On October 29 and 30, 2001, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Committee on Diversity in the Engineering Workforce brought together representatives of corporations that have been recognized for their successful diversity programs and members of the NAE Forum on Diversity to participate in a workshop entitled “Best Practices in Managing Diversity.” The purpose of the workshop was to identify and describe corporate programs that have successfully recruited, retained, and advanced women and underrepresented minorities in engineering careers and to discuss metrics by which to evaluate diversity programs. The workshop was focused primarily on personnel policies and programs for engineers employed in industry and consulting services.
In preparation for the workshop, the committee compiled a list of companies that employ significant numbers of engineers that have been recognized for their handling of diversity issues in the workplace. These organizations were listed in the Fortune top 50 companies for minorities or Working Woman’s best companies for women, have been recognized by Catalyst or the Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network for their diversity programs, are represented on the board of directors of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, or were recommended by a member of the committee. The committee collected available information about the diversity management practices used by these companies as benchmarks for the workshop participants. These practices are included as an appendix to these proceedings.
The format of the workshop, which included plenary presentations followed by small group (“breakout”) discussions, was designed to stimulate interaction among participants, as well as with the speakers. At the conclusion of the
workshop, the participants were challenged to implement the best practices identified at the workshop in their respective organizations.
NAE president William A. Wulf gave the keynote address. In it, he stressed the importance of diversity and creativity in solving engineering problems. He emphasized the advantages of engineering teams with diverse life experiences in developing innovative solutions to engineering problems and the disadvantages (opportunity costs in designs not produced) of nondiverse engineering teams. As Dr. Wulf reminded us, engineers are charged with developing elegant solutions that satisfy a variety of constraints, and the more different perspectives that can be brought to bear on a problem, the higher the probability of identifying the optimal solution.
The opening panel of corporate executives presented examples of successful diversity programs developed by different types of employers. Mary Mattis of Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that promotes women in business, provided an introductory overview of corporate diversity management programs. Panel members represented a civil engineering consulting firm (CH2M HILL), an electronics design and manufacturing firm (Motorola), and a utility company (Consolidated Edison).
The participants then reconvened in small groups to discuss the meaning of best practices and how to define success. Their discussions focused on specific programs for improving the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women and minorities, as well as the importance of leadership and commitment from all levels of management. A common theme of the breakout discussions was that finding and keeping good technical employees is critical to the success of a company and diversity programs contribute to a company’s ability to maintain a strong workforce.
After lunch a second panel, made up of representatives of minority engineering societies, presented employees’ perspectives on corporate management of diversity. Leading spokespersons for the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society provided a variety of views on the impact of corporate diversity programs and the roles of associations in recruiting, retaining, and advancing employees with diverse backgrounds.
Following the second panel, Willie Pearson, a sociologist and chair of the School of History, Technology, and Society at the Georgia Institute of Technology, presented his findings on the career experiences of African-American chemists over the last 50 years and related them to the current challenges facing minority engineers in the workplace. Civil rights legislation in the 1960s had a significant impact on the career opportunities available to African-American scientists, but Dr. Pearson’s research shows that even in the 1990s highly qualified minorities faced many challenges in obtaining positions and advancing in their chosen career paths.
These presentations were followed by a second round of breakout discussions that gave participants a chance to focus on four specific issues: effective responses to lawsuits, affirmative action backlash, the components of effective mentoring programs, and diversity in the global marketplace. Speakers introduced each topic and participated in the discussions. Workshop attendees were encouraged to participate in two of the four discussion groups, and facilitators presented summaries of the discussions to the entire group.
The second day of the workshop began with an address by Nick Donofrio, senior vice president of technology and manufacturing at IBM, on his experiences in managing diversity in the technical workforce. Mr. Donofrio’s perspective embraced several points of view. He spoke as chairman of the board of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, as an executive with National Engineers Week, and as an engineer and manager at IBM. He emphasized the business need for more technical professionals in the information economy, the importance of the various groups addressing diversity issues working together, and the need for outreach programs to get young people excited about engineering.
During the third and final breakout discussions, participants identified follow-up activities to address the issues of the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women and minorities in engineering. Although the focus of the workshop was on employment practices, much of the discussion in the final breakout sessions centered on education. Suggestions included sharing the excitement of engineering with young people, educating precollege teachers about what engineers do, ensuring that students receive a strong foundation in reading and comprehension in the early grades, providing skilled math and science teachers in middle schools and high schools, improving the teaching techniques of engineering faculty, and providing financial support for disadvantaged students.
Jim Padilla, vice president of global manufacturing at Ford Motor Company, closed the workshop with a talk on the business case for diversity. As a member of Ford’s Executive Council on Diversity and Worklife and executive sponsor of the Ford Hispanic Network Group, Mr. Padilla has led the company’s efforts to increase diversity awareness in Ford’s manufacturing plants and has participated in outreach efforts to the Hispanic and African-American communities in Detroit. In his remarks, Mr. Padilla emphasized the importance of diverse viewpoints in the development of innovative products and services for a global marketplace.
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR DIVERSITY
During the workshop discussions, a common theme and four common issues emerged. In general, employers acknowledged that policies and programs that allow all employees to succeed in the workplace contribute to corporate success. In addition to this general principle, four issues surfaced repeatedly in
discussions of why corporations care about diversity in the engineering workforce. First and foremost was the need for talented workers and the difficulty of finding enough qualified personnel. Workshop participants agreed that, although many corporations are being forced to reduce their workforces in response to current economic conditions, the long-term demand for engineers and other scientific and technical personnel will continue to increase. The United States cannot continue to rely on immigrants to fill engineering jobs in traditional and high-tech industries. A second related issue was the high cost to companies of employee turnover, including the tangible costs of recruiting and training replacements and the intangible costs associated with maintaining good relationships with clients and suppliers.
The third issue was the perceived competitive advantage of having a diverse workforce, which enables a company to provide better service to increasingly diverse clients and markets, a business imperative for companies that provide both engineering services and engineered products. Finally, engineers with different ethnic, gender, and cultural backgrounds bring a variety of life experiences to the workplace that, if wisely managed, can encourage creative approaches to problem solving and design.
KEY COMPONENTS OF SUCCESSFUL CORPORATE DIVERSITY PROGRAMS
Speakers and participants at the workshop discussed many aspects of successful corporate diversity programs. The most frequently mentioned components are listed below:
High-level commitment. The CEO, senior management, and board of directors of the organization must demonstrate their commitment to workforce diversity, not only by issuing statements and policies, but also by making appropriate decisions and taking appropriate actions.
Clear link to business strategies. Management must show that workforce diversity helps the organization meet its business goals and is good for the bottom line.
Sustained effort. Changes in workplace cultures and behaviors do not happen overnight. Diversity programs must take a long-term approach.
Training. Managers and employees need training to address workplace diversity issues.
Employee affinity groups. Workshop participants discussed the pros and cons of affinity groups (e.g., African-American employees, Hispanic employees, women, etc.). Most felt that affinity groups help organizations identify issues and communicate more effectively with stakeholders.
Outreach to the educational system. To increase the pool of future engineers, corporations must develop partnerships with engineering schools
and precollege educational institutions. Young people need a solid grounding in math and science in their elementary, middle, and high school years to have the option of pursuing an engineering career. Corporations can invest in the future by working with the government and universities to strengthen precollege education.
Accountability. Individuals responsible for implementing diversity programs must be held accountable for results. In the business world, this means linking results and compensation.
Benchmarking against other organizations. Successful companies keep track of what the competition is doing in terms of diversity, just as they do in terms of other business goals.
Communication. Frequent and consistent communication about the goals and programs up, down, and across the organization is important to maintain focus and ensure common understanding.
Expanded pool for recruiting new employees. Companies must sometimes look beyond traditional sources for new workers to increase diversity.
Monitoring progress. Metrics for determining success in managing diversity can be difficult to define, and companies must consider more than the numerical mix of demographic groups in the workforce. As a rule, what gets measured in corporations gets done, so defining metrics and tracking progress are critical to keeping management attention focused on the issue.
Evaluating results and modifying policies when necessary. Like an engineering design project, a diversity program needs a feedback loop to ensure that the desired results are being achieved.