By Wallace Edward BrandWallace Edward Brand practices law in his own firm in Washington, DC, where he represents small electric systems.
how you're trying to communicate with [customers]."
Conley says a recent ad campaign, explaining why increased gas prices increased customers' rates, succeeded in large part because of input from diverse employees. "When you get something from an ad agency that doesn't understand Louisiana, it doesn't fit, so you make a lot of adjustments [based on input] from people that live here, work here, and have diverse backgrounds," she says. That input increased ad effectiveness, improved customer understanding, and relayed the information the company wanted to relay. "So it's money well spent, and customers view you more positively," Conley notes.
Alliant isn't interested in diversity "just because it feels good, but because it makes good business sense," says Bernie Nugent, the managing director of human resources and labor relations at the company. "We feel a diverse organization makes better decisions." Nugent says increasingly diverse labor markets, an increasingly diverse customer base, and greater business interaction worldwide make diversity business-friendly.
At the moment, the labor force supply exceeds the demand in the United States. But that balance is expected to shift dramatically over the next couple decades. Nugent cites projected gaps in both the United States and Europe between a shrinking native workforce and jobs that need to be filled. He, along with other experts, predicts immigrants will help fill that gap over the next 40 years.
To cope with these expected changes, Alliant has set multiple goals for minority recruitment and retention for 2003. The company aims to achieve a minimum of 10 percent diverse new hires, or possibly reach the "distinguished" level of 15 percent. On the retention side, Nugent says that at a bare minimum, the company wants no more than 6 percent of its departing employees be minorities (3 percent qualifies as "distinguished"). Last year, Nugent said, 6.67 percent of Alliant's departing employees were minorities; somewhere between 8 and 10 percent of new hires were diverse.
More than a few utilities will face a large wave of retirements very soon, as the retirement of baby boomers during the next 10 to 20 years drives down the number of workers.
Donna Smith, human resources director at Alabama Power, says, "We have a lot of people who will be retiring in the next 10 years, so we're focused on hiring, and getting ready for those vacancies." While the Birmingham population historically has had a large black segment-in the neighborhood of 25 percent-in the last decade there has been a big increase in the Latino population, according to an Alabama Power spokesman.
Joyce Feaster, assistant vice president of human resources at We Energies, says one of the big motivators for diversity is customer service. In the company's service territories, customer demographics are changing, with growing populations of ethnic minorities. Feaster says it's crucial the company understand its customer base. Part of that, she points out, is communicating with customers in their native language, if they don't speak English. "We don't have full customer choice at the residential level, but we can envision that [it] will happen. To exclude or not tap