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Work Force Diversity : Separating Hype From Reality : A Recently Published Book Can Serve as a Guidepost to America’s Best Minority Hirers

Times Staff Writer

When Andrew Boisseau, a black graduate of the University of New Orleans, was recruited in the early 1970s to work for South Central Bell Telephone Co., he had to accept on faith that the company would provide a hospitable environment.

After all, in those days, minorities who were invited into previously restricted workplaces by companies pursuing new affirmative action goals were definitely entering the unknown.

Twenty years later, corporate America has a track record--a paper trail of reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, statistics kept for various government procurement programs and even court records--that job-seekers can consult when weighing offers. Such public records provide much of the basis for “The Best Companies for Minorities,” a recently published book touted as a guide for minority job-seekers.

The book singles out 86 U.S. firms--fewer than 15% of the more than 600 that the author said he reviewed--as offering a friendly, nurturing, career-enhancing environment for minority employees.

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Written by New York lawyer and business consultant Lawrence Otis Graham, the book analyzes some of the same factors--including minority hiring, retention and advancement--used by Black Enterprise magazine in a 1992 rating of the best companies for blacks. Still, it is the first guide to offer a comprehensive review of the complete corporate environment--from entry-level and blue-collar jobs to the corporate suite--for all minority groups.

Graham, who gained notoriety after he penned a first-person expose in New York magazine of racism at a Connecticut country club, said he wrote the book to help minority job-seekers separate affirmative action hype from performance.

The book, he said in a recent interview, is for minorities who want a satisfying career, not just a job.

“A lot of minorities graduating from college or changing jobs simply need to know this information,” he said.

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A guide such as Graham’s might be useful, said Wesley Poriotis, a principal in Wesley Brown & Bartle, a New York-based executive search firm specializing in helping corporations achieve diversity in high-level jobs. But such reviews can also be superficial, said Poriotis, who recommends that minority job-seekers be prepared to do their own extensive research.

“Don’t just look at the annual report. (Companies) will always include a variety of minority workers for PR,” he said. “The first criterion a non-majority candidate should look at and ask about is whether the glass ceiling has been broken. Are there non-majority people in operations and finance? Are they near the power and the money?”

If a company has no minority members in such positions, any presentation of so-called high-ranking minorities is “just public relations pablum,” he said.

Minority candidates should also seek information about the company’s supplier network, to see if the company is serious about doing business with minorities, and should especially examine retention rates.

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“A lot of companies have a great (minority) recruiting effort,” Poriotis said. “But the new people coming in never meet the people leaving out of frustration and lack of mobility.”

Retention and opportunities granted to minorities to run some of its operating units were among the reasons Graham included Boisseau’s current employer, AT&T;, on his “best” list.

The New York-based telecommunications giant, whose work force is about 23% minorities, was also cited in the Black Enterprise magazine survey.

“By and large, the Bell System has done a better job than most companies” in recruiting, promoting and retaining minority workers, said Boisseau, an Atlanta-based public relations manager for AT&T; who describes himself as multiracial and multiethnic, a blend of Haitian, Native American and French backgrounds.

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In addition to hiring and promotion, Graham said he also examined corporate diversity training programs and scholarships and contributions to benefit minorities.

For example, he cited San Francisco-based Chevron Corp. for its “Hispanic Initiative” to network with Latinos and for including a significant number of Asian, black, Latino and other minority students in its work-study and summer internship programs.

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Five of the eight California firms cited in Graham’s book are based in San Francisco. Only two Los Angeles companies--the O’Melveny & Myers law firm and Atlantic Richfield Co.--met Graham’s standards.

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O’Melveny, the firm of Secretary of State Warren Christopher, was cited because the firm had three black and four Asian partners among its 178 partners, and 13 blacks, 12 Latinos and 19 Asians among its 360 associate attorneys at the time of Graham’s study. Graham said Arco, whose work force is about 20% minority, has appointed minorities to “several high-ranking management positions.

(The Black Enterprise magazine list included no California-based firms.)

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Noticeably absent from Graham’s list were Los Angeles-based defense firms--which have significant employment in Southern California as well as substantial ties to the federal government through their aerospace contracts--and the region’s high-profile entertainment concerns.

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The only defense firm on the list is Cleveland-based TRW Inc., which has operations in the Southland. Sony Corp.'s New York-based Sony Music Entertainment made the list, but its Hollywood motion picture studios, Columbia and TriStar, did not.

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Graham said he did not exclude any industry group in his review. But despite being federal contractors under affirmative action mandates, Graham said that when he looked at defense firms, most “just did not have the numbers” of minorities.

He said his list includes a number of consumer product companies--including San Francisco-based Levi Strauss and Clorox--because they tend to be “most responsible” due to the fact that minority customers are more aware of their operations.

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Graham’s book covers the years up to 1992 for most companies. Thus, Los Angeles companies, which were spurred to implement minority initiatives after the 1992 riots, may look better in subsequent reviews. Graham said he plans periodic revisions of the book.


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