News Column

Diversity in the Big City

June 2002, HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

Vivienne Heines

We’re living in a changing world demographically. To be successful, we have to incorporate those changes into our company,” says Oscar Gomez, vice-president of diversity for Verizon Communications in New York City. “We are striving to be the company that everyone wants to come work for.” Diversity among employees has emerged as a top priority for being “the company that everyone wants to work for,” according to a new study from The New York Times. The survey, conducted in March 2002, reveals that both hiring managers and job seekers in the New York metro area strongly associate diversity with equal opportunity and fairness, and they believe diversity makes for a good workplace. Other key findings from the survey:• Caucasian job seekers were more likely to associate fairness with diversity (93 percent) than were job seekers of other races (78 percent).
• The vast majority of those surveyed (94 percent) would prefer to work in a diverse workplace, and 77 percent said they will look for a diverse workplace in their next job.
•More than half of the job seekers (57 percent) felt that workplace diversity is more of an issue in the New York area than in other parts of the country. A major impetus behind the study was to determine the effects of September 11 on diversity. The survey found that a majority of job seekers (58 percent) and nearly half of hiring managers (44 percent) say September 11 has affected workplace diversity in the greater New York metropolitan area. Eighteen percent of job seekers and 12 percent of hiring managers believe there is more workplace discrimination since the terrorist attack. Despite that assessment, nearly half of hiring managers (48 percent) believe workplaces will be more diverse one year from now, while more than a quarter of job seekers (29 percent) agree. In the aftermath of the tragedy, “smart companies will redouble their efforts with regard to training employees and managers [in] tolerance of religious and social differences,” says Gilbert Casellas, former chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a board member of the Hispanic Federation, a New York–based group of Hispanic health and human services organizations. Roberto Llamas, global head of human resources for the investment firm Lehman Bros., says his company had two floors in the north tower of the World Trade Center. In the months afterward, the employees had to find new office space while dealing with the shock of what occurred. “Putting our business back together and getting work space really preoccupied us,” Mr. Llamas recalls. “We haven’t noticed any backlash or thinking differently about people,” he adds. At Verizon, officials took a proactive approach to the tragedy, Mr. Gomez reports. The company’s office next to the World Trade Center supported 200,000 voice lines and 3 million private lines before September 11. “We communicated with all our employees and reiterated our zero-tolerance code of business conduct with respect to different religions,” Mr. Gomez says. “Even though it was tragic, it brought us together as a company.” The diversity message has melded into the firm’s business plan, compensation package, and leadership development programs. Verizon officials made diversity a high priority two years ago when the company was born from the merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp. Often, women and minorities are among the first to be laid off during a merger and subsequent downsizing, but Verizon officials were determined not to allow that to happen, according to Mr. Gomez. To justify the long-term business wisdom of Verizon’s policies, Mr. Gomez cites research on diversity and performance. A Fortune magazine report claims that the companies rated best for minorities to work for outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 on a three-year basis. Another study, conducted by the American Management Association, found that sales revenues increased as companies added women and minorities to their workforces. For Mr. Gomez, the logic is simple. “We are striving for our employee base to look like our customer base,” he says. “The telecommunications industry has become very competitive. The company that is going to be successful is the company that keys in on its marketplace.”

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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