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Culture Shock

By 2020, nearly half the workforce will be female and non-white. Are utilities ready?
Fortnightly Magazine - June 1 2003

president of coaching and executive development at Korn Ferry International, is whether the company thinks it's getting the lion's share of top minority and women recruits. She advocates encouraging those kind of candidates, when they are still students, to pursue education and training that will make them qualified for jobs at the utility down the road.

There is a time factor in assessing a company's progress on diversity, Smye says. Companies that consistently hew to a set of values around diversity, she says, will see payoffs over the long term; those improvements won't be immediately apparent.

One way to gauge effectiveness before many years have passed, Smye suggests, is to look at the job applications. If diverse candidates are interviewed, yet the recruit is always a white male, "you've got a problem." But recruiting diverse candidates alone does not suffice. If retention and promotion are not also part of the effort, "it's just a revolving door," says Feaster at We Energies.

In many instances, the problem is less about a lack of qualified candidates and more about environments that are less than welcoming to women or minorities. Smye cites the example of car sales, which is still a predominantly male preserve. Car dealers complain that the reason they can't find women salespeople is because women don't want to work the necessary long hours. Yet, Smye observes, women work in retail and call centers, both of which also require long hours. "The reason car dealers can't get women is that the environment is not conducive to women. Car sales environments are extremely macho, a kind of old boys clubs [in which men say] we know how to do it, and exclude women, and make sexist jokes around women. Women don't find that atmosphere appealing."

It is difficult, but essential, to gauge softer values, such as how different groups of employees feel about the company's progress on creating a more diverse, inclusive company. The perceptions of groups typically differ widely. For example, one utility that has been aggressively pursuing a more diverse workplace commissioned an independent study to gauge where it was on the path to inclusiveness. On a six-point scale, most white men pegged the company at 5, indicating they thought that the company had nearly achieved its diversity goals. White women, on the other hand, gave the company culture a 4, saying that there was a growing core of people who were different from the typical employee, but they weren't necessarily valued for their talents and perspectives. People of color (both men and women) graded the company even lower, at 3, meaning that they thought the company tolerated different appearances, but not different behaviors.

On Board?

Even if an organization has a relatively diverse mix of gender and minorities within its workforce, those people often feel the glass ceiling problem acutely if they do not also see faces like theirs in upper management and on the board of directors of their company.

A diverse board and executive team signals an inclusive company, says Smye. And the converse is also true, she says.