Three Questions: The Walter Kaitz Foundation's Michelle Ray Talks About Diversifying the Cable Industry
In an interview with NCTA, The Walter Kaitz Foundation's new executive director Michelle Ray shed light on how the Foundation came to be and how it continues to lead the charge for cultivating diverse talent and initiatives across the internet and television landscape. With Diversity Week in full swing, and as leaders and key stakeholders ranging from cable operating executives to content creators gather in NYC for critical discussions around diversity and inclusion, Ray offered insights into the state of diversity throughout the industry and the direction the Foundation will take as the demands of media, technology and audiences continue to evolve.
Can you give us a brief history of The Walter Kaitz Foundation? How has it helped to advance inclusion and diversity throughout the industry?
The Walter Kaitz Foundation was established in 1980 in memory of former cable executive, Walter Kaitz, who came to the US as an immigrant from Russia. Upon Walter’s death, his son Spencer proposed donations be made in the name of a foundation to honor his father. It was these financial contributions that formed the basis of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, which originally was to provide fellowships for people of color to increase diversity within the burgeoning cable industry.
Spencer Kaitz, who followed his father’s footsteps, wanted the Foundation to focus on encouraging companies to voluntarily train, promote and track the careers of high-performing minorities. The goal was to increase diversity within the C-Suites of the cable industry so that it would increasingly reflect the customers they served.
The focus on developing and placing Kaitz Fellows throughout the industry sparked an early focus on diversity and inclusion. At the conclusion of that program, over 600 fellows had been placed in significant positions across the industry, some of whom are still in the industry today. In fact, Michelle Rice, the current General Manager at TV One, was a former Kaitz Fellow who benefited from the Foundation’s focus on diversity.
What is the Kaitz Dinner and why is it important to the internet and television industry and the business at large?
The Walter Kaitz Dinner is the Foundation’s annual fundraising event, which is now celebrating its 35th year. As the Dinner hits this important milestone, the Foundation will continue to build on our core strengths while creating exciting new opportunities for growth and impact around diversity and inclusion.
The Walter Kaitz Foundation is the heart and soul of the cable industry’s long-standing commitment to advance the contributions of women and multi-ethnic professionals within our companies and in front of and behind the cameras. Through the funds we raise at this dinner, we are able to support organizations and programs that reach individuals through executive leadership development, mentoring programs and enriching experiences for professional growth.
Give us a layout of the diversity landscape from your point of view. How far has the industry come, and what still needs to be done?
Diversity and inclusion as a practice has been evolving over the last decade and it is our belief that these efforts need to adapt and evolve. As we lead the change we want to see, our work will be focused on highlighting opportunities for women and professionals of color, the most challenged group in obtaining seats of influence in every discipline. While commitments are welcomed, it is action that is needed to close diversity and inclusion gaps.
As the Foundation moves into the future, we will continue to work closely with our industry companies but also look to new partners to broaden our reach and find innovative ideas around equity and inclusion. We are also looking at new ways to achieve inclusive outcomes, so that our efforts to cultivate and connect diverse talent are now organized into three action-oriented platforms – Inspire, Elevate, and Empower. Many of our funding partners or grantees will return with expanded offerings and new programs and initiatives that are not only forward-looking but are also impactful in 2019 and beyond.
Most importantly, we will be dedicating the coming year to enhancing how we communicate and connect with the valued professionals and partners currently in the Foundation’s community and those that we'll be inviting to join us in the future. Only with a strong, collective voice can we truly succeed and make our voice heard.