Push Is Set for Workplace Diversity

John C. Drake, Boston Globe, May 19, 2008

Massachusetts civic leaders and business executives are preparing a major push to improve the diversity of the state’s workforce by keeping closer track of the numbers of minority and female employees.

The new push comes less than a year after a detailed survey showed that the state’s largest businesses and nonprofit institutions are led almost exclusively by white men.

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Seventy-six institutions, from Wal-Mart to Bunker Hill Community College, have already signed on to the program—called the Commonwealth Compact—in advance of a public appeal set for Friday, when Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas M. Menino will back the effort. By joining the program, employers will be asked to make several commitments that will give the public some new insights into the diversity of the private workforce, organizers said.

Employers will agree to supply demographic data on their workforce, executive team, and applicant pool to a central database and commit to taking steps to improve their diversity. The Commonwealth Compact will, in turn, report to the public on the diversity of the state’s workforce, categorized by the type of business or institution.

The public reports will not include details on each company’s workforce, which one diversity specialist said weakened the initiative’s potential impact. But Martin said the program is focused on “collective accountability,” and won’t point the finger at individual employers.

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A study released in May 2007 by UMass-Boston showed that 94 percent of the board members of the state’s largest corporations were white and about 87 percent of them were men. An earlier survey by the McCormack Graduate School found that a majority of respondents, including 75 percent of blacks and 67 percent of Latinos, believed race relations in the state were only fair or poor.

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Eric Peterson, manager of diversity and inclusion initiatives for the Society of Human Resource Management, said he is not aware of any other states where companies have participated in similar projects. He said it could work, as long as institutions pay attention to more than just numbers of minority and female workers.

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Marc Bendick, a workforce diversity consultant based in Washington, D.C., said the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission already requires companies with more than 100 employees to report information on workforce diversity and those data are reported publicly in aggregate terms.

“Discrimination reported that way is a villainy without a villain,” Bendick said. “You cannot identify where the problem is. Until you put pressure on companies through shame or possible litigation to change their behavior, you’re not really going to accomplish anything that’s different from what’s long prevailed under EEOC reporting requirements.”

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