It’s no surprise that the Great Recession of 2008–2009 has been brutal. Since December 2007, when the recession started, nearly 6 million workers have been cut from employer payrolls. At press time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. unemployment stood at 8.9%—the highest since 1982. For African Americans, the jobless rate has reached a staggering 15%, the worst such measure in more than 20 years. But even as corporations continue to lay off scores of workers, we’ve learned a couple of seemingly incongruent facts—worker productivity is up and companies are hiring. Although hires fell to their lowest rates in eight years nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are close to 3 million jobs available in the U.S. And approximately 40,000 of those positions are available among the companies that made black enterprise’s list of the 40 Best Companies for Diversity this year.
So how can it be true that companies are actually hiring employees in the midst of an economic crisis marked by rising unemployment, multibillion-dollar bailouts, and record bankruptcy filings? “Many companies are using the new opportunities to retool their workforce and bring in the skill sets they feel will be most needed going forward,” asserts Joe Watson, CEO of Without Excuses and Strategic Hire in Reston, Virginia (www.withoutexcuses.com). “This is simply about hiring the best. Talented people who possess tremendous skills are currently in the market. Many companies are using this time to upgrade their workforce. In the world of capitalism, it is all about competitive advantage, and that begins with the talent level of your people.”
Organizations are being forced to rethink their business models. The best among them will create a more viable technological and talent management infrastructure to propel growth and productivity. The leadership that presides over our 40 Best Companies for Diversity fully understands that inclusion is vital to achieving those objectives. And for those efforts, their corporations have been awarded our top distinction.
“It is more important than ever to truly be driving the notion of building a fully inclusive organization where everyone understands that the core mission of the diversity effort is to drive the business toward a sustained competitive advantage,” offers Watson. “Many companies still struggle with their willingness and their knowledge of how to truly measure diversity. [They] still have long conversations about exactly ‘what’ they should measure. If they would simply treat diversity like every other business imperative, you would have folks working hard to reach their goals and ensuring that their performance meets the standards of their business.”
The 40 Best Companies for Diversity offer a variety of opportunities in finance, marketing, human resources, technology, and sales. In light of President Barack Obama’s plans and priorities for industry, the future holds promise for opportunities in areas such as government and energy. As a result, African American professionals must become more strategic as well, aligning skills development with organizational goals and industry trends. For some it may require upgrading credentials and broadening experiences; others must engage in a total career overhaul. But opportunities abound for those equipped to handle today’s industrial challenges.
“Diverse candidates need to understand that the new environment is all about results and no longer about potential,” Watson insists. Trudy Bourgeois, head of the Center for Workforce Excellence, a national cultural change consultancy, agrees. “Diverse candidates should become students of the marketplace,” she says. “They should study the changing consumer and the companies that are trying to meet this consumer’s demands and look for specific employment opportunities within these companies.
“Diverse candidates should leverage their own diversity. By that I mean they should market the fact that they have a strong history of managing change, charting new waters, and learning how to connect with cultures that are different from their own. Organizations need leaders and employees who are flexible, adaptable, and willing to learn.”