SIP Trunking News

[March 12, 2006]

Diversity at work: New trends recognize how different people, ideas can help a company succeed.

(Fresno Bee (CA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Mar. 12--Arturo Acevedo doesn't expect that he'll have a hard time finding a job when he graduates this spring from Fresno State.

It's not that he's cocky, he's just in demand.

Young, bright, Hispanic and with a bachelor's degree in business management, Acevedo comes with the pedigree companies are seeking as they push to diversify their work forces.

A recent survey by careerbuilder.com and America Online found that one in 10 hiring managers predict that diverse candidates will make up 50% of their new hires this year.

And they may have a lot to chose from.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2008, 70% of all new entrants into the work force will be women and minorities.

"Many companies recognize what is going on," said Rafael Solis, director of graduate programs at California State University, Fresno's Craig School of Business.

"I get calls from potential employers almost every day asking for a particular minority group or for female job candidates."

But unlike past efforts that focused purely on filling quotas, the new demand for diversity is about dollars and cents and recognizing the value that different people and ideas can contribute to the success of a company.

"The elements of such an environment include everything from feeling respected to being given the information necessary to do the job right to being compensated appropriately," said Sondra Thiederman, a speaker on diversity issues and author of the book "Making Diversity Work: Seven Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace."


"Any workplace in which these and similar elements are in place automatically benefits everyone including the so-called majority, namely white males," she said.

But embracing diversity and implementing effective plans are not easy or widely accepted. The upper echelons of corporate management are still largely male and white.

And even those who recognize the importance of diversity still struggle with retaining employees.

Yet, officials at many companies talk about the need to better reflect the communities they serve, especially in Fresno, where Hispanics make up nearly 40% of the population, Asian-Americans represent 11% and blacks are 8.4%.

At Wells Fargo, Senior Vice President Tim Rios said the bank has made a concentrated effort to hire diverse employees throughout the company, from bank tellers to senior managers.

Bank officials recruit at college campuses, including Fresno State, where they recently met with members of the Hispanic Business Students Association, including Acevedo.

The San Francisco-based bank has more than 6,200 locations and has been recognized by several organizations for its record of diversity. Of the bank's 153,000 employees, 30% are minorities or women.

"Things are changing, pure and simple," said Rios, who is also the bank's community development manager.

He said educated consumers who value diversity want to see diversity in the financial institution they do business with: "If I am that consumer and I walk into the downtown Fresno branch, I want to see diversity there."

Wells Fargo is also pushing diversity with its suppliers. It has set a goal of spending $1 billion with diverse suppliers.

"If we are asking people to bank with us, we also want them to be a supplier for us," Rios said.

Rios said he believes diversity makes good business sense for the bottom line and as a recruitment tool.

"If you consider yourself a growth company, where is that growth going to come from, if not from diverse communities?" he asked.

"That is the population that is growing, and that is the population that is buying homes and opening bank accounts. If you are not catering to that population in a complete way, you are not going to be as successful tomorrow as you were today."

Diversity experts say that one of the big draws for diverse candidates is seeing people like them at all company levels.

"People who are thinking about joining a company will ask themselves is this a good place for them, do they see other people like them and does this company really value them, or are they just paying lip service to the issue," said Carol McHuron, president of Pacific Resources Education Programs Inc. in San Francisco. "And if you only have a few diverse employees and they are not treated very well, then you are going to have a revolving door."

At AT&T, Loretta Walker, a vice president and a general manager, understands the power of a diverse work force.

She says young people often look at a company's record of diversity.

Like Wells Fargo, AT&T has also been noted for its track record of diversity.

Of 189,000 employees, 38% are minority and 48% are female. It has 1,100 employees in Fresno.

"Young people are very astute; they know what they want and the kind of work environment they want to be in," said Walker, who is black and oversees 8,000 employees in Northern California and Nevada.

"When you work in diverse areas like we do, it just makes good business sense to have people from those communities," she said. "You can't make any mistakes if you are servicing diverse areas with diverse people."

Kraft, the nation's largest food and beverage company, has a diversity plan that requires accountability at all management levels and has several employee councils focused on diversity issues, said spokeswoman Cathy Pernu.

The company has four facilities in Fresno and Tulare counties, making Capri Sun drinks, Corn Nuts, Parmesan cheese and butter.

Combined, the central San Joaquin Valley plants employ 750 people.

"We value the differences in our employees, and we seek to learn from each other," Pernu said.

"This is about leadership, and we want to be recognized as a leading company with the ability to attract and retain high-caliber talent."

Pernu is particularly proud of Kraft's record. In 2004, 30.5% of its middle and senior managers worldwide were women. Of its U.S. operations, 17.9% of middle and senior managers were minorities.

The company also works with Inroads, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that provides minority college students with internship opportunities.

Over the past several years, it has employed more than 100 interns a year.

Fresno State student Acevedo was a recent Kraft intern. He worked in the company's finance department in Fresno.

"This was such an amazing opportunity for me," he said. "And I can see how this benefits their entire organization. And it is something so simple, but it helps keep their company growing."

But while many companies boast about their accomplishments, diversity advocates say retention of women and minorities remains an issue as does the lack of diversity on corporate boards.

"The field of diversity is stuck," said Roosevelt Thomas Jr., an author and diversity consultant.

"It is not that good things are not being done, but the issue is how do you get sustainability?"

Diversity programs often go astray, experts say, when they are viewed by employees as trying to right past wrongs or are not meaningful enough.

"If you do it purely for window dressing, people are going to see through it," said Dennis Dowdell Jr., executive director for the Institute for Leadership Development and Research in Washington, D.C.

"You either have to be committed to utilizing the full value of your work force or you are not."

Dowdell is among those who believe America's corporate boards are the new diversity frontier.

Although many companies have diversity programs, a majority of the nation's board rooms are still largely white and male.

A 2005 study by the Alliance for Board Diversity found an underrepresentation of women and minorities on corporate boards.

The study found that blacks held 10% of the seats, Hispanics held 3.85% and Asian-Americans held 1%.

"Some companies can be congratulated for moving faster than others," Dowdell said.

"But when you talk about 5,000 corporate board seats and only 255 belong to African-Americans, then something is wrong."

Dowdell hopes the new pipeline of diverse workers, the growing awareness about diversity and ongoing pressure from organizations like his will begin to filter up the corporate ladder.

"This is an issue that is not going to go away," Dowdell said.

The reporter can be reached at brodriguez@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6327.

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