Kaitz Foundation’s Michelle Ray Reflects on the Enduring Importance of Diversity

Each year during the fall, key players across the cable industry gather for meetings and critical exchanges that champion diversity and inclusion efforts. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented an in-person gathering in NYC, but it could never prevent the continuance of this gathering which will take place virtually. In fact, WICT and NAMIC have both planned robust agendas of virtual sessions packed with thought leaders driving the value of gender and ethnic diversity. The iconic fundraising Kaitz Dinner, which has been hosted by the Walter Kaitz Foundation every year since 1984, has pivoted to a major fundraising campaign focused on curating conversations on equity, inclusion and belonging, opening up opportunities for cable companies to receive DEI training tailored to their needs, and sharing best practices around diversity and inclusion.

As Diversity Week gets started, it’s worth reflecting on the importance of why these conversations should be happening not only this week, but every week throughout the year. To better understand the urgency behind diversity and inclusion efforts, and to put this year’s events into perspective, NCTA asked Walter Kaitz Foundation Executive Director, Michelle Ray, for her thoughts on where we stand as a society on this, and on how our industry can continue to drive engagement and action on DEI.

Why is it important for an entire industry to focus on inclusion and belonging? Please comment on how 2020—which has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide reckoning on race—has affected awareness around diversity initiatives. 

My question has always been, ‘Why are we not focused on inclusion and belonging all the time?’ Kaitz has always prioritized diversity and inclusion and has worked to represent our industry for the past 40 years. The need for diversity and inclusion has not disappeared during the pandemic, so businesses shouldn’t be excused from investing in this critically important area. We should be doubling down on our efforts.

A lot of companies and industries were making the right noises on diversity and inclusion in the good times. Now they need to keep pushing through when times are challenging. We all need to pledge our commitment that we won’t revert to the traditional post-crisis model. We recognize that businesses globally are attempting to understand and to prioritize how to respond to a pandemic while dealing with the fallout from a global economic crisis. But what we are also seeing is that a number of companies who have previously invested in DEI since the last global economic crisis are unfortunately taking diversity and inclusion off that priority list.

Fortunately, at Kaitz, this is our business and we don’t place DEI on the back burner. Many of our companies and industry partners work to prioritize diversity and inclusion because they know that it’s not only an ethical and business priority, but it drives financial and innovation benefits which helps them to bounce back from this crisis even better.

How does the Walter Kaitz Foundation enable diversity and inclusiveness throughout the cable industry and beyond? 

We firmly believe that individual organizations don’t have the ability to make seismic shifts, but if we all continue to chip away at our respective work, we can—in aggregate—contribute to the change that we want to see, including practices around diversity and inclusion. Our value at the Foundation is that we bring organizations together in this context.

We do this through our critical support of programs and initiatives that further the work of our grantee organizations. In fact, we are currently in the midst of a fundraising effort that continues to drive engagement and supports the organizations and programs that our industry values:

  1. Research for our biennial industry-wide diversity survey which benchmarks our industry’s commitment to DEI;
  2. Support of internship programs and scholarships which recruit and support students of color through the T. Howard Foundation and Emma Bowen Foundation;
  3. Support of leadership and mentorship programs at WICT and NAMIC;
  4. Building out our own Hollywood Creative Forum which speaks to our interest in developing diverse content creators and advancing their stories;
  5. Aligning with organizations that help us to drive the narrative around equity, inclusion and belonging.

For these reasons and more, we must continue our advocacy especially in a time when DEI is being challenged; this is certainly not the time to ease up or waver in our focus. The work and the demand for a focus on diversity and inclusion has not gone away—it remains constant.

What can the industry do better when it comes to diversity?

The truth is that we can all do more; and we can do more, better!

As an industry, we can provide solutions by employing a framework that shifts our thinking, our behaviors, and the practices that contribute to equitable and inclusive leadership for individuals and organizations alike. We want to shift away from this notion of diversity and lean into adopting practices that speak to equity, inclusion and belonging. This is not easy or convenient work. It takes time and persistence to develop effective policies and practices that contribute to growth and success in any organization. Even those organizations that do diversity well are also constantly working to improve best practices.

It has taken a global pandemic coupled with a national reckoning on race and social justice to shine a light on some of the inequalities we see in society. We believe that workplaces play a really important role in challenging these inequalities. Workplaces educate employees on creating a fairer and equitable society, which they take back to their families and discuss around the dinner table. It’s these practices which bring diverse people together under one organization to collaborate and work towards common goals, visions and missions. In the end, we hope that we can create safe cultures where people feel like they belong.