25 best places for blacks to work.

Position:Includes related articles on military management, other leading corporations - Cover Story

Affirmative action. Equal employment opportunity. Cultural diversity. Corporate buzzwords? Sure. However, these three powerful concepts-turned-corporate-policy have dramatically changed both the fabric and landscape of American business, especially for the companies listed on the BLACK ENTERPRISE 25 Best Places For Blacks To Work.

Although no one would argue about the tremendous impact that equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws have had on black representation in the private and public sector (i.e., a workforce increase of 50% in the past 25 years), African-Americans are still reeling from the anti-affirmative action punch dealt by the Reagan and Bush administrations.

But regaining our breath after a series of damaging court decisions over the last decade certainly hasn't been easy. A dragging economic recovery and a highly competitive business climate have many of the nation's multinational companies, such as American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and General Motors Corp., scrambling to streamline their operations and shed yet another layer of ancillary businesses and divisions.

Continual corporate restructuring coupled with plans for massive downsizing have jeopardized future black advancement at the top echelons of several corporate leaders on the EEO front. Some longtime EEO advocates have witnessed a retrenchment in their companies' once-aggressive affirmative-action policies. In addition, African-American managers in the pipeline are concerned that they will not be able to move up in a flattened management structure. This is especially true in firms that are hiring black professionals from the military and corporate competitors for senior-level jobs, bypassing blacks already in the companies' pipelines. Nevertheless, many companies are publicly reaffirming their EEO commitment despite a troubled bottom line. Says AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson: "In the '80s, there was a time when we were dropping more than 1,000 people a month from our payrolls. Even then we maintained our percentages of women and minorities. We would expect no less in the future."

Last year, IBM (International Business Machines Corp.) announced that it would eliminate 20,000 positions, and restructure its business into a series of semi-independent operations. "I see the IBM situation as an opportunity for black managers. Smaller profit centers have fewer rungs to the top," speculates Richard Clarke, a veteran executive recruiter in New York City. "Like BE has pointed out in the past, blacks fared quite well at the spun-off Baby Bells."

The Impact OF Demographics

Finally, American employers are slowly realizing that the changing demographics outlined in the 1987 Hudson Institute Workforce 2000 report are already a reality. (Workforce 2000 relates that by the end of the decade, women, minorities and immigrants will make up an increasingly important segment of the new entrants to the labor force.)

In keeping with the idea that a diverse work force makes good business sense in a competitive global market, more companies are offering diversity training programs to help white male managers better relate to a multicultural work force.

However, the experts are skeptical about putting too much faith in the idea that diversity training will enlighten corporate management to such an extent that affirmative-action and EEO initiatives and policies would no longer be necessary. "In many cases," says Richard Clarke, "we are experiencing more thunder than lightning."

A Pessimistic Black Work Force

Last year, BE readers expressed concern about their careers in light of the 1990-1991 recession. (See BE survey report "Is Your Job On The Line?," August 1991) More than half of the respondents (55%) were concerned that their jobs may be eliminated; over 78% rated their companies no better than fair when it came to providing advancement opportunities for black managers; and 77.6% of executives, earning more than $50,000 per annum, said they had faced racial discrimination at some time in their present job. Almost 63% of the respondents felt they would never be promoted to senior management.

It was with these concerns in mind, that we began the fourth "Best Places For Blacks To Work" survey last August.

Since 1982, when BE identified 10 "Best Places For Blacks To Work," the survey has served as a report card on the CEO's vision of equal opportunity and his ability to push it down the ranks and assist management in implementing that vision, explains Herbert C. Smith, Ph.D., and principal of a Shaker Heights, Ohio-based recruiting firm that bears his name.

To integrate affirmative-action policies into the corporate culture, many visionary CEOs like David Kearns, formerly of Xerox Corp., included EEO activities in the performance appraisals and compensation packages of their managers. To that, Price Cobbs, M.D., a San Francisco management consultant and principal of Pacific Management Systems adds: "Innovative CEOs like Coy Eklund, formerly of Equitable, also created an environment that allowed all people to feel that they could achieve their fullest potential. When special programs are only implemented for minorities and women to move up the career ladder, these programs become targets for backlash."

As the corporate EEO commitment increased throughout the country, the list was expanded to 25 companies in 1986 and from 25 to 50 in 1989. The 1989 list included 15 "companies to watch," whose efforts were headed in the right direction, but had not reached the success of those featured in the section "the best of the best." This year the BE Editorial Board identified only 25 companies that exemplified the commitment and success potential of strong affirmative-action policies. (BE 100s companies were not included since they will be evaluated in our "20th Annual Report On Black Business" in June 1992.) Interestingly, only six companies have made all four lists: American Telephone & Telegraph Co., Equitable Cos., Gannett Co., General Motors Corp., IBM Corp. and Xerox Corp.

In addition, the majority of these companies and those on the 1992 Best Places are well-represented on BE's prestigious corporate elite rosters: "The 25 Hottest Black Managers In Corporate America" (February 1988) and "21 Women Of Power And Influence In Corporate America" (August 1991). The CEOs in these organizations believe in the bottom-line value of work-force diversity. But even more importantly, these enlightened leaders are willing to take the bold initiatives to enable African-Americans to break through the concrete (not glass) ceiling and integrate the ranks of senior management. Smith explains: "These men gave very talented black managers the authority to run businesses, make mistakes and grow." Oakland-based diversity consultant Ben Harrison agrees, adding: "How blacks are used in decision-making teams throughout the organization and their level of task assignments (with significant revenue responsibility and exposure) are the most revealing indicators of the best places for blacks to work."

It is because of this point that we also included a sidebar on the military focusing on the U.S. Army. The Army's successful deployment of African-American officers in strategic leadership positions has exemplified the true value of diversity in management.

The 1992 Best Places Survey

To develop the 1992 Best Places list, BLACK ENTERPRISE mailed out 270 surveys last September to Fortune 1000 corporations that have demonstrated a sustained interest in recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting minorities (specifically African-Americans). In addition to requesting statistics on African-American employees, managers and senior managers, we requested information about the companies' minority recruitment programs, total dollar value of minority contracts and minority participation in management training, development and fast-track programs. Many companies refused to participate in the survey, citing embarrassing statistics regarding black employees and/or legal restrictions. Several admitted that although they provide substantial support to black community-service preparations, minorities are not well-represented on their payrolls.

Jeffalyn Johnson, Ph.D., a management consultant at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville recommended carefully looking at companies that invest in all its people with training and development programs designed to improve productivity and quality. "These companies respect and encourage innovation," Johnson says, "and they will be the ones destined for growth."

Based on these statistics and a review of the companies affirmative-action/EEO and cultural diversity policies, survey respondents were whittled down into a working list of 50 companies. Black executives and employee network presidents at these companies were then interviewed to get a better understanding of how black employees are really faring at these organizations. Based on this research and recommendations from leading black executive recruiters, management consultants and national black professional associations, the Editorial Board of BLACK ENTERPRISE selected the 25 best companies and compiled a second list of five "Companies To Watch." These predominantly engineering and technology-driven organizations are run by CEOs who are bent on skimming off the top talent in the country-regardless of ethnic origin.

And that says quite a lot in a nation where a July 8, 1991, BusinessWeek article titled "Race In The Workplace: Is Affirmative Action Working?" confirmed the disturbing fact that white Americans are very angry about affirmative action, insisting that it is really preferential treatment for minorities.

The study also...

To continue reading