News Column

Diversity Advantage -- Gil Casellas has spent a lifetime advancing corporate responsibility

February 11, 2011

Gary Fackler -- HispanicBusiness

"When we think about sustainability, we think of a triple bottom line," Gilbert "Gil" Casellas explains. "Planet, profits and people."

That, in a nutshell, defines the goal of corporate responsibility—sustainability, which Dow Jones defines as "embracing opportunities and managing risks deriving from economic, environmental and social developments."

Mr. Casellas says the "people" part of the sustainability equation is a key ingredient because if you establish a work force that is a reflection of your community, you gain a competitive advantage and everyone benefits. The corporation gets a work force that is in tune with the buying public and with local vendors and suppliers. The community gets assistance with employment-related issues like education and poverty.

Few professionals have the depth of experience of Mr. Casellas, who has championed social causes in both the public and private sector for nearly 30 years. He has detailed knowledge of the role of government in legislating employment law, and the challenges of corporations in integrating that law—then turning that implementation into a competitive advantage.

Today, Mr. Casellas mostly consults with the firm Omnitru. He consults with tech companies, investor groups, media and corporate clients on issues related to defense, intelligence and homeland defense.

But he still consults on corporate responsibility and diversity, as well as sitting on the diversity advisory board for Toyota Motors. Previously, he was the vice president for corporate responsibility at Dell Computers.

At Dell, Mr. Casellas' formulated a plan that integrated diversity into a comprehensive program for good corporate citizenship.

"And it definitely helps in recruiting," he says, because today's diverse work force wants to work for a company with corporate leaders who look like them.

One of Mr. Casellas most significant accomplishments at Dell was the alignment of good corporate citizenship with the corporation's imperative of rolling out the digital hardware comprising tomorrow's information infrastructure.

The company created a YouthConnect program designed to provide access to computers to underserved children around the world.

Public Sector Service
Mr. Casellas was no stranger to social causes prior to joining Dell. For more than three years, he was chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), having been handpicked for that role by then-President Bill Clinton.

He had a big impact at EEOC on a number of fronts. First, he reduced the case load of the commission by fine-tuning the intake process, filtering out cases without merit up front, which allowed his staff to focus on cases that warranted rigorous review.

A second accomplishment was the institution of an alternative dispute resolution program designed to boost the efficiency of the commission by resolving cases through mediation, rather than lengthy court proceedings.

A final EEOC achievement was a boost in voluntary compliance with employment regulation, as well as increased participation in training programs for employers anxious to make sure they are in compliance with regulation.

The net result of these achievements has been a reduction by nearly half of the cases tried by the commission.

But perhaps his most important accomplishment at the commission was a boosting of morale among the staff there.

"I have worked hard to restore a sense of pride at the agency," he said.

What Drives Gil?
Mr. Casellas' accomplishments in social justice, both in the public and private sectors, are remarkable in their scale and their scope. Which naturally leads to the question: what motivated him to accomplish such great things?

"Early on, I was not motivated to become active in civil rights," says Mr. Casellas, who was more interested in bettering his life through education than he was in championing diversity. "I wanted to get the best education I could everystep of the way."

But growing up in a segregated Florida had a big impact on him. He attended Tampa's St. Peter Claver school, an institution with a rich tradition of providing quality education to the region's underserved

The school was nearly destroyed in 1894, when a fire destroyed much of the facility. Near the site of the blaze, a small, hand-lettered sign read: "The citizens of Tampa are opposed to the education of the Negroes because they fear that when they have been educated, they will refuse to work, and they now do whatever service is expected of them."

It was written during a time when the word "Negro" was applied to any Florida resident who did not have the white complexion of those with European ancestry. That included the large Hispanic community with brown skin who immigrated to the area from Cuba, Costa Rica and other Latin countries.

They were the carefully chosen words of misguided people from another time in Florida, but not that far removed from the present—recent enough, in fact, to leave indelible marks in the psyches of future graduates of the institution after it reopened, including young Mr. Casellas.

The school rose from the ashes, and in the process inspired the marginalized son of a seamstress and a postal letter carrier to become one of the preeminent civil rights champions in America's Southeast.

Source: (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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