U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), this year’s recipient of the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s Diversity Advocate Award, is being honored for her “tireless advocacy of bridging the digital divide between poor, underserved and minority communities,” the Walter Kaitz Foundation said in a statement.
“We looked at someone who speaks on behalf of diversity and who provides leadership and a strong voice focusing on the concerns of diverse groups of people,” added Michelle Ray, the Foundation’s program director. “We felt Congresswoman Solis stood for a platform of diversity in the workforce.”
Solis, who represents the heavily Hispanic 32nd Congressional District in Los Angeles, is co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She was the first Latina appointed to that panel.
“We wanted to establish an award for someone external to the cable industry who has demonstrated leadership and commitment to diversity,” said Ray. “Congresswoman Solis endorses many public-affairs campaigns for underserved groups and has had a huge impact in her district.”
Solis is also making an impact on the cable industry, working with Lifetime Television on several public-affairs campaigns.
“This award is a very important milestone to recognize that minorities and women of color can be successful,” Solis said. “The cable and telecommunications industries have grown, and hopefully women and minorities will be in a better position to succeed. Cable has done a good job with that, but we all can do better.”
Solis pointed to the Latino community as a prime example of this.
“The Latino community is the fastest growing and most diverse group and they can contribute their talents and skills to the cable industry,” she said. “They represent 14% of the U.S. population and by 2008 will have $1 trillion in purchasing power. Yet only one in eight have access to the Internet. We have to change that.”
In Solis’s view, the Kaitz Foundation’s awards are an important indication of the cable industry’s growing commitment to a diverse workforce, and an open-door environment conducive to the advancement of women and minorities at all levels of management.
“It’s very important that the cable industry has this foundation to provide leadership and diversity training to build to capacity women and minority leaders,” she said. “Cable’s response has been great and it has made good strides in promoting diverse leadership and working to open doors of new opportunities for women of color. Receiving this honor is very humbling.”
Solis’s involvement with the cable industry and her efforts to advance the interests of women and minorities began to deepen with her work with Lifetime, which she helped with initiatives such as the Stop Violence Against Women campaign and Hispanic Heritage Month.
“She is a real champion for women and has been a great teacher and guide for us,” said Lifetime Entertainment Services executive vice president of public affairs Meredith Wagner. “She’s well-versed, passionate and a person who shows up. The cable industry is getting a new friend and teacher and will benefit greatly from her incredible energy and passion.”
Wagner credited Solis with being “invaluable to us in developing on-air events,” and added that the congresswoman “doesn’t give lip service to organizations. She doesn’t send staff, she marches in rallies.”
For Solis, her newly formed relationship with the cable industry will help her reach a broader audience as she pushes forward on minority and women’s issues. Yet she has no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead.
“How do we market to the rapidly growing Latino market, which includes Cubans, Central Americans, Hispanics and many different cultures?” Solis asked. “And how do we hire and place them in the cable industry?”
“Wherever she is, it will be a place where diversity issues are being advanced,” said Wagner of Solis. “We’re lucky to have a relationship with her.”