News Column

Diverse Workforces Help With the Bottom Line

December 2007, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Nicole Ibarra

Geri Thomas, Bank of America’s  senior vice president of human resources and global diversity, and inclusion executive.
Geri Thomas, Bank of America’s senior vice president of human resources and global diversity, and inclusion executive.

The corporate world has moved on from the typical three-day diversity training classes once used by many businesses nationwide. Now companies are including their diversity employees in their business strategies, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it's also good for their bottom lines.

In order to fully incorporate diversity employees, companies are now using integrated approaches, which tie diversity into company business practices and operations.

Bank of America officials say the banking giant fosters a diverse and inclusive workplace because it gives them the business advantage of understanding and addressing the needs of their associates, customers, clients, and shareholders.

"As a company we manage diversity as we do any other business principal," says Geri Thomas, Bank of America's senior vice president of human resources and global diversity and inclusion executive. "We have a global diversity and inclusion council, a group of senior leaders appointed by the chairman and CEO, who are actively promoting an inclusive work environment."

The council is charged with developing and implementing diversity initiatives supporting Bank of America's core values.

"We have associate groups called affinity groups and another inclusive diversity network through Team Bank of America," says Ms. Thomas. "These groups work together to ensure a diverse and inclusive work environment and share perspectives and backgrounds. This helps us be more competitive in the marketplace."

Bank of America's affinity groups, which are associate groups that share a common identity and meet periodically to network, mentor, and support each other, include the Hispanic/Latino Organization for Leadership and Advancement, Black Professional Group, Asian Leadership Network, and the Pride Resource Group.

Ms. Thomas credits the hiring of diverse employees with helping provide better products and services.

This year, Bank of America set out to hire more bilingual associates.

"In order for us to meet our business needs it is critical that our workforce reflect where we do business and that it meets our diverse customer needs," Ms. Thomas says. "(Diversity) can make the difference in the marketplace."

Many companies surveyed for the 2005 Workplace Diversity Practices Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said affinity groups were critical in helping them reduce costs associated with employee turnover and low productivity, and helped increase the company's competitiveness.

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola recruited members of the company's Latin American Employee Forum to help pitch its Full Throttle Blue Demon drink to Hispanic merchants. Blue Demon was inspired by a popular Mexican wrestler.

Coke's six affinity groups are responsible for an annual business plan that includes the group's budget, values, and objectives. Each network has an executive sponsor and all six groups meet every quarter to share best practices.

Boehringer Ingelheim, a pharmaceuticals company based in Ridgefield, Conneticut, is another company that supports diversity in the workplace.

For Hispanic Heritage month, Boehringer-Ingelheim hosted a coffee drive to provide many different coffees from all over South America, as a way to get others to socialize and to try coffee from various Latin American countries.

"We also worked with our café to have different Latin dishes throughout the entire month," says Nancy Di Dia, human resources and diversity and inclusion practitioner at Boehringer-Ingelheim.

The company was recently awarded the highest possible rating in the 2008 Best Places to Work Corporate Equality Index prepared by the Human Rights Campaign. The index rates how companies in the United States treat their gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender employees, consumers and investors.

"The program and policies that we have put in place here at Boehringer Ingelheim demonstrate our strong belief in a more inclusive culture, one in which every employee feels valued and welcomed," says President and CEO J. Martin Carroll.

Boehringer Ingelheim also puts importance on affinity groups, including the newly named Latino Employee Network Group, "LA BIICA!", which stands for "Latinos at Boehringer Ingelheim Influencing Change Ahora!"

"LA BIICA! will serve as a catalyst for ideas to develop the leadership of employees at B.I. as well as contribute to the growth of the organization," says Ms. Di Dia.

Affinity groups, say supporters, can provide companies with insight into the needs and tastes of various segments of the marketplace and give a company a competitive edge.

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine and, Copyright (c) 2007 All Rights Reserved.

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