Chicago -- Has any cable-industry executive ever been fired
for failing to produce a diversified work force?
None of the attendees at the National Show's
human-resources roundtable here last month on diversity, sponsored by the Cable Television
Human Resources Association, could come up with an example. But the body language at the
table strongly suggested that some were thinking about examples they wished they could
Asked by facilitator Grace de Latour, executive vice
president of employee relations for AT&T Broadband & Internet Services, what his
company was doing to diversify, Cablevision Systems Corp. vice president of corporate
development Mark Edwards replied only half-jokingly, "They sent me here."
Over the course of the 90-minute discussion, some 30
participants -- including human-resources and search-firm executives, academics,
consultants and some without official roles in the process -- grappled with the
difficulties of recruiting and retaining diverse employees. They traded ideas and
disappointments, goals and experiences.
Edwards told the group it isn't enough to proclaim the need
for diversity. "It begins with a commitment from the top," he said.
Julian C.L. Chang, a senior attorney from "AT&T
Classic" (his description) in San Francisco, agreed strongly, praising efforts at his
company despite the sea changes that have occurred during the shuffle of chairmen in
Chang, who is gay and Asian-American, belongs to the two
AT&T Corp. companywide clusters representing those groups. Other business-resource
groups -- or BRGs, as they are known at AT&T -- include Native Americans, women,
people with disabilities and Hispanics.
Each member of chairman C. Michael Armstrong's core
leadership group is assigned to work with one of the groups as its link to the top, Chang
explained. Through various activities, the top executives are supposed to help represent
those groups without an actual presence at that level.
Chang and Edwards, who is African-American, added to the
list the need to make those minorities who are already in the company partners in the
"Word-of-mouth inside will surface candidates who are
raidable. The minorities of any company should be a resource," Chang said.
Edwards added, "I probably know more people like me
than anyone else at this table." Looking around the table underscored that need: At
that point, the overwhelming majority of participants were white males. The proportions
changed as the session progressed.
Jacqueline Sweeney of Northeastern University in Boston
urged companies to "Put your money where your mouth is" by creating an
environment where people of diverse backgrounds want to work.
Sweeney is a director of a successful cooperative-education
program; 50 percent of the incubation program's participants go on to work full-time for
their co-op employers.
"Assume nothing," Sweeney said. "Give them
some of the basic information they need to know, including some of the unspoken
Facilitator Charles C. Morris, chairman of executive-search
firm Warren, Morris & Madison Ltd., suggested that companies often fail to consider
concerns like that. "The first thing any company needs to do is to ask why should
somebody want to come to work for you," he said.
Different tactics are needed when recruiting different
levels of employees. For instance, de Latour and others spoke of successful bonus programs
for hourly hires, but Edwards said he didn't think that worked at higher levels.
"When we're hiring a $100,000 person, $500 isn't going
to make a difference either way," he said. In cases like that, the profile of other
minorities in the company makes a greater difference.
"Profile improvement is one of the greatest managing
tools you can use. 'You can see within our company that people like me have actually made
vice president,'" Chang said. He attributed to that, in part, the fact that 22
percent of AT&T's college recruits are now Asian-American.
During a break, Edwards said the days of finding African
Americans who are eager to be pioneers have waned.
"You want to go where you know there's a track record,
where you don't have to break down barriers," he added -- in other words, where the
focus is on achievement, and not on skin color.