To help accomplish those connections, Philip Morris – with more than 180,000 employees – supports two types of employee groups. One type, begun in the 1980s in the company's food businesses, is employee-led but management-supported. Some of these groups continue for years, attracting hundreds of volunteer members. Groups of the other type are composed of eight to ten employees appointed by management to tackle specific issues.
"Our affinity groups, as they're called elsewhere, are grassroots efforts," Ms. Harrison says. "Each has an executive liaison to the corporate management councils. This is usually a top management person who provides insight into how the group's activities fit into the bigger picture of the company.
"The groups may help with recruitment [accompanying recruiters to talk about what it's like to work at the company], work on their own professional development, do community involvement work, or put on in-house cultural programs." The groups have annual objectives, company-funded budgets, and plans for succession of leadership.
Almost all the employee groups present leadership development programs. "It generates buzz through the entire workforce," Ms. Harrison says. Leadership activities are open to everyone, not only group members. "Just by being on the council, too, people can develop their leadership skills and their platform skills."
Employee groups also contribute to the company's health. "The Hispanic groups have helped the marketing people especially to gain a lot of insight into different groups within the Hispanic population, such as native-born and Latin American–born," Ms. Harrison says.
Philip Morris's management-appointed employee councils work toward specific goals on a timetable. For example, the Worldwide Law Department group in 2001 came up with a departmental diversity action plan by deciding what it would accomplish, developing the steps to accomplish it, and gathering information through focus groups. The idea was to strengthen the law department's operations.
When the company has called on its employees for ideas, they've "risen to the occasion," Ms. Harrison says, adding that a climate of inclusion helps everyone to work better.
"You obviously want talent, but if you want committed employees, you have to commit to them, too," she says. "Employee groups can be a social thing, but they're really about adding value to the business. It's such a win-win situation when you create an environment where talent can flourish."
While the impetus for diversity comes from the marketplace, the execution in a particular corporation "all comes down to a commitment from the top," says Mr. Arias. Survey results support this top-down theory of organizational change. The company with the highest percentage of Hispanics on its board – Wal-Mart Stores, at 13.3 percent (two Hispanics on its board of 15) – also reports the greatest number of Hispanic employees. The retailing giant's payroll includes more than 107,000 Hispanics, making it the largest private employer of Hispanics in the nation.
None of the publicly traded corporations in the survey has a Hispanic CEO yet, but information on each corporation's 50 highest-paid executives again shows a link to diversity. Adolph Coors Co. has six Hispanics among its top 50, PepsiCo has five, and SBC Communications has four. According to survey responses, Hispanics account for 9.1 percent of the Coors workforce, 10.3 percent at PepsiCo, and 13.0 percent at SBC. Also in the top range are Coca-Cola, where Hispanics constitute 7.1 percent of the workforce, and Verizon, with 6.1 percent Hispanic employees (see table, "Hispanics at the Top").