Diversity in Recruiting: Excellence in Recruiting

Feb 1, 2006

Rome’s Olympic Stadium, the site of the 1960 Olympics, was filled beyond capacity to witness Wilma Rudolph become the first American woman to win three gold medals. This was the same Olympic Games where a bold young boxer from Louisville, Cassius Clay, was making headlines. Wilma’s third medal came in the 400-relay. She was poised to run the anchor leg of the race. In Character is Destiny, John McCain with Mark Salter calls the race:

The Americans got off to a good start, fighting for the lead. The second Tigerbell took it, and Lucinda Williams, the third runner, had kept it as Wilma ran to take the baton from her and complete the race. Intent on her acceleration in the next moment, Wilma took her eye off her immediate task, grasping the baton. She fumbled it. Had she dropped it the Americans would have been disqualified. She managed just to hold on but in the split second she nearly lost it, two runners had blown by her. Jutta Heine was one of them.

The excited crowd gave an audible gasp when she fumbled the baton and groaned as Heine passed their Gazelle. Then they dropped their jaws in utter, disbelieving astonishment as Wilma pumped her arms like pistons and flew down the track with a blinding speed that caused her fans to joke later, “You would have missed it had you blinked.” In seventy-five yards, she had retaken the lead, and seconds later crossed the finish line a little ahead of Jutta Heine.
… she was, beyond dispute, the fastest woman on earth. The girl had beaten polio, poverty, and racism to become the greatest female athlete of her time, and one of the most beloved people in the world. She never raced again in another Olympics. She would have surely done well, but she had already done her best. She had achieved excellence, and knew it couldn’t be exceeded. So she turned her life to other worthy tasks.

Wilma Rudolph will always be a symbol of excellence, hard work, overcoming extraordinary difficulties, and never quitting.
Every year different publications call our attention to the best companies for diversity in our country. This month we will look at how these lists are compiled, how the information is gathered and what these best practices companies can teach us. What lessons can we learn to pass along to our client companies that are striving to make diversity happen?

Black Enterprise announced on June 14, 2005 that its list of the 30 Best Companies for Diversity would be featured in the July 2005 cover story. In selecting the 30 companies, the editors evaluated diversity programs, consulted with diversity experts and corporate diversity officers, and conducted an extensive survey of 1,000 of America’s largest publicly traded companies and 50 leading global companies with significant U. S. operations. To be included in the 30 Best Companies for Diversity list, a business had to demonstrate significant representation of African Americans and other ethnic minorities in four key areas: corporate procurement, corporate boards, senior management, and the total workforce.

In that issue, Black Enterprise stated:
Diversity is far from being universally accepted much less deemed a priority in corporate America. Some companies don’t know how to measure their progress in diversity or know if they are even headed in the right direction. This reality is at the foundation of African Americans’ distrust of corporate America’s oft trumpeted commitment to diversity. It is also behind our concern, despite evidence to the contrary, that this new core corporate value is not being used as an aid to our inclusion and advancement.
In the absence of measurable results in the areas of workforce diversity, senior management diversity, supplier diversity, and board diversity, such outreach efforts amount to so much window dressing.

Why focus on African Americans and other ethnic minorities? Black Enterprise contends, “Because while it is both morally right and good business to create a level playing field for all the diverse groups which make up America, the inclusion and advancement of African Americans and members of other ethnic minority groups remains the primary benchmark of a company’s diversity efforts.”

Black Enterprise noted that more than two-thirds of the 1,050 companies surveyed were either unwilling or unable to participate and so concludes that the vast majority of large corporations have “invested zero resources in the pursuit of a diversity strategy and have no plans to do so.” Black Enterprise opined that companies had a variety of reasons for nonparticipation:

• Reluctance to reveal competitive data
• Concerns surrounding the quality of their diversity data
• Their programs would not stack up to those of other companies
• Some companies admitted that they had no diversity programs or initiatives
• Hundreds felt that it was not necessary to respond at all

Barbara Frankel, DiversityInc wrote in the October 2005 issue of their magazine, “Five years ago when DiversityInc began its ascent into national prominence as a Web Site (the magazine was launched in October 2002), we estimated that fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies had made any substantive commitment to diversity recruitment, retention and suppliers.”

The DiversityInc survey looks at four areas: human capital, CEO commitment, corporate communications, and supplier diversity. “A total of 203 companies spent an estimated 60 hours each to fill out this survey.” DiversityInc estimates that between 10 percent and 15 percent of the Fortune 500 now has a serious commitment to diversity; this is up from the 2002 estimate of 5 percent.

Back to Barbara Frankel, “The most important factor to note here is that a company that manages its diversity well is a well-managed company overall. That superior diversity management is demonstrated by deep-rooted support from the very top of the company, the full integration of diversity into every line of business, metrics to assess diversity success and hold managers responsible, and willingness to scrutinize those initiatives by putting the data up for evaluation in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity Survey.

What do all the companies on both lists have in common? What lessons can we learn to pass along to our client companies?
“Real-Life Lessons from inside The Top 50,” an October 2005 DiversityInc article, provides four interesting and informative stories from four of the top fifty firms on the list. DiversityInc reporters Sonja Sherwood and Yoji Cole actually went inside companies and spent days talking to everyone from the CEO to the staff, to customers, and to suppliers.

The four stories are modeled after the Top 50 Companies for Diversity Survey with the company that is a national proven leader in each area singled out for the lessons it can teach the rest of corporate America. For human capital, we look at Marriott … For CEO commitment, PepsiCo’s leader, Steve Reinemund …For corporate communications, we visit KeyBank … For supplier diversity, we visit Hewlett-Packard.

Let’s conclude this article with a few lessons I’ve learned about diversity recruiting from companies that have been successful and committed. Companies, serious about and successful in diversity recruiting, have some common attributes:

• The most senior executives of the firm establish a clear business mandate that diversity recruiting is a business necessity with clearly defined objectives and measurements; they continually monitor their diversity practices throughout the company.
• Senior management believes in diversity both as a business imperative and a business benefit.
• Diversity recruiting is tied to business goals and there is a planned diversity recruiting process. They measure their diversity recruiting at every level of the organization. Numbers tell the story and don’t lie. Two ingredients of successful diversity recruiting initiatives:
-Building robust pipelines of talented diversity candidates by years of branding at colleges, professional organizations, and recruiting firms specializing in diversity recruiting.
-Developing and utilizing databases of senior management diversity talent throughout their industry.

• They not only recruit executives of color but also provide development programs for all its employees.
• Successful companies pay attention to retention and understand that retention fuels recruiting and is actually the flip side of recruiting.
• They tell their diversity success stories; they are active in the community; they are always branding.

Frank X. McCarthy is the President of Diverse Workplace Inc. (, a Massachusetts-based diversity recruiting firm. He was a Catholic priest from 1956-70, working in parish and school assignments, serving as a paratrooper chaplain with the 101st Airborne, and as pastor and director of an African American community project in Paterson, NJ. In 1973, he founded Xavier Associates and conducted diversity searches for over 25 years. Frank is a well-known and widely respected author and speaker on workplace diversity, recruiting, and candidate research. He can be reached: