Diversity neededCorporate America will have to increase...

MINDING YOUR BUSINESS

March 16, 1992

Diversity needed

Corporate America will have to increase ethnic and gender diversity in the workplace to remain competitive during the 1990s, human resources experts say.

"You can't have a work force that's not diversified because you're not accurately representing the customer base," says Theodore M. Campbell, a corporate operations manager who oversees Digital Equipment Corp.'s minority hiring programs.

The changing nature of the American population and the interdependence of U.S. and foreign companies require corporate America to diversify its work force to survive, says John P. Fernandez of Advanced Research Management Consultants of Philadelphia. Workplace diversity is no longer occurring simply because federal law and political pressures encourage it, he adds.

According to Mr. Fernandez, the percentage of the U.S. population that is white has fallen to 71 percent. And women are moving into the work force in increasing numbers. Of the 21 million new jobs that will be created between now and the year 2000, he said, 60 percent will be filled by women. Only 8 percent will be filled by white males.

However, simply bringing women and minorities into the corporation isn't enough, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Fernandez and other speakers emphasized. Promoting them to positions of responsibility -- breaking through the so-called glass ceiling -- is also vital.

Deborah Varljen, counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives' civil service subcommittee, noted that the number of women and minorities in top executive positions at the thousand largest U.S. corporations increased only 2 percent in the past 10 years.

"I think the glass ceiling is well-documented," Ms. Varljen said.

Avoiding layoffs

With some creativity and sacrifice, companies can maintain a viable business without layoffs.

Consider Ehrlich-Rominger of Los Altos, Calif., which specializes designing high-tech research and manufacturing buildings. As business slacked off last summer, the firm, which employed about 125 people, gradually shrank by about 20 jobs, partly by attrition.

But then Joseph Ehrlich, the firm's chief executive, decided to change tactics because he "really had a good staff" and instead of getting rid of deadwood was losing what he called "outer muscles."

So Mr. Ehrlich and his top managers instituted salary cuts in its Los Altos, San Francisco and Newport Beach offices that ranged from 10 percent for lower-paid employees to 30 percent for the firm's principals who are also owners.

"My feeling very strongly was, if you have someone who's making $35,000 and taking a 10 percent cut, and someone who's making $60,000 and taking a 10 percent cut, it really hurts a lot more at the low end," Mr. Ehrlich says.

Once management believes the company has attained "sustained profitability," it will reinstate salaries to their prior levels. But it will also use 20 percent of pretax profits to repay the lost wages.

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