Cables Diversity Legacy Meets New Realities

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The U.S. communications industry is on the threshold of a challenging and new opportunity: to mirror the changing face of America by creating an unprecedented diverse work force.

There are those who say it cannot be done. I have been hearing that all my life. With perseverance and vision, anything is possible. The changing demographics of America provide us with the path to an uplifting social and economic destiny.

New U.S. Census Bureau information last month reported that the past decade experienced an explosive growth in our nation's minorities. In California, the total minority population is actually now the majority.

Also last month, the latest Federal Communications Commission report on advanced communications services said broadband and high-speed telecommunications services are being deployed nationally in a timely fashion.

The report said Los Angeles, for example, was a particularly successful case where "residents throughout the county have access to several high-speed alternatives, and the multitude of offerings has resulted in competitive choices for both residential and business customers."

These are definitely milestones for both people of color and broadband technology in the year 2000. But the FCC report also had a caveat: It said certain groups remain more "vulnerable" than others as far as receiving access to high-speed service-a back-to-earth reminder of how far we still need to go.

As the new president of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, I know how swiftly changing technology and demographics can alter the very nature of our society. These two forces of change now only intensify the urgency with which we must diversify the cable and competitive communications work force in this nation.

It isn't just the programming in front of the camera that demands change, it is also the work force behind those cameras-all of the management and technical jobs-that must better reflect our changing demographic audience.

It makes good community and business sense to do so.

When I represented the barrios in the California State Legislature, I would regularly hold town meetings to touch base with local neighborhood concerns. More often than not, I would hear from disgruntled citizens who dismissed any possibility that this or that program, or any new technological wonder, could ever really have a direct impact on their communities.

When the Greenlining Coalition urged California banks to provide home mortgages to minority and low-income citizens, we confronted opposition. The banks thought they would lose their mortgages in those neighborhoods. However, once the banks started giving out mortgages, they found that they had fewer foreclosures in low-income minority neighborhoods than they had in high-income communities.

The banks learned about pride of ownership-that a slice of the American pie for a new immigrant, once gained, would never be abandoned. They learned that by investing in communities of color, they gained a loyal and consistent consumer base, and the communities gained self-respect and a renewed confidence in the American dream.

The cable industry has that same opportunity today. We can make a difference and change skeptical minds in a very similar way. We need to communicate our achievements and create new ones.

We already have a head start. After all, it has been cable that has increasingly demonstrated, through its full-spectrum programming, the many faces of our multicultural society.

It has been cable that continues to invest in bringing the benefit of high-speed Internet access to all neighborhoods.

It is cable that has made a national commitment to wire all of the schools and libraries in the communities it serves.

It is cable that is making the idea of competing telephone systems a reality by rolling out new voice services for customers at lower costs.

Cable has been a force for pluralism in our society for 50 years. Why would we stop now?

And today, at the threshold of dramatic growth of broadband and Internet use in the world, it is the cable industry that continues to pioneer efforts to diversify its work force. Our unique priority has been, without government dictates, to give those who have historically had less access in our industries more access to the jobs where they can directly make decisions about important services.

Can we do better? Absolutely! The new cable industry will advance our long-held commitment of work-force diversity into all of the critical sectors of our communications and content industries, and they will be real advances.

They have to be, because what is also increasingly real is the changing economic and social demographics that will impact cable and communications markets. Recent studies have found that:

  • By 2001, African Americans will have increased their video-cable services by 15 percent since 1993.
  • By the end of this year, Asians will continue to be the heaviest users of the Internet, with Latinos, African Americans and whites using the technology at about the same 40 percent to 44 percent rate. The study concluded, "Income, education, attitudes toward technology and primary motivation drive Internet use."
  • African Americans and Latinos are more likely to use the Internet to look for work or take online courses using school and library computers.
  • Foreign high-tech workers are increasingly being recruited to areas where industry is booming such as Silicon Valley, Seattle and northern Virginia.
  • Low-income citizens subscribe in great numbers to premium-cable channels and generally believe cable service is not "too pricey." Increasingly, as the Internet provides more entertainment services, the poorer will get the Net.

A more diversified work force actually makes people of color stakeholders in the marketplace, and not just reactors to it. If we are to succeed, our industry and our nonprofit arms need to adopt a new approach to diversity goals.

First, there must be greater corporate contribution, not only through industrywide diversity efforts, but also by renewing efforts to improve their own internal human-resources diversification programs.

I am grateful that I am beginning my tenure as the new foundation president with strong corporate commitments to increase efforts on both fronts.

Second, I believe the Walter Kaitz Foundation must work hard to create more successful outreach programs that are accountable to those who sponsor our efforts.

In partnership with key cable- and broadband-industry leaders, the foundation has designed a significant blueprint for action to better achieve our diversity goals in a dramatically changing communications marketplace. We will implement the blueprint in three major areas:

Diversity Outreach and Partnerships: The foundation will build an extensive, proactive public-affairs program to educate and inform the public and media of the industry's commitment to diversity.

The foundation will specifically target college campuses with diverse populations, partner with diverse professional and community organizations and establish an alumni committee to provide new opportunities and advancement to people of color.

Professional Leadership: The foundation will provide improved professional-educational programs to assist individuals who are new to the industry or to management responsibilities.

Recruitment and Placement: The foundation will provide an improved Web-based program to meet the increasingly divergent hiring needs of the industry's human-resources personnel in a timely and efficient manner.

Once the Kaitz Foundation delivers on these initial goals, we must find the best ways to diversify the work force of the other arenas our industry pursues in Internet and multimedia directions in a timely fashion.

Together, we can create a diversity work-force model for which all of corporate America will find value and follow.

Helen Keller put it beautifully: "One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar." Let us soar for the future of our industry and our communities.

Art Torres is the new president of the Walter Kaitz Foundation.

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