and that they are the norm in most major communities. In California, with more than a tenth of the nation's population and the world's sixth largest economy, the news articles which once heralded headlines like: "Minority population Becomes the Majority" seem dated. We have moved on. Our diverse customers want results.

The new studies now talk about "buying power," and the figures are staggering — Asians and Pacific Islanders have an estimated $245 billion in spending power annually; African Americans have $572 billion; and Hispanics will reach $630 billion by the end of this year.

Diversity means business!

There is no doubt that the cable industry has made a major commitment to improve the diversity of its ranks. Over the past year, I have met with key industry executives and spoken at public forums, always expressing my great respect for an industry so dedicated to diversity that it established this unique Foundation. NAMIC, Women in Cable and Telecommunications, Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association, and the Emma Bowen Foundation have also come from our industry. Yet, we still have some real hurdles to cross to achieve the diversity goals we aspire to.

Just two months ago in a special report, Fortune
highlighted the nation's best companies for hiring and promoting minorities. The report said that not only are diversity programs no longer viewed as luxuries but there's a growing realization "that there's a correlation between financial performance and a multicultural work force."

How did the cable industry fare on Fortune
's top 50 list? Cable operators were nowhere to be found. Two of our telecommunications competitors were in the top 10 — as were energy utilities and Adolph Coors Co. The top-ranked company, Advantica Restaurant Group Inc., owns Denny's restaurants — a company that as little as two years ago was plagued by discrimination suits. But no cable.

We have long been advocates of national workforce diversity efforts. We certainly have the resources to succeed, but are we using them effectively?

In an age of greater consolidation and fewer major cable broadband companies I believe we must try a new tact. And, in this age of greater individual corporate responsibility and accountability, I believe the time is right to reshape the Foundation's role to better assist the efforts of our corporate and local service providers.

And, with the courageous encouragement and guidance of the Walter Kaitz Foundation Board of Trustees, we will do just that.

The Kaitz Board has already approved the concepts of a plan to significantly change how the Foundation encourages diversity within the industry. In lieu of its traditional role of seeking placement of fellows across a broad national industry, the plan would outline three principle functions:

  • Kaitz Grants
    —The Kaitz Foundation will award grants to those industry and non-profit efforts that provide innovative and concrete programs to meet the industry's diversity goals including: education and media, community and resource development and workforce development.
  • The Diversity Suppliers Program
    —To continue fostering better relationships and create more opportunities for diverse suppliers, the Foundation will assume the primary responsibility for the industry's Diversity Supplier Program from the National Cable&Telecommunications Association. A new Web site will assist in identifying diverse supplier to industry contacts.
  • Outreach
    —The Foundation will continue to perform important outreach efforts to both the cable industries and to diverse communities and individuals on behalf of diversity goals. We are enhancing the Foundation's Web site to continue promoting opportunities for jobseekers and diverse vendors—a job bank will list available industry jobs, a resume bank will allow potential candidates to post resumes, and diversity suppliers will have access to company RFPs.

Shifting the primary responsibility for diversity to our corporate sponsors is important because they have the capability to encourage great change, not only from the top down, but also from the operating systems up. With this new role, the creative spirit to do the right thing is back where it belongs — with the recognizable logos that customers know. As one cable executive told me, the Foundation would now be a true partner and resource for diversity, and NOT a shield against taking real action.

We will need to know what successes you have, what hardships you encounter and what new programs deserve support. Together as an industry, and with the other great organizations I have mentioned, we will achieve greater diversity.

We must remember that when anyone says, "diversity means business" it is not empty rhetoric; it's about making sound business decisions that impact the bottom line. But, diversity is also a movement, with various faces, voices and opinion leaders, embracing an agenda of real consumer demand. Diversity advocates intend to set a higher bar for success. We welcome this challenge and we will be prepared to meet the demographic demands of our audience. It's the right decision and a wise business choice.

After all, greater diversity provides us new opportunities: business cases continue to demonstrate that greater multicultural awareness give companies a competitive global edge; corporate commitments to diversity continue to be extremely measurable in recruitment and retention costs; and the recent rise in earnings for minority groups continues to enhance diverse market development.

Diversity means business. And so shall we!

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