Even as an increasing number of companies throughout the U.S. are recognizing that diversity is critical to increasing profits, one company has already reached out and excelled at it.
This year AT&T heads the 2008 Hispanic Business Diversity Elite, a list of the nation's top 60 companies as measured in terms of best practices in the overall field of diversity and inclusion.
The San Antonio-based telecommunications giant was ranked a close second last year but rang up a first-place finish this year thanks to its outstanding performance in the areas of Hispanic hiring, promotion, marketing, philanthropy and supplier diversity.
Establishing itself as the gold standard for Hispanic diversity is no accident at AT&T, according to Angiolina Wiskocil, the company's senior vice-president of consumer information technology.
The corporation relentlessly nurtures small businesses and hires, grooms, and promotes employees who can help shape strategies to target the Hispanic consumer.
"There is an intentional strategy of bringing in talented Hispanics who know the Hispanic market and how to service it," says Ms. Wiskocil. "Diversity is a part of our value system, part of our strategy and part of our corporate culture. It provides us with a real competitive edge."
To keep that edge, AT&T created in February the new position of chief diversity officer to oversee programs throughout the entire corporation. "The thought behind that was to make sure that diversity remains first and foremost in everyone's minds as the company has grown," mostly through acquisitions, says chief diversity officer Cyndy Brinkley.
Ranked No. 10 on the Fortune 500 with revenues last year nudging $119 billion, AT&T claims a long record of involvement with a diversity strategy.
"The company has always been engaged in the Hispanic market and has always understood it," says Carlos Orta, president of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, a Washington, D.C.-based diversity watchdog group. "The company has always been there for the Hispanic community in terms of employment and procurement," he adds.
Twelve percent of the company's 300,000-plus employees are Hispanic, as are seven percent of managers and four percent of officers and senior managers.
AT&T holds officers and managers responsible for meeting numerical diversity targets. "As I do operations reviews with my bosses, I always read out whether I've made progress on my diversity percentages and why or why not. We treat it just like any other operations metric," says Jose Gutierrez, executive vice-president of enterprise business sales.
If there is a weak spot in AT&T's diversity model, it is that there are no Hispanics on the 14-member board of directors. The company responded to the criticism by explaining that it has not elected a new board member in 15 years. All additions to the board have been made following acquisitions. However, a company statement said if a suitably qualified Hispanic candidate is identified, "we would be more than happy to consider their candidacy."
AT&T plans to move headquarters to Dallas by end of this year, for easier transportation access to its business operations and worldwide customers. Mr. Orta believes the new location may help boost Hispanic hiring.
Currently, AT&T has nine Hispanic senior executives who influence the corporate strategy of reaching out to customers, including Hispanics, says Ms. Wiskocil.
For example, under the leadership of Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, the unit has amassed more Hispanic subscribers than any other wireless service – 71 million. AT&T Mobility has more than 600 retail stores with bilingual service staff and information.
Ms. Wiskocil believes she was also able to help shape some of the Hispanic marketing and outreach plans when, in 2001, she helped spearhead an effort to introduce bilingual customer billing.
Like many companies that pursue diversity , AT&T measures progress with hard business figures.
The company tracks the number of Hispanic wireless and long-distance customers, the volume of calls to AT&T's 20 bilingual customer service centers, and traffic to www.lanuevaatt.com, the Spanish-language Web site introduced in 2003.
AT&T also sets the pace in doing business with minority vendors. The company is one of only 13 members of the Billion Dollar Roundtable (BDR), a Dallas-based organization of companies that spend at least $1 billion annually with minority- and women-owned suppliers.
Last year AT&T spent $5 billion – 12.5 percent of its total procurement budget – with such businesses, far above the average 8.2 percent for BDR members.
AT&T has helped nourish the growth of many minority vendors, including Argent Associates Inc. Betty Manetta launched the company in 1998 and started doing business with AT&T the next year, managing equipment inventory and delivery for the telecommunication company's long distance service.
Argent's first AT&T contract contributed about $500,000 to the Edison, N.J.-based startup's bottom line. However, AT&T has gradually coached and trained Argent to handle more business and last year accounted for about 40 percent of the firm's $19 million revenue.
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