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More Companies Embrace Diversity While Battle Over Talent Begins

Sept. 3, 2008

Jeremy Nisen--HispanicBusiness.com

The Elite 60: More Companies Embrace Diversity While Battle Over Talent Begins  

Competition for the Diversity Elite 60 list was stiff this year. The point spread on which our research division's rankings are based showed that the gap between first place and 60th was closer than ever before.

It's a sign that corporations are continuing to grow their diversity programs as understanding increases about the importance of workplace multiculturalism.

Salvador Mendoza, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts' vice-president of diversity and inclusion, who helped propel his company to a seventh-place finish on this year's list, agrees that many companies have come a long way.

His own company's programs have continued to develop and have now reached a point where "diversity and inclusion initiatives align with its business."

Many executives and experts shared with Hispanic Business magazine that when properly synched with business objectives, diversity has turned into a powerful, quantifiable asset that corporations pursue to stay competitive.

Mirroring The Population

Gloria Castillo, president of Chicago United, an organization devoted to fostering inclusion in the workplace, said while many corporations have been strongly engaged in diversity initiatives for 30 years or more, the value of those programs has only been researched for about 10 years.

Like other executives nationwide, she is confident in the benefits of an inclusive workforce despite the relative lack of hard data. It's becoming clear that as the minority population grows within the United States, led by the burgeoning Hispanic growth, companies must follow suit.

"It's simply good business to be able to mirror the population that represents your employment base," said Greg Greene, executive vice-president and chief human resources officer at Ryder System Inc. The international transportation and supply chain management company placed 21st on this year's Elite scorecard.

Hyatt, for example, is seeking to apply the positive lessons of a diverse workforce on a global stage. Mr. Mendoza said that with tremendous growth planned in the coming years, the hotel chain is always learning more about other cultures.

He specifically mentioned Hyatt's pending hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which will be the first hotel in the region to employ women. "We are learning about the culture of the country to make this work for the company," he said.

Although some bottom-line results can be tough to measure, Mr. Greene pointed to several areas where the benefits of inclusion programs are quantifiable, such as a company's ability to fill positions and how long employees stay with a company.

Diversification Causes 'War For Talent'

Even as companies embrace diversity and the benefits it brings, the competition has heated up among enterprises trying to achieve it. Part of the reason is the relatively small talent pool of Hispanics and other minorities in areas such as IT and upper management. The need for high-quality candidates is also exacerbated by widespread retirement among baby boomers. As a result, a "war for talent" has broken out across the diversity frontier. It's a phrase heard in executive suits across the nation as companies are recruiting hard in universities and within professional organizations.

Active and even aggressive recruitment and the promise of intensive training and ongoing education are some of the tools that companies are using to capture Hispanic and minority talent. It marks a monumental change from the days when minority workers struggled to be recognized.
"Almost everyone acknowledges there's a global war being waged over talent," said Ms. Castillo. She believes talented employees will go where they see evidence of their peers succeeding, including to companies that offer a proven track record when it comes to diversity.
Providing an "open door" to talent is another way companies are competing. "Good people who you want to attract and keep must, first of all, have access to your business," Mr. Greene said. "If you're putting up walls or fences and aren't attracting everybody who is qualified, then you're really not fishing in the work pool in the most effective manner."

Engaging The Employees

Ms. Castillo said another major challenge to capturing and keeping talent is to create a culture where everyone feels valued. A fully engaged workforce, she said, is one that will enhance retention and recruitment.

In addition, successful companies are hiring competent, understanding managers to run their diversity programs. "It is essential for companies to have diversity programs in place with a champion of diversity at the helm," said Mr. Mendoza. "A critical component in the implementation of diversity programs is ensuring the culture of the company is well researched and understood."

He pointed to an initiative that Hyatt has planned this year includes a pilot global mentoring program for women, which will subsequently be rolled out company-wide.

He said the company places priority on "creating an environment where people feel comfortable being who they are." At Hyatt, he added, "we hire for attitude and train for skill."

Amparo Bared, vice-president of human resources and talent management at Ryder, said the company is launching an initiative focusing on the career paths of current employees. Diversity is a key aspect of what she refers to as "the total employee lifecycle".

She added, "We've embedded diversity in all aspects of talent management, including how we source and select, how we go to the marketplace, how we target future candidates and diverse talent, and how we communicate with that diverse talent.

"We're currently embarking on an employer branding initiative where diversity plays a critical part," she continued. "We want to make sure that the message we're delivering to the market is something we believe in as an organization."

A Cause For Optimism

Despite the progress made to date, proponents and leaders of diversity say there's still a long road ahead.

Ms. Castillo believes one major challenge is creating a pipeline to senior leadership for minority candidates; Ms. Bared, though considering diversity awareness as still "a work in progress," remains optimistic and believes corporate America is headed in the right direction.

Mr. Mendoza sees a key role for active, committed leadership. No matter how well a company is performing, he said, "we will always need our leaders and executives to move the needle and continue to push for future successes."

Source: HispanicBusiness.com (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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