With its annual million-dollar fundraising dinner in the books — and with new support from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's operational resources — the Walter Kaitz Foundation begins the process of rehabilitating a bruised reputation as the pre-eminent fundraising and advocacy organization for cable's diversity hiring efforts.
But some interested observers last week expressed doubts that NCTA's plan to more narrowly define grants to target diversity-based cable organizations will be more effective in pursuing the Kaitz goal of moving people of color into top cable-industry executive positions.
The Kaitz Foundation, created in 1983 to help assure minorities' access to employment opportunities, faced a crossroads when its board met last June.
The foundation's former president, Art Torres, had resigned after overseeing a shift in strategy, from placing minorities into high-level positions to providing grants to organizations that promote diversity.
Torres's decision to split time between running the organization and maintaining a leadership role within the California Democratic Party — as well as questionable financial allotments to non-industry companies — were among the problems the foundation had faced up until then.
Additionally, the actual number of minority executives, while improving, fell short of desired levels.
According to a National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC) cable minority employment research report released in 2002, minorities represent 7% of the work force among executives at the senior vice president level and above. That was up from 5% in 1999, but still well below minority representation in the general population and in the general work force (29%).
So at that June meeting, Kaitz's board created a strategic committee to reassess the organization and its effectiveness. The committee chairs — Time Warner Cable executive vice president Lynn Yaeger and Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen — helped examine several options, including the possible dissolution of Kaitz.
Ultimately, they recommended the changes that the Kaitz and NCTA boards ratified last week.
As of January, the Kaitz Foundation — including its annual fundraising dinner —will operate under the NCTA's administrative umbrella.
In a similar vein to how Cable In the Classroom functions under NCTA auspices, Kaitz will maintain a CEO-level board of directors. But it's unclear who will oversee day-to-day operations, or whether the NCTA will absorb Kaitz's remaining two employees.
NCTA CEO Robert Sachs — who had had previously said the NCTA didn't particularly want to take over Kaitz — said in a statement last week that NCTA oversight would help the foundation maintain a focus on diversity at the highest levels of the industry, and more efficiently channel support to proven industry diversity organizations.
Kaitz will preserve an independent, non-profit status and will still answer to a CEO-comprised board, Cohen said.
"Having the administrative support being provided by the NCTA was to reduce duplication and increase the number of dollars going directly to support industry diversity initiatives," he said.
Kaitz will pare the list of potential grantees to three organizations, whose programs target minority mentoring and internship opportunities.
Kaitz will funnel funds to the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media's internship and mentoring program, NAMIC's Executive Leadership Development Program, and Women in Cable & Telecommunications' Betsy Magness Program, with an emphasis on women in color.
"The Kaitz Foundation board made a judgment that the best of the industry diversity organization programs were in the mentoring and development programs," Cohen said.
Added NAMIC president Jenny Alonzo last week: "It appears to be a positive, because it's allowing people to focus on the original mission of Kaitz, which is about ethnic-diversity needs."
"It looks promising for NAMIC, Emma Bowen and WICT. The industry needs to put up or shut up. We've been talking about this for too long and we've moved the needle very slowly."
Kaitz will also work on enhancing its Cable Industry Supplier Diversity Program and revamp its Cable Industry Diversity Web site to serve as the cable industry's primary Web site for divesity initiatives and information.
Cohen said Kaitz would apply checks and balances to assure that organizations receiving grants are achieving Kaitz goals.
"We want to measure not only the quantity and quality," he said. "What we want to know is, what happens to the people that go through these programs? Are they staying in the industry? Are they getting promoted? At what levels are they at one, three and five years out so we can track the impact these leadership development programs are having in allowing individuals served by these programs?"
Notably omitted was the T Howard Foundation, which places minority interns at cable-network and direct-broadcast satellite providers.
"I think it's wrong for a media business to exclude [organizations] that are trying to bring women and people of color into telecommunications — regardless of whether it's cable or satellite," T Howard president Curtis Symonds said in response.
Cohen said Kaitz needed to concentrate on a select number of programs.
"If you try to be all things to all people, the only thing you'll assure yourself of is not being successful in the overall goal," he said. "We're focusing on a particular area — leadership and development — that appears to be working.