…But Can You Walk The Walk?

When we published our List of the “30 Best Companies for Diversity” in July, we learned that as much as corporate America touts the importance of diversity in business, many companies are still uncertain about how to maximize the benefits of a more creative and strategic workforce to enhance their bottom lines. They are unsure about how changing U.S. demographics as well as emerging global markets will impact how they market goods and services.

We’ve learned that even those with a “good” record in diversity still struggle with implementation. Ask Marcel T. Thomas, the 43-year-old chief executive of GE Aviation Materials, who is skeptical of General Electric Co.’s reportedly strong track record in diversity. An employee since 2001, Thomas is suing GE, claiming the company engaged in discriminatory practices against African Americans, underpaid black managers denied them promotions, and retaliated against them when they objected.

General Electric did not make BLACK ENTERPRISE’s “30 Best Companies for Diversity,” but 17 of the companies on our list have been the target of discrimination lawsuits within the last two years. In fact, lawsuits, complaints, and frustrations — on both sides of the table–are a result of the many challenges experts suggest will be ongoing as corporate America struggles to manage issues surrounding gender, race, and culture. “We have to remember that a corporation is actually a microcosm of society,” explains Essie Calhoun, vice president, chief diversity officer, and director of community affairs for Eastman Kodak Co. “So, what we are attempting to do when we come together to work is what, in the United States and globally, has not been successful and what society has not achieved.”

Recently, BE hosted a Chief Diversity Officers Roundtable at our New York headquarters. We did this to give our readers an inside look at how corporate diversity programs work, from the leaders responsible for their execution and implementation. Calhoun and several other senior-level diversity executives came together for a candid discussion of the challenges and benefits of developing a diversity program that serves the business agenda of an organization and embraces all associates of the company. Those in attendance included Kedrick Adkins, CDO and country managing director for Accenture; Emmanuel Bailey, vice president and CDO of Fannie Mae Corp.; Andre Goodlett, senior director of diversity for the Hershey Co.; Pat Harris, CDO at McDonald’s Corp.; and Charlyn Jarrells Porter, senior vice president and CDO for Wal-Mart. All of the companies represented by these executives participated in BE’s most recent diversity survey. Three of the companies — McDonald’s, Eastman Kodak, and Wal-Mart — made our diversity list.

Although each company has had unique experiences with diversity and inclusion, these corporate diversity leaders agree that there are several components necessary in taking diversity beyond “the right thing to do” and making it integral to the operational culture of a corporation. They include having support from the CEO, incorporating diversity into the business plan of the company, getting all employees to understand the business imperative of diversity, measuring accountability, developing a viable pipeline of talent,