Diversity: Our Best Defense

The following is an edited transcript of remarks made by Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA-The Internet & Cable Association, at the Sept. 21 Walter Kaitz Foundation Fundraising Dinner in New York.

I am pleased to be here in New York again for another Diversity Week. I welcome all of you who join us tonight, and I appreciate your support of the work of the Walter Kaitz Foundation.

Whether you are a first-timer or a veteran, you must admit that this week is extraordinary — and unique in the annals of American corporate culture.

While these traditions and rituals may feel repetitive from one year to the next, if you step back, it’s interesting to consider how the context for these gatherings evolves from time to time. At the founding of the Kaitz Foundation, more than 30 years ago, these events and our diversity activities were very much designed to diversify a fairly homogenous group of executives. They had founded, launched and nurtured a great enterprise.

As time progressed, this week and these events began to mirror the explosive growth of our industry itself — more people poured in, more money was raised and the urgency in addressing critical diversity issues ratcheted up.

In recent years, we have had some successes in shaping our industry with diverse and powerful voices, aiming to represent the best America has to offer. Our workforce, our content, our marketing, our viewers and subscribers: All have benefitted from our sustained commitment — your sustained commitment — to diversity principles and action.

And so we find ourselves in 2016, with our great professional conferences, wide range of meetings and activities, and another opportunity to renew our financial and moral commitment to diversity objectives.

Our diversity challenges have shifted somewhat, however: We’ve gotten pretty good at attracting, recruiting, hiring and employing diverse candidates. Now, we must improve at retaining and promoting diverse employees.

We’ve made major inroads over the years, particularly for women and people of color. Now we must broaden our focus to acknowledge the importance of opportunity for other groups, such as the LGBT community and military veterans.

We’ve learned how to better serve an increasingly diverse group of consumers. Now we must expand our efforts to better serve the hearing- and sight-disabled, the elderly, and those who are economically disadvantaged.

And, we’ve deployed a broad and exciting range of advanced video, broadband, digital voice, and other products. We must continue to strive to ensure that those services and products can be accessible to all Americans.

Our goal together is to make real impact and to be an inspiration. Not only are these the themes of tonight’s Kaitz Foundation event. They are the objectives against which we — as an industry and as a nation — will be measured in the years ahead.

In case you have not heard, we are in the midst of a national election. In this campaign, the dominant metaphor has become a wall. Not the physical one that is promised along our southern border, but the virtual/emotional one that is being erected to divide people from one another.

The one that provides a barrier to the thoughts and views expressed on the other side. A wall that keeps us here and them there.

This sordid campaign has created a sanctuary for racial slurs, for gender hostility, for bullying the weak and even for inciting violence. It has summoned forth our darker demons and provided sustenance to previously dormant purveyors of hate. Content, ridicule and belittlement has trampled civility and mutual respect as the language of mature discourse.

For all those that mourn this state of affairs, I urge you to reaffirm and reinvigorate your passion and your commitment to diversity. Diversity can mean many things. It encompasses inclusion and opportunity, as well as fairness and fellowship.

But at its core, diversity calls on us to employ our greatest human superpower — and that is empathy. Empathy is our ability to see through the eyes of another. It lets us observe things we would never have seen through our own ocular lenses. It is our own version of having multiple camera angles for instant replay.

Diversity is a commitment to open our mind’s eye to imagine another person’s life. To see and understand what brings them joy and what brings them pain. Empathy makes us kinder people, allows us to grow and deepens our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes us wiser. And wisdom makes us all better, more thoughtful and more effective human beings.

Diversity is powerful. We often speak of its affirmative benefits. But diversity may also be a defense — its own wall of sorts, one that stands against self-centeredness, nativism, racism and an ideology that demeans the value of other people. This is one wall I say we should build, or we all will pay for it.

Michael Powell is president and CEO of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association.