Top Talent Need Apply

Each month, the American public has met the U.S. Labor Department’s unemployment reports with a great deal of apprehension. And with good reason: Since the recession began in December 2007, nearly 6 million Americans have received pink slips. So you probably figure that your prospects for employment in this environment are virtually nonexistent. Well, think again.

For the fifth consecutive year, our editors have chosen the 40 Best Companies for Diversity. BE Research surveyed more than 1,000 of the nation’s largest publicly traded corporations and 50 international businesses with significant operations in the U.S., measuring four key areas of diversity—black and other ethnic minority representation in senior management, procurement, workforce, and board membership. But in conducting scores of interviews, Editorial Director Sonia Alleyne, who oversaw this editorial package with assistance from Careers Editor Annya M. Lott, made a surprising discovery. In addition to not shirking their commitment to diversity in the toughest of business environments—the truest demonstration of corporate inclusion—most companies on our roster are actually hiring. Collectively, there are more than 40,000 job openings among these corporations and some are seeking to add hundreds to their payrolls.

Despite the fact that many companies have undergone massive reconstruction, C-suite strategists have targeted growth areas such as the green economy and information technology, to name a few. As a result, these corporate leaders have spawned new divisions, business units, commercial projects, and spinoffs. And the companies best poised to profit from today’s shifting business landscape are those seeking to recruit, retain, and elevate workers from a diverse pool of professionals.

“We’ve found that productivity is up in corporate America and a number of companies continue to look for top-notch managers in areas such as technology, operations, and finance,” maintains Alleyne. “Our ‘Top Companies for Diversity’ have identified and continue to identify the most creative, innovative, and hard-working employees—an overwhelming number of whom are African Americans and minorities. They realize, in times good or bad, talent is their most prized asset.”

In many cases, this cadre of exceptional executives will be included as part of the C-suite pipeline for companies on our list and throughout global business. One of the strongest examples of such value creation through diverse talent came a week before we wrapped up this issue. Xerox Corp., a perennial on the “Top Companies for Diversity” list, recently named Ursula Burns as its new CEO—the only African American woman at the helm of one of the nation’s top 1,000 publicly traded corporations. A veteran who joined Xerox as a mechanical engineering intern in 1980, Burns, 50, has played critical roles in global research, product development, marketing, and delivery. And as president since April 2007, she has worked closely with Anne M. Mulcahy, who will retain her post as chairman, to bring about a multibillion-dollar turnaround of the office equipment manufacturing giant.

A member of BE’s 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America, Burns is one of six African American CEOs who operate companies on this year’s listing. The other five are American Express Co.’s Kenneth I. Chenault, WGL Holdings Inc.’s James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr., TIAA-CREF’s Roger W. Ferguson Jr., Darden Restaurant Inc.’s Clarence Otis Jr., and Aetna’s Ronald Williams. (In an unrelated article in this issue, we feature Editorial Director Alan Hughes’ exclusive interview with Ferguson, former vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System and member of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, as he shares his views on the state of our economy and the financial markets.)

In developing this year’s list, we present opportunities at America’s most inclusive companies to our readership. And despite today’s economic tsunami—and in some cases because of it—we will continue to see African American professionals rise to the top and achieve at the highest levels. The end result: a diversity of breakthroughs and a new era of corporate performance.

ACROSS THE WEB