—Additional reporting by Carolyn M. Brown, Kenneth Meeks, Matthew S. Scott & Sakina P. Spruell
What makes a company good at diversity? The answer to that simple question has become increasingly complicated over the years. The bottom-line benefits of diversity and relatively new phenomenon of diversity lists published by mainstream magazines have created a seemingly endless variety of platforms and measures with which to discuss, evaluate, and celebrate effective diversity practices. Depending on who’s doing the measuring and which way the winds of political correctness are blowing, the inclusion of everyone from white women and the disabled to older workers and gays and lesbians has been upheld as proof of a company’s profound commitment to equal opportunity and inclusion. Almost any activity—from ad campaigns featuring models matching the ethnic composition of the United Nations to donations made by a corporation’s foundation to an inner-city nonprofit—can be passed off by a company as part of its “diversity strategy.”
As a result, any company that wants to position itself as an inclusive organization committed to diversity can find the right measuring stick and come up with the right pitch to make its case. In fact, diversity is far from universally established as a priority in corporate America. As quiet as it’s kept, many of the companies making sincere and significant investments of money and resources toward achieving the ideal of diversity within their organizations have no idea how to measure their progress —or even whether they are headed in the right direction. This reality is at the foundation of African Americans’ distrust of corporate America’s oft trumpeted commitment to diversity. It is also behind our concern, despite evidence to the contrary, that this new “core corporate value” is not being used as an aid to our inclusion and advancement.
That’s why we’ve spent the better part of the past year putting together the BLACK ENTERPRISE 30 Best Companies for Diversity list. To arrive at this list, we evaluated diversity programs, consulted with diversity experts and corporate diversity officers, and conducted an extensive survey of 1,000 of America’s largest publicly traded companies and 50 leading global companies with significant U.S. operations. To make the BE Best Companies for Diversity list, a company must demonstrate significant representation of African Americans and other ethnic minorities in four key areas: corporate procurement, corporate boards, senior management, and the total workforce.
Why these areas and not other activities—such as charitable contributions or support of social programs or community organizations—commonly promoted by companies as evidence of their commitment to diversity? Because whom a company hires, seeks out for executive leadership and strategic direction, and does business with are objective and measurable areas of activity rooted in a corporation’s operation, direction, culture, and core values. Diversity in advertising images (as opposed to actual spending with black- and minority-owned media), promotion, marketing, scholarships, community service, and other outreach are meaningful only to the degree that they support and enhance corporate performance in the above-mentioned primary areas. In the absence of measurable results in