Question and Answer Session
Lisa Gutierrez (Los Alamos National Laboratory): This question is for Richard Cowie with Con Edison. I understand that the GOLD Program is a development and succession-planning tool and that you have filtered these employees through different experiences. What are the selection criteria for getting into the GOLD Program?
Richard Cowie (Con Edison): We select from our new college hires after trying to identify their potential for future leadership positions—good engineers, to start with, good people skills, the ability to work well in teams—those kinds of characteristics.
Lisa Gutierrez: Is the program available to current employees, for example, who want to go to college? Say they are technicians, and they eventually want to move up in the ranks.
Richard Cowie: We have taken very few from our existing workforce into the program. But we have taken some, and some have done extremely well.
Gary Downey (Virginia Tech): I would like to ask the panel to consider a potential problem with proprietary knowledge in the sharing of diversity practices. In the 1980s when the Cold War was winding down and the competitiveness with Japan, perceived as America’s new foe, was rising, there was a movement in the United States to build joint ventures among government, industry, and universities. These eventually fell apart, and it seems to me that the key reason was because of the issue of proprietary knowledge. The government was able to
adjust, and universities were able to adjust, but industries were not able to adjust to the challenge of sharing knowledge that had potential design implications.
In the case of diversity, as we move from justification on the grounds of equity and access to justification on the grounds of business and competitive advantage through diversity practices, we could run into the same problem. The NAE’s Diversity Forum is considering building a diversity resources Web site, and a number of you have reported on programs in your organizations. To what extent would you be willing to make the details of those projects, the specifics of the surveys, the specifics of the metrics you use to measure what is going on inside your organization, available in a public way? At what point do you run into the problem of proprietary knowledge?
Dan Arvizu (CH2M HILL): That is actually an issue of great importance to my company, which is in a very competitive industry. In the consulting arena, a number of competitors are going after the same talent pool, and we worry about precisely the issue you are talking about. Clearly, this is one of those times when you simply have to put parochial interests aside, at least for the moment, while you attack a much bigger and greater issue. We have tried to address the issue of sharing information directly. We frequently contribute data in the Engineering News Record and a variety of other publications as part of aggregate information by industry sectors. No single company’s name is highlighted as doing either extremely badly or extremely well. We have tried to get together with a half dozen or more of our staunch competitors and ask them if they would be willing to share information in a blind pool so the industry statistics can be advertised and examined by anyone interested in learning more about the process. Clearly, we are not going to share our internal statistics, but there is a way to get to that level of detail through an objective third party. That way, you remain essentially one step removed.
Mary Mattis (Catalyst): Catalyst has conducted some blind studies for industries, for example when a company has come to us and said they wanted to know how they were doing compared to a competitor, but they didn’t want to identify themselves. We got 10 or 12 companies to participate on the basis of confidentiality, anonymity, but it was hard work because there are a lot of legal considerations. Data sometimes has to be destroyed immediately after it is collected. There are a lot of challenges to doing this, but it is definitely worth doing.
Dundee Holt (NACME): Is there anything the panelists can share with us about the allocation of resources? I’m interested in how much companies allocate for precollege, higher education, and the current workforce. Mr. Cowie stated that Con Edison allocates some resources for precollege education. Only about 6 percent of kids want to go into engineering, and we are concerned about building that number up. How do you decide?
Iwona Turlik (Motorola Advanced Technology Center): You decide based on your priorities. Motorola spends a lot of energy on K through 12 programs like Junior Achievement. We also pay a lot of attention to retention. I think the weakest part of our program is with encouraging students at the college level. We spend a lot of time on kids going into college but not as much on retaining them in college.
Richard Cowie: Our chairman, Gene McGrath, really focuses on early education. He is a visiting principle at Washington Irving High School, right down the street from our company headquarters. He has a math tutoring program at that high school that he encourages all of us, very specifically, to get involved in. I don’t think we put up a lot of dollars, but we spend a lot of time on those programs.
Karl Pister (University of California): We have been focusing on the issue of changing or creating a positive corporate culture, and that problem, in my view, is embedded in a much larger problem of changing societal culture. If one were looking for the creative solution or the elegant solution, if the energy of corporate America were applied to the problem of changing national culture, would it lessen the corporate cultural problem?
I think this is a reasonable question to ask at this point. I am basing it on the culture of my own state of California, where approximately half of the children of color are educated by teachers who are unprepared to teach in the classroom and are teaching in crummy schools without necessary supplies. That is a much deeper issue, of course, but I think it should be mentioned.
Iwona Turlik: I would have to agree with you. During my presentation, I said that diversity and culture go hand in hand. But can we resolve all of the problems? No. I think the best approach is to take small steps, and in the end, we will accomplish great goals. Focusing on small cultural changes will be much more beneficial in the long term than what we do in the corporate world. But in the corporate world, we have to give individuals hope and a desire to go into engineering. In the past, people associated an engineer with somebody like Edison, and people really wanted to emulate that. Today engineering is considered less glamorous than it was in the past. Highlighting the benefits and glories of the engineering profession is as important as focusing on the cultural change in the beginning.
Dan Arvizu: That is a very important issue that has important implications for all of corporate America. Most large corporations, and many small and medium-sized ones as well, are very anxious to plug into initiatives and programs that address the systemic issues. Corporations will not take on these issues as their own particular vendetta, although there are some exceptions. In fact, I see Ray Mellado, the founder and chairman of the Hispanic Engineer
National Achievement Award Conference (HENAAC) in the audience. HENAAC has a program, in partnership with IBM and some other large corporations, to do specifically what you are talking about, not only to prepare teachers, but also to prepare the families of small children that don’t have access to computers and other things like that.
There are programs you can plug into as a corporation that fit those interests and objectives precisely. Many corporations like ours have foundations that can be geared toward programs for younger children. Most of our business processes are aimed at the upper level and retention, but not as much at K through 12 education and family and societal issues, even though those are really important. You have to do it all. You can’t ignore any aspect of the problem.
Tyra Simpkins (U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technologyand U.S. Hispanic Engineer): There has been a lot of talk about the image of engineers and how to go about changing that image, as well as about K through 12 programs. Dr. Turlik, I would like more information on the programs your company works on with elementary and middle school students. How can interested schools participate in programs like that? Does your company participate in outreach programs? If you are going to start to change the image, it’s important to do that by way of exposure. The more exposure, the better children and other minority groups can be made aware of their choices. Those choices will set the tone for the future.
Iwona Turlik: Motorola is involved in numerous programs. I don’t remember all of them, but I think there are 20 pages of programs we participate in since we are a global company. The most important one I recognize is Junior Achievement.
Motorola has received many awards for making contributions to society. One has to look at those awards in two ways. First, the company is making a contribution and doing a very good job in those areas. Second, the company is marketing those programs because they make a difference. It is important to let the public know how you are involved and what makes that program successful.
Richard Cowie: I think programs like tutoring programs, one on one, with women and minority engineers going into the schools and working directly with students, create positive role models that can directly influence students to move in that direction for their education and their careers.
Jim West (Bell Labs/Lucent Technologies): My career was very much affected by mentors. No one really concentrated on mentoring in the presentations. I would like any member of the panel to discuss experiences with mentoring, especially for minorities and women engineers.
Iwona Turlik: We have had a formal mentoring program in one of our businesses for the last five years, and the whole corporation is now trying to emulate that. But mentoring is a very special relationship, and there must be a careful selection of mentors. A mentor may not always be somebody in your corporation. It could very well be someone outside your corporation, even your grandmother. Mentoring is not a simple solution for a corporation. Do you need a formal mentoring program to improve the development of employees? Obviously, if a program is working well, it will benefit the organization. Rather than institutionalizing a mentoring program, an alternative approach could be a networking program.
Richard Cowie: Mentoring is another thing that can be influenced from the top. Our chairman selects people to be his assistants. He includes women and minority engineers in our GOLD Program in the pool of people he looks to. He encourages senior officers to work with our internal organization of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and other groups. A CEO can lead by example.