Diversity: Beyond The Numbers Game

Patricia Bush is the kind of employee every company wants. She's hardworking, creative, and gets things done. An African American project manager at Polaroid Corp., Bush joined the Cambridge (Mass.) employer after college, in 1979, and has moved steadily up through production, marketing, and sales. It doesn't hurt that Polaroid has supported Bush--and other minority and women professionals--by giving her jobs with high visibility and clout. What's more, the top brass gives free rein to an advocacy group of senior black managers that Bush helps run. "When I talk to my friends at other companies, it's like night and day," Bush says.

While the swirling debate over affirmative action focuses on getting minorities and women in the door, companies such as Polaroid are taking a longer view. Eager to exploit their large, diverse workforces, they're more concerned with developing the minorities and women they already employ. "The whole affirmative-action debate misses the issue of utilization--getting the most out of the people you already have," says Taylor Cox, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Business Administration who studies minorities in corporations. "That's the critical issue for companies today." Whether the commitment to diversity will change if Washington eases affirmative action laws is still unclear.

In the meantime, to retain female and minority employees, some companies are beginning to take their careers more seriously (table). But unlike past efforts, corporations are now realizing it's not enough just to start a mentoring program or put a woman on the board. Rather, they have to undertake a host of programs--and not just inside the company. Texaco and Dow Chemical are building ties with minorities as early as high school. Polaroid and Ameritech are investing in employee organizations that monitor corporate policies and work with community groups. "Minorities don't want anything different than what other employees want," says Edward Gadsden, an African American who is Texaco's diversity manager. "They want to be recognized, rewarded, and supported."

The attrition of minorities and women from the ranks of Corporate America is nothing new. What is surprising is that after years of trying to improve, companies are still so often seen as inhospitable places. Some recent studies underscore this perception. Women and minorities hold just 5% of senior-level jobs in companies, says the Glass Ceiling Commission, a Labor Dept. body. White males still dominate management and administrative jobs (chart). And Cox's studies show that minorities and women quit companies up to 21/2 times as often as white males, costing employers millions of dollars in lost training and productivity. "The combination of women and people of color dropping out is really discouraging," says Lawrence Perlman, CEO of Ceridian Corp. in Minneapolis, an electronics and information-services company. "It just isn't good business."

DISCRIMINATION PREVAILS. Some of the most common problems are outlined in a 1994 survey of 373 African American and Hispanic professionals in nine corporations. The study, conducted by New York human resource management consultants Brecker & Merryman Inc., found that many respondents perceive white managers as more willing to take white workers under their wing and as having lower expectations of the aspirations of minority employees. It also noted that minorities who obtain top jobs often are in "soft positions" such as human resources. "We're not seeing a movement into the mainstream," says Richard J. Bela, president of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, an advocacy group.

Despite all the talk about reverse discrimination, black managers say bias still permeates the workplace. In a study by the National Black MBA Assn. conducted early this year, 51% of the 200 managers surveyed said that discrimination was one of several factors hurting their chances for success, says William J. Qualls, a marketing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, who headed the study. Yet 70% of the managers said affirmative-action programs may have worked against them, partly by in effect putting quotas on certain jobs.

For former managers such as Michael Clement, an African American, one problem with Corporate America was isolation. Now a PhD candidate at Stanford University, Clement worked at Citibank from 1988 to 1991 and in the early 1980s before getting an MBA. In the corporate finance department, he says, he was one of only two black professionals. The two felt so exposed that they were uncomfortable going out to lunch together. Says Clement: "We weren't sure what people would think."

Ceridian is one example of how far companies are going to reach out to such employees. Throughout the company, high-potential minorities and women are selected for succession planning--and all employees get help with career development. Ceridian provides internships to inner-city kids and recruits at black colleges. Every year, managers must set diversity goals, and 10% of their bonuses reflect whether they were met. Of Ceridian's 7,500 employees, 50% are women and 19% are minorities. At the managerial and executive levels, 36% are women and 10% are minorities.

Few companies are so rigorous. But more are gaining the confidence of workers by supporting employee-affinity groups as Polaroid did. At Ameritech, for example, the Black Advocacy Panel reviews corporate policy on such things as downsizing and affirmative action and works to improve diversity at top levels. In June, the panel held a summit with 400 people, including Chairman Richard C. Notebaert, where he outlined the company's diversity strategies. "I feel like there's someone standing up for me," says panel member Constance Johnson, an employee-communications manager. "It makes me feel better about Ameritech." If they're going to hold on to minorities and women, that's a message more companies will have to hear.


Some ways companies are holding on to female and minority employees:

-- FOCUS on bringing in the best talent, not on meeting numerical goals

-- DEVELOP career plans for employees as part of performance reviews

-- SET UP mentoring programs among employees of same and different races

-- PROMOTE minorities to decision-making positions, not just staff jobs

-- HOLD managers accountable for meeting diversity goals

-- DIVERSIFY the board of directors


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