Articles on Diversity and Related Resources and Thoughts

Lately I’ve run across items on various facets of diversity in the workforce. This post attempts to pull some of the threads together, and suggests some directions for further reading.

While I already had this post in draft, an intriguing local St. Louis development made page one of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Entitled “Groups back minorities for Hwy. 40 job,” this was the latest in a long-running local battle over minority set-asides in major publicly funded construction projects.

Construction employment of African-Americans in the St. Louis area has tended to fall short of their representation in the workforce, which may be a vestige of past segregationist hiring policies by contractors and construction unions.

Efforts to advance minority representation in the St. Louis construction workforce have at times been quite activist, including actual or threatened highway blockages, among other tactics. The battle is important, both for the symbolic impact of how public funds are spent and for the potential to more equitably distribute many of the area’s best-paying jobs not requiring college education.

The focus has often been more on the use of minority-owned enterprises (“MBEs”) than on the hiring of minority employees, though both objectives have been pursued.

It has always seemed to me to be somewhat unwise, impractical, and unjust to focus on the MBEs. Such a policy enriches relatively well-off business owners who happen to be minorities more than it helps needier minority workers.

It presumes MBEs will be more likely to have minority employees, thus creating a “trickle-down” to the worker level. But why shouldn’t white male-owned businesses be expected to have equivalent workforce diversity? And why shouldn’t public funds also be used to help poor whites gain needed training and economic opportunity? Finally, it encourages corrupt manipulation of business entity ownership to create the false apearance of minority ownership.

Because I’ve had these concerns, I read with interest that when “more than 2,000 members of the Metropolitan Congregations United and the United Congregations of Metro East met in downtown St. Louis to push for a plan that would secure thousands of highway jobs for local workers,” they took a new approach. “Instead of stipulating a percentage of minority involvement, [they called] for 30 percent of all work hours to go to local workers eligible for an earned income tax credit.”

They say such a method targets the poor and, by extension, the neediest minorities.

This year, a single person with no children earning $11,800 or below qualified for an earned income tax credit.

“We approached the issue that way to avoid any affirmative action fights,” said the Rev. Richard Creason, an MCU spokesman. “We focused on the tax credit instead. That will touch a lot of minorities.”

Broadening the concept of workplace diversity from an exclusive race-and-sex focus to this kind of economic focus sugests a movement toward economic justice for all, and away from divisive affirmative action policies, which have negative connotations for many.

Perhaps in this respect the trend towards using terms like “diversity initiative” and “diversity policy” rather than “affirmative action plan” and “affirmative action policy” has some significance beyond mere semantics. The language of diversity can embrace economic, class, and viewpoint diversity.

Monster.com and Diversity Best Practices recently published a study concluding that: “Nearly “Half of U.S. Employers Fail to Implement Formal Diversity Recruitment Programs, and Diverse Job Seekers Are Taking Notice”

Key findings on views of “ethnically diverse online job seekers” included:

  • 86% agree that “it is important that the organization I work for actively tries to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.”
  • 82% believe that you can tell how much effort and resources companies put into diversity recruiting whether they are truly committed to creating a diverse workforce.
  • Nearly 60% look for information on organizations’ diversity policies and programs when they are looking for a job.

Key findings as to U.S. employers included:

  • 66% of companies have an official written statement conveying the organization’s mission or vision regarding diversity.
  • 54% have a formal diversity program, which may include initiatives such as diversity training, diversity recruitment, employee forums or mentoring programs.
  • 37% have specific diversity targets or goals.
  • 3% have a separate diversity recruitment budget.

There clearly is a gap between most minority applicants’ expectations for corporate diversity policies and the reality. The fact that many companies have “formal diversity programs” but lack “specific diversity targets or goals” may reflect a healthy distancing from the rigid framework of affirmative action. (Affirmative action proponents, I suppose, would contend it means the company policies are toothless and thus will have little impact.)

You can get the complete study, entitled, “Bridging the Gap, Diverse Job Seekers Employers, and the Internet,” from Monster if you are willing to be contacted about your organization’s diversity program (hmm . . . is that for them to continue to study the issue or to try to sell services to you, or both?)

“Diversity in a Global Economy — Ways Some Firms Get It Right” discusses the importance of diversity and what might be called “Diversity 2.0″:

“Where 10 or 20 years ago, companies were asking, ‘Will we be diverse?’ today they must ask, ‘How should we use diversity as a resource to be more effective as a business?’ ”

Doing that requires “creating a workplace where differences can be learned from and leveraged,” [David Thomas, a professor at Harvard Business School] believes. “You don’t want Balkanization where you have women employees going after women customers and blacks going after blacks. You want employees who can serve customers different from themselves. And you want an environment where employees aren’t afraid to share perspectives that are unique to them.”

This article details diversity efforts at Pepsico, IBM, and Harley Davidson. Pepsico, for example, says it is “turning the varied perspectives of employees into a competitive edge over rivals, especially in product innovation and marketing,” and “estimates that in 2004 about one percentage point of the company’s 8% revenue growth came from new products inspired by diversity efforts.”

Clearly, benefits of workforce diversity include better appealing to and serving a diverse customer base.

For further reading on corporate diversity:

“Five Common Denominators Of Effective Diversity Programs”

“Recommended Reading: Books For Reflecting about Diversity”

Online diversity bookstore from DiversityBusiness.com

Photo credit: nelgallan via flickr
Creative Commons License

For additional current information on labor & employment law, human resources, and other work-related topics, don’t forget to visit our “Recent Reading” page, a blog-within-a-blog.

2 Comments

  1. Hi George,

    Diversity, MBEs and public projects are an interesting subject in Illinois as well. We take what I consider to be an unusual perspective relative to public projects.

    The federal government, via a presidential executive order signed when President Bush started his first term, prohibits federal funds for use in public projects which utilize or require project labor agreements (PLAs). Essentially, PLAs are labor agreements between unions and management which stipulate that management will only utilize unionized labor (this applies to subcontractors as well as primary contractors). The rationale is that unions have historically discriminated against minority workers.

    However, Illinois, via legislation, which I believe has yet to be passed, but is endorsed by our governor, will require that all public projects utilize PLAs. The rationale is that unions help to increase diversity in the workplace.

    So, conflicting rationales and orders ironicaly trying to accoplish the same goal–increase minority labor in public projects. I wrote a more in-depth analysis of this, along with the appropriate links, on my blawg. The link is: http://charlesakrugel.blogspot.com/2005/05/project-labor-agreements-in-illinois.html.

    All the best,

    Chuck Krugel

  2. Project labor agreements may have some benefits, e.g., avoiding jurisdictional disputes. Increased diversity is not one of them, unless the agreement spells out minority hiring goals. This, of course, can be achieved without the burdens of union agreements.

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