action has also led to the former becoming an industry unto itself. Diversity is now big business, representing billions of dollars in annual spending and inspiring an army of diversity specialists in professions ranging from executive recruiting and advertising to law and publishing. Once considered a subject of interest only to “minority” media, white-owned consumer publications such as Fortune and trade magazines such as the Diversity Inc. have begun to produce their own minority executives lists and diversity rankings during the past several years. However, more than three decades ago–long before diversity became a part of the lexicon of corporate America–BE published the first of our several lists of top diversity companies “The Best Places for Blacks to Work.” We didn’t call it diversity back then, but BE has been evaluating corporate America’s halting progress toward the full and equal participation of African Americans in all facets of American industry since the publication of our first issue in 1970.
Along the way, we helped establish what is now widely accepted wisdom among corporate leaders who understand the benefits of diversity. What a number of CEOs missed in the 1970s and 1980s (and affirmative action opponents fail to recognize today) is that diversity is a business imperative. It is needed to ensure that American industry rema
ins globally competitive and that corporate America makes use of all the human resources and intellectual capital–regardless of race and ethnicity–at its disposal. In fact, a racially and ethnically diverse workforce impacts both the top and bottom lines of corporations as they target black, Latino, and Asian consumers to grow revenues, profits, and market share. With the nation’s demographic shift, in which minorities are increasingly becoming the majority, CEOs cannot afford to ignore the impact of that shift on their workforce and consumer markets.
Despite the established and growing recognition of diversity as a business imperative, discussions around diversity remain sensitive, implementation of diversity practices is still met with ambivalence, and managing an effective diversity program continues to be fraught with challenges of commitment and resources. “They have to go to the NAACP dinner; they have to participate in the Urban League breakfast; they have to support women in technology,” offers Watson. “The unfortunate reality is that many [companies] are irritated that they have to move beyond those things. They want to focus on what they consider ‘running the business.’ Unfortunately, many of these folks don’t consider having a strong diversity effort part of running the business.”
In fact, Watson and other diversity experts note that the vast majority of large corporations have invested zero resources in pursuit of a diversity strategy and have no plans to do so. That more than two-thirds of the 1,050 companies surveyed for our Best Companies for Diversity list were either unwilling or unable to participate supports this observation. The reasons given for nonparticipation were, in a word, diverse. A number of companies cited reluctance to reveal competitive data. Other corporations engaged in “self-disqualification,” removing themselves from the survey process due to