On the eve of its annual fundraising dinner, The Walter Kaitz Foundation is planning a fundamental shift away from it's current role as the cable industry's top minority job recruiter.
Instead, the foundation will fund organizations that assist minorities in their professional development and help minority-owned vendors find cable customers — placing the onus of attracting new, qualified minority executives on MSOs and programmers, Kaitz president Art Torres said last week.
The foundation's board of directors endorsed the change in mission during a meeting at the National Show in June, he said.
"The board felt that [cable companies] needed to be held accountable for [cable's] diversity efforts, rather than have the foundation play that role," said Torres, who has headed the organization for about a year.
The proposed changes follow criticism leveled at the foundation in recent years over cable's poor overall record in recruiting minorities — and particularly for its lack of success in helping its recruits keep the jobs they land or move up the corporate ladder.
Torres said the plan won't be official until after he presents it to the board next month. But the idea is for Kaitz to quit its 18-year-old job of directly recruiting minorities for middle-management jobs at cable operators and networks.
Instead, the foundation — which raises about $2 million a year from its annual black-tie dinner (this year's is on Sept. 13) — wants to help bankroll other organizations that have taken up that charge.
Such organizations include the National Association of Minorities in Communications, Women In Cable & Telecommunications, the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association and the Emma L. Bowen Foundation, Torres said.
"We also want to offer scholarships not only for young people who might want to come into the industry, but also to current employees who need a little extra help in terms of advancement," he said.
Kaitz will also handle the supplier diversity program spearheaded by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
"We will have a national Web site for diversity suppliers, as well as continuing a job site which will include resumes from people looking for jobs as well as jobs that are available within the industry," Torres said.
According to NAMIC, minorities hold about 30 percent of the jobs in cable, but only about 5 percent of those posts are at the senior vice president level or above.
Some cable executives have questioned whether the foundation effectively spends the nearly $2 million it takes in every year, mostly from the dinner in New York City. Last year, some industry executives were surprised to hear that only one of the 27 Kaitz fellows did not already hold a job in the industry.
At press time, it was unclear how many of this year's fellows came from outside the industry.
Kaitz's recruitment about-face drew mixed reactions from industry executives.
"To not have that recruitment piece is certainly a loss for the industry," NAMIC president Patricia Andrews- Keenan said. "What will balance that out is the increased support from cable companies themselves to recruit minorities."
Former Kaitz fellows were also contemplating the ramifications of the proposed changes.
"It's a mixed blessing," said Nickelodeon vice president of communications Michelle Moore. "On one hand, I think you need a recognized organization that's valued in the industry to keep the focus on minority recruitment into the industry. Kaitz did a terrific job of introducing new talent to the industry who otherwise may not have been exposed to cable.
"But I think operators understand the need for diversity, and I think there have been a number of operators and programmers that have excelled in that capacity," she said.
ESPN Southeast region director of affiliate sales Marty Maldonado said he was "saddened" that Kaitz was walking away from the recruitment process, but said the move is a "natural evolution" for the organization.
Maldonado said he was also confident the industry would pick up the baton and continue Kaitz's recruitment efforts.
"The industry can't look at the latest census results and not see the need for a diverse work force," Maldonado said.
But one African-American executive who wished to remain anonymous isn't convinced cable will do the right thing regarding diversity, if left to its own devices.
"I think it's difficult to keep the intensity without an outside advocacy group to push that mission," said the executive. "The current economic climate makes it easy for employers to ignore diversity under the guise of poor earnings and layoffs."
But Torres called such concerns "ill-founded" and said the CEOs on Kaitz's board of trustees have assured him that they will be aggressive in seeking qualified minority employees.
"And they expect me to keep on their backs to make sure that there's a production of efforts so that we have something to show," he added.