Flex Your Financial Muscle

Whether you're buying a new car or a tube of toothpaste, make sure you spend your hard-earned money with companies that invest in your community

When Deborah Foster, a network administrator at Street Law Inc. in Washington, D.C., decided to dump her employer’s current long-distance provider, ATX Communication, because it "just didn’t fit the bill," she turned to the NAACP’s 1998 Report on the Telecommunications Industry for guidance. It provided a snapshot of company diversity policies and practices toward African Americans. Unfortunately, the long-distance provider she preferred, MCI/Worldcom, received a C rating, and Foster was forced to look elsewhere for service. "I really considered MCI because their offerings were good, but when I checked the NAACP’s report card, I was surprised by their [low] rating," Foster explains. "Since they merged with Worldcom and keep using Michael Jordan in their commercials, you would think they’d have a higher ranking." Street Law Inc., a nonprofit organization with about 25 employees, develops curricula that teach people about law, democracy and human rights. It averages $1,000 a month in long-distance charges because of its high volume of international calls.

According to the survey results, MCI/Worldcom failed to support African Americans in the following areas: advertising and marketing activities, vendor relationships and service deployment. It was also reported that fewer than 6% of its board of directors or corporate officers were African Americans.

Instead, Foster chose Winstar, a new carrier offering local, long-distance and Internet service targeted at small- to medium-sized businesses. "Even though they were not one of the companies that the NAACP graded, after talking with their district manager, I was satisfied that they were making strides in diversity and decided to give them a chance," she says.

When Foster directed some of her diversity concerns to Winstar’s salesperson, who happened to be Hispanic, she was immediately given the telephone number of the area manager. Although he said the company hadn’t achieved as much as it would like, the manager assured Foster that the company was actively recruiting more African American employees. He also said the firm had recently hired someone to specifically further that effort.

"I plan to turn their information over to the NAACP to find out how they’re really doing because I try to make a little bit of difference where I can," adds Foster.
Are you making a difference? Your instincts would probably cause you to blurt out "Absolutely!" At least that’s what you’ve been saying in the surveys. More than eight out of 10 African Americans (84%) indicated that they would be more likely to buy from companies or stores that have a history of supporting their community, according to a 1998 study conducted by Ketchum Public Relations’ Worldwide African American Markets Group in Atlanta in collaboration with Florida A&M University’s School of Business and Industry. The same study reported that 76.3% of African Americans are more likely to buy from companies that feature blacks using their products or services.

But if this is truly the case, why don’t companies’ hiring and spending practices at least reflect the amount of money they receive from the African American

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