Back in March President Obama toured Southern California Edison's electric vehicle center to get a close-up view of the energy company's efforts to power the next generation of plug-in hybrid vehicles.
It was Obama's first visit to California as president, and visiting Edison was among his top priorities.
"Here at Southern California Edison, and all across the country, in factories and laboratories, at the Big Three and at small startups, these innovations are taking place right now," Obama said at the time.
The speech brought international attention to a company that for generations has been at the forefront of innovation. And at the backbone of the company's success, has been its commitment to diversity on multiple fronts.
At Edison, about one in three employees -- and 20 percent of the managers -- are Hispanic. A little more than half of the company's employees is a minority.
"Our hiring practices are to reach out to the communities we serve," said Veronica Gutierrez, vice-president Corporate Communications. "We are in probably the most diverse community in the country and we benefit from that. It is really important to our employees that we embrace diversity."
From the top down Edison has grappled with a wide range of diversity initiatives. The company ranked No. 1 on this year's list of Diversity companies, based on survey data provided by the company to HispanicBusiness Magazine.
From board leadership and retention and promotion of minorities to marketing and supplier diversity contracts, Edison has made diversity a fundamental part of its business culture.
Edison's success comes amid increasing pressure from the California Public Utilities Commission and advocacy organizations such as the Greenlining Institute to increase the number contracts awarded to minority-owned suppliers.
To be considered for the listing as one of the Top 60 Diversity Companies, businesses submit metrics in 32 areas of diversity activity. Those indicators suggest Edison has a strong track record of diversity and have resulted in a return to the top after leading the list in 2007.
From marketing to Hispanic consumers to recruitment of Hispanic employees, Edison has recently taken several high-profile steps to show its commitment to diversity initiatives.
Last year, Edison, which provides power to 11 million people in California, launched a successful ad campaign in Spanish, English, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean. Like President Obama, the ads spotlighted Edison's green energy initiatives.
Notably, the people who starred in the videos were not minority actors; they were Edison employees -- more than 600, in fact, who tried out for 37 spots.
"Folks are really proud to work here," Ms. Gutierrez said. "Our employees are our primary ambassadors."
A robust corporate giving program to nonprofit groups who serve minorities is another example of the company's diversity outreach.
"We target a lot of underserved communities," noted Ms. Gutierrez. "At least 60 percent of our grants go toward minority communities. We really feel the difference when we do that. Last year Edison gave $12 million in charity and this year it hopes to top $13 million."
One of the company's successes has been the formation of "Affinity Groups," where Edison employees form networking and support groups for Hispanic, African-Americans, women, Native Americans and those with roots in Vietnam, China, the Middle East, and members of the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender communities. Still, the CPUC has urged Southern California Edison and other California utilities to do more in the area of philanthropy with minority communities.
The connections help foster a diversity culture. But the efforts don't stop in-house.
Edison has been able to maintain such a high record of minority hiring by proactively recruiting young talent with its extensive campus recruitment and internship program.
"One of the things we see is the importance of community education opportunities because that is who we are going to be drawing from in the future," Ms. Gutierrez said. "We are facing an age bubble here and those people who are retiring have a tremendous amount of experience."
Edison needs a steady infusion of new talent largely to keep up with the company's diverse operations. While some businesses are feeling the sting of the recession, Edison's must keep up with requirements of a changing society and the regulatory climate.
"Because we are such a highly regulated company, we have a commitment to a tremendous buildout of our infrastructure," Ms. Gutierrez said. "We really don't have a choice to keep the lights on here and we have a rate payer base that allows us to do that. There is so much work to do. Much of that work involves partnering with smaller minority-owned companies. Even though Edison ranked No. 1 for Diversity, the year admittedly was a tough one for the utility company. The California Public Utilities Commission recommends that public utilities shoot for a supplier-diversity goal in which 15 percent of the goods and services purchased would come from minority-owned firms. Last year Edison fell short; supplier diversity contracting was just 13.6 percent of its total procurement spend.
"It's one of those things, we can't hit a home run every year, and this last year was our one bad year," said Joe Alderete, the company's manager of supplier diversity. But Mr. Alderete says the company expects to come roaring back in 2009 with 17 percent. Add to that its procurement goals for women-owned businesses and disabled-veteran-owned businesses, and it amounts to 25 percent, or $700 million.
Take a step back from the percentages, however, and Edison says supplier diversity is about more than just numbers.
"It is not about just contracting with minority-owned business," Ms. Gutierrez said. "We also want to empower them. Our contractors are dear to us. We see them as full partners. This is not about filling numbers, it is about getting the job done."
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